Of Howard Gardner’s identified multiple intelligences, perhaps the one that we tap into least in the classroom is intrapersonal intelligence, also known as being “self-smart.” Examples of intrapersonal intelligence include quiet contemplation, reflection and analysis, where we ask our students to go deep within themselves to connect and make and offer meaning.
Intrapersonal intelligence can be seen as the opposite of interpersonal intelligence, or being “people smart.” In many ways, 21st-century learning has been a huge boon for interpersonal learning. The current emphasis on cooperative learning and collaboration has focused students more than ever on communication and idea sharing. We have moved away from the “isolated” approach to learning, where students would sit in their seats and refrain from talking, gesturing, sharing, etc., at the risk of begin labeled a miscreant and cheater. Through in-class dialogue and the use of e-communication and social media, our current crop of students communicate routinely about learning in ways that were previously neither possible nor desired.
In general, we have begun to incorporate more modalities into our learning. In addition to intrapersonal intelligence, we now use kinesthetic learning (by incorporating manipulatives, cooperative learning and other techniques) as well as visual/spatial, musical and naturalist approaches more than we ever have. Teachers today understand that in order to differentiate and meet student needs we cannot rely as heavily as we once did on frontal lecturing and visual/verbal tools, such as boards, notes, worksheets and textbooks.
In contrast, intrapersonal intelligence is largely underutilized, at least based on everything that I have seen. Even such cooperative techniques as think-pair-share, which first encourage individual thought (“think”), ultimately emphasize the dialogue and sharing components (“pair-share”) as being most valuable.
In considering this view, I set out to identify some reasons as to why we don’t encourage our children to be more introspective. The primary explanation that I arrived at is that it’s simply not how society has trained us to think and act.
We live in a time of informational overload. One example: As a relatively new user of Twitter with tweet totals numbering in the hundreds, I am overwhelmed by tweet figures that dwarf mine, with figures in the tens and hundreds of thousands. Educators, entrepreneurs and many others are tweeting tens of times daily and have been doing so for years, often sharing information every few minutes, if not seconds. Other social media outlets experience similar activity, though at a reduced scale. There is simply no time or impetus to think privately when we feel this enormous pressure to be “out there” and relevant at all times.
Perhaps another factor is the nature of classroom learning. Whether we teach using 21st- or 20th-century instructional methodologies, we still need to share in order to learn or gauge learning. The emphasis is on constant demonstration of learning, or at least of teaching. The only time historically that silence has been a preferred state of being is during testing. In order for students to be introspective in genuine terms is to offer them time to think without responding, something that we may not be comfortable with or sure how to structure routinely within our classrooms.
Regardless of the reason, I believe it imperative for us to increase the number and quality of intrapersonal learning opportunities that we offer our students, particularly those with introverted tendencies. They should understand that being “self-smart” is valuable and something worth developing, unless we want our students to always look elsewhere for ideas and opinions.
Naphtali Hoff (@impactfulcoach) served as an educator and school administrator for over 15 years before becoming an executive coach and consultant. Read his blog at impactfulcoaching.com/blog.