Tag Archives: multiple intelligences

Intrinsic Versus Extrinsic Motivation

One parent wrote of Color Me Purple: “The knowledge box about “Passion and Practice” resonated most with me today. Towards the bottom of page 13, you wrote, ‘Extrinsic motivations feed a student’s intrinsic motivation to work at becoming better. The challenge for teachers and parents is to encourage practice without killing intrinsic motivation.’ As I read that, I thought to myself, ‘Ain’t that the truth?!?’”

She went on to explain the fine line between encouraging and discouraging her 10-year-old son’s intrinsic interest in piano: “I’d noticed that he’d been spending a lot of his free time messing around at the piano whenever he had a spare moment, plunking out songs that he was attempting to sight read from music we happened to have laying around, or just playing by ear. I suggested to him that we set up piano lessons, and he agreed to give it a try. But, when songs were giving him trouble, he quickly became frustrated, and wanted to give up and quit. It became a battle for me to try to convince him to keep practicing.

“That’s when I realized that he was no longer playing JOYFULLY as he had been when he was playing for HIMSELF rather than playing to please someone else. As much as I value the important life lesson of developing grit and perseverance, I also want to value and honor my son’s desire to do what makes him happy, and I want to be sure that I am helping to nurture his talent rather than squelch it! One day he approached me calmly and explained to me that he LIKES playing the piano but that he does NOT LIKE taking lessons. He promised that if I would let him quit piano lessons he would continue playing on his own, for fun. So that’s what we did.

“Now he is playing the piano more than ever — by himself on his own terms. He’s not shying away from challenge either. I hadn’t realized that adding extrinsic pressure would threaten his intrinsic motivation in such an extreme way, and I’m relieved that we were able to restore his intrinsic desire to pursue his music smart!”


All Kinds of Smart

As people all over the world have been watching the Olympics this summer, myself included, I wish the lessons shared by the participants would be equally applied to all kinds of smart. Whether your talents lie in linguistics, mathematics, music, art, nature, interpersonal, or intrapersonal areas of development, the requirements for success are the same.

As Gabby Douglas flew through the air, and touchingly a rare flying squirrel landed at our birdfeeder (no one in our area had ever seen one until this creature appeared for a few days and then again disappeared), here are a few talent-development lessons I felt were worth repeating:

  1. Opportunity is the key: From Michael Phelps to Gabby Douglas, from track sprinters from around the world to athletes of all backgrounds and specialties, we have heard how the doors of opportunity had to be opened. There are so many potentially talented children out there who are never recognized, supported, and applauded when successful; anchored when in trouble. Gabby’s mother made the supreme sacrifice for her little girl to shine.
  2. Letting go must happen sooner or later: Over the years I have seen parents struggle to let their talented children go to a summer camp in their area of passion, be it academics, music, or any other field. Gabby’s mother listened to Gabby and Gabby’s encouraging older sister when it was time for her to leave home. She let her go, not for a week, but for years of hard training, living with a new family and community, and facing a diverse world of new values and hard lessons.
  3. Hard work: In her first interview upon winning her gold medal, Gabby attributed her success to hard work and dedication. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it isn’t. Young talented children often think success comes naturally or with a little luck. The necessity of hard work, i.e., practice and persistence, must be taught. Our Olympic champions are great role models.
  4. Success is golden: Gabby became homesick in Iowa, but she persisted in reaching for her dreams. Of her win, she said, “I did think it was a gold-medal performance.” Self-confidence and focus are not easy to achieve when things go wrong, as they frequently did for members of the gymnastics team, including Gabby. But, as Gabby explained, “If you can push through the hard days, you can get through anything.”
  5. Belief is golden: “It’s very tough for me to focus,” Gabby reported in The New York Times, Aug. 2, 2012.  But as Douglas was going to the Olympic arena, her mother called and said, “I believe in you, baby.” Douglas said, “I believe, too.”
  6. Success is not perfection: Even Michael Phelps did not always win. Doing your best and working through the disappointments are lessons that loving families bestow upon their talented youth. As Gabby inspires other young African Americans, her message is clear: I am so happy to be me, and although I would have preferred another gold, it’s not the end of the world that I didn’t get it. On to the next competition! On to the next challenge and new experience.
  7. Respect others for their talents and dreams: At WCATY summer programs, I have had students who received perfect 800’s on their SAT Math tests at ages as young as 13 and 14 sit in an advanced math classroom with other smart students who did not and most likely could not achieve perfection. I saw the same kind of respect and camaraderie in those classrooms as I’ve been observing among the gymnastics, swimming, track and other competitors. That their passion for their field includes a desire to experience new levels of knowledge or success by others as well as by themselves is exciting to behold.

In summary, may we realize that the lessons learned by our young Olympians are lessons to be learned, valued, and respected for children with all kinds of smart.

Multiple Intelligences

I’ve been playing around with Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences in my mind. First, they are the basis for Color Me Smart, my current children’s book manuscript, which I may (or may not) publish in 2012. Second, as I’ve been reading Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, I couldn’t help trying to categorize Jobs within the eight intelligence types.

When I’m working on my book, it is with a degree of certainty — children need to be recognized and encouraged for all kinds of abilities. Teaching the multiple intelligences framework to children and their caregivers should help us, as a society, to be more appreciative of children’s innate strengths. Further, we could then be expected to encourage a greater degree of excellence in education and production. But there is also a degree of uncertainty. Many children are multiply intelligent, and to typecast them could potentially limit others’ understanding of them. I especially felt this when casting children as people- or self-smart when I had already perceived them as another kind of smart.

When reading the Jobs book, I felt an even greater degree of uncertainty. It was almost the opposite of what I was feeling with my child characters. I never doubted that Jobs was smart. But, what kind of smart? He certainly didn’t have interpersonal intelligence (people smart), yet even within this realm he ultimately succeeded by repeatedly forming and leading what he called an “A team.”

So what are multiple intelligences and where does Jobs fit? This is an especially intriguing question given Isaacson’s conclusion (p. 566): “Was he smart? No, not exceptionally. Instead he was a genius. His imaginative leaps were instinctive, unexpected, and at times magical. He was indeed, an example of what the mathematician Mark Kac called a magician genius, someone whose insights come out of the blue and require intuition more than mere mental processing power.”

According to Kac, what most geniuses have is “ordinary genius,” the kind that most of us might observe, “I could do that if only I were better at …” But the magician genius is such that we can’t fathom how the end result came about. Jobs consistently expected the seemingly impossible and made it happen. He didn’t achieve it himself; he led others to do it for him.

In rethinking Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences, I conclude that we are broadening our definition of smart or intelligence within the realm of the ordinary. And, I still think that’s a good place to start. We need to recognize word, music, math, picture, body, people, self, and nature smart in children, but maybe there is more. Just as I’ve never liked the federal definition of giftedness because it positions academic ability, intellectual ability, creativity, leadership, and artistic ability as parallel categories — and they are not, so magician genius does not seem to parallel multiple intelligences. Creativity and intuitive leaps must cross them all. Jobs had a talent for recognizing talent in others and bringing them together such that their individual abilities became a part of the whole. Together they fostered his magician genius. His magician genius crossed all aspects of excellence required in the design and engineering of the products for which he is known.

I wonder if Gardner is playing around with the concept of magician genius?