from "Writing and Multiple Intelligences," A Working Paper

by Gerald Grow, Ph.D.
School of Journalism, Media & Graphic Arts
Florida A&M University, Tallahassee FL 32307 USA
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In Frames of Mind, Howard Gardner presents the theory that there is no general "intelligence" of the kind purported to be measured by IQ tests. Instead, the human mind is organized around several distinct functional capacities, which he calls "intelligences." Using an elaborate set of criteria, he identifies the seven intelligences listed in Table 1. Though these intelligences overlap with the two-brain theory that distinguishes the functions of left and right hemispheres, Gardner sets aside the two-brain model in order to investigate thinking at a deeper level of complexity. Each intelligence combines elements that may have evolved separately. Though certain functions are highly localized in the brain and can be eliminated by brain damage to that site, the intelligences are surprisingly flexible and can make use of various senses, parts of the brain, and chance opportunities. (Even the blind can develop spatial intelligence.) The intelligences follow characteristic patterns of development in childhood, yet those patterns are diverse enough to prohibit one from prescribing a set pathway by which children should develop. While these intelligences appear in cultures all over the world, different cultures value them differently. Each of the seven intelligences is relatively independent of the others, but they do not often appear separate, because they usually work together and may be understood as separate only after observing many instances of their combined effort.

Gardner suggests how several different intelligences might work together in a concert violinist. In addition to the obvious musicial ability, she will display kinesthetic skills in fingering and bow movement; interpersonal intelligence in communicating with an audience; intrapersonal intelligence in feeling the emotions of the music; logical-mathetmatical skills in analyzing musical structure, planning performances, and making a profit; and so on (xii).

Table 2 summarizes this paper by extrapolating the seven intelligences to suggest how they might manifest in a writer. The framework sketched in Table 2 also suggests a new way to consider a piece of writing or a student writer: Where are the writer's strengths and weaknesses in terms of this model? Research questions arise: Can the stimulation of one intelligence, such as kinesthetic awareness, produce predictable changes in writing style? Will the stimulation of one modality of one intelligence (such as the visual aspect of the spatial intelligence) stimulate other modalities of the same intelligence (the metaphoric aspect of the spatial intelligence)? Flower and Hayes' model of writing suggests how complex the interactions may be between mental functions. What are the interrelationships between the different intelligences during writing--say, between verbal and spatial thought?

Gardner's model is not a unified field theory of mind. It does not attempt to account for some important factors --such as motivation, attention, creativity, inspiration, practical intelligence, and persistence. But Frames of Mind is one of the central texts in the nature of human diversity. It is an intellectual adventure--wide-ranging, deeply thought, and dazzlingly speculative. While conveying a tightly-defined core of concepts, it radiates out into the forefront of many fields of knowledge. Self, others, symbol, brain, and culture blend with a remarkable harmony in this theory. It is a view that honors "innate intellectual proclivities," individual differences, the crucial role of tools and symbol systems, the social nature of knowledge, and the way cultures shape the minds that shape culture.

The lesson of Gardner's book (and of this article) is that people are smart in many different and often surprising ways, and that some of those ways are rarely recognized in our system of schooling. The framework presented by the theory of multiple intelligences can bring new ideas to the writing classroom, and it can add theoretical depth to some existing pedagogical practices. Conversely, a writing classroom can be used as a forum in which students discover multiple intelligences at work in themselves and in others. With a theory such as Gardner's, we might be more able to see beyond the limits of current theories of human ability to find other forms of intelligence permeating all human activities.

To Table 2: How the Intelligences Might Appear in a Writer