Optimizing Your Learning Style Intelligence

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By Alyce Duckworth; LCSW and therapist at Turning Points, Arapahoe/Douglas Mental Health Network
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If you read last month’s column on Multiple Intelligences, you might remember that I asked if you could guess my primary intelligences. Your choices, from Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences Theory (1983), were: linguistic, mathematical, visual/spatial, body/kinesthetic, naturalistic, musical, interpersonal, and intrapersonal. 

If you guessed that I have strong mathematical intelligence, you were a bit off. If you used the clues of my chosen profession, as well as clues from past columns, and picked interpersonal, body/kinesthetic, musical, or even naturalistic, you were correct! Those are my top four modes of intelligence listed in order from strongest to weakest. My next question may not be so difficult. With those four types of intelligence and, correspondingly, learning styles, as my strengths, how would you guess I performed in the typical grade school classroom of the 80’s? If your answer was anything close to “not well,” you were right.         

In grade school, like most of us, I was expected to sit still, keep my eyes on the teacher, listen, and refrain from talking. However, these were expectations that were not in line with my way of learning (I only wish I could have explained it to my parents at the time). I learn best when I am able to engage in discussion about topics with others. My preferred forms of learning, in line with my strongest intelligence types, include opportunities for movement, discussion, and hands-on experiences.

If I had been able to attend an outdoor school where I got to learn by cooperatively creating interpretive song and dance numbers, I would have consistently excelled. But, I don’t think such programs exist, now or then. Besides, over the years I adapted to classroom expectations and managed to pay attention and learn by incorporating acceptable movement into my day-to-day school routine. Primarily, I wrote out my interpretations of what was being taught in a language I could understand, and I added many illustrations.

For the most part, drawing and writing constituted enough movement and hands-on engagement to get me through class while learning something. If an educational debate happened to break out, I was in my element, always in the midst of it, learning more. This is not to say I was no longer in trouble for cracking an off-color joke or engaging in an out-of-turn conversation here and there, but I was able to find an approach that worked for me in a setting that didn’t mesh well with my personal abilities.

As we Coloradans embark on a new school year, I hope the above discussion, and the one that preceded it last month, breeds further conversation about individualized intelligences and the methods that work best for each. One of the best ways that involved parents can support kids in school is to investigate a child’s learning intelligence type and help structure strategies accordingly.

If your student learns best while moving in some way (a kinesthetic/body primary intelligence), make sure he/she has something to “fiddle with” during school and homework times. Ensure that teachers are aware that this strategy can actually support your child’s learning process. Is your son or daughter a musical genius? Give them permission to try listening to music while completing homework. It may play on their strengths and improve their productivity.

As I mentioned last month, there are many resources on the World Wide Web that can help assess your intelligence type and learning style. Use those tools, and you and your child may be on the road to learning like never before!