One of the most remarkable aspects of being human is our ability to symbolize.  Simply through a mark on a page, a sound from our voice, or a gesture from our hands, we can convey ideas that are not immediately present to our senses (we essentially ”re-present” them).  Dr. Howard Gardner, the creator of the theory of multiple intelligences, recognized this important feature of humanity and made it a key criterion in establishing his famous theory.

There are eight (or possibly nine) intelligences in his model (see his book Intelligence Reframed for a discussion of this potential ninth intelligence – existential intelligence), and each one has its own unique way or ways of being symbolized.  Word Smart is symbolized through sounds (oral language) and marks on a page (literacy), and there are a wide range of languages (e.g. linguistic symbol systems) where this can be accomplished (e.g. English, Spanish, German, Japanese, Russian, Chinese etc.).  Likewise, Music Smart can be symbolized through notes on the base and treble clef of a piece of sheet music.  Social interaction (People Smart) can be symbolized through gestures, like extending your hand to greet someone, or giving a thumbs up (or down) to register your judgement about something.

Knowing that there are lots of symbol systems out there is important because most people are better at symbolizing through one system rather than another.  In school, some kids have trouble with writing assignments (using Word Smart symbols) but can draw exceedingly well (using Picture Smart symbols), and as educators we should provide them with the opportunity whenever possible of communicating what teachers have taught them using their best or favored symbol system.  Similarly, one should seek employment in jobs that require the use of symbol systems in one’s most highly developed or preferred intelligence(s).

For more information about Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, get my practical guides to MI theory for:

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Cover of book 7 Kinds of SmartBook cover of Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom, 4th edition by Thomas ArmstrongCover of book In Their Own Way: Discovering and Encouraging Your Child's Multiple Intelligences

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I’m the author of 20 books including my latest, a novel called Childless, which you can order from Amazon.

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