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Massage Today
September, 2004, Vol. 04, Issue 09

Different Strokes for Different Folks: Solving the Mystery of Multiple Intelligences

By Gail Frei, LMT, NCTMB Tiffany Field, PhD

The first day of massage school! You walk into your classroom a bubbling brew of emotions: excitement, anxiety, fear, and enthusiasm. You can't wait to get started with your new career training, but you also have some trepidation about your ability to succeed in this profession.

Then, before the first break, you find yourself struggling to keep your eyes open. You glance around the classroom guiltily, suspecting you may have even nodded off once or twice. What's happened here? Are you a poor student? Is your instructor inadequate? Neither! You've just experienced a classic case of the clash between multiple intelligences.

What are Multiple Intelligences?

Simply stated, multiple intelligences are the varied ways we humans demonstrate our intellectual abilities. First described by Howard Gardner, there are seven of these intelligences: verbal/linguistic; musical/rhythmic; bodily/kinesthetic; intrapersonal; interpersonal; logical/mathematical; and visual/spatial. They are rather self-explanatory but a brief overview will help you understand the dynamics behind the above situation.

The verbal/linguistic person learns best utilizing speaking and listening skills; they thrive in a conventional lecture approach to teaching. The musical/rhythmic person may not fare so well in a traditional classroom devoid of music and sounds (other than the teacher's voice!).

The bodily/kinesthetic person needs to move about, and may feel stifled in a classroom where students are expected to remain seated and listen to the lecture. The intra-personal students may drift off into a seemingly self-absorbed reverie, as inner awareness is their strength. The teacher may view the interpersonal student as a problem, since these students learn best by interacting with others.

Logical/mathematical students asks a lot of questions and may appear disruptive due to their need to understand patterns and connections. The visual/spatial person learns best with visual aids, such a charts, overhead transparencies and videos. Without the use of such images, that student's attention will wander.

We each possess all of these intelligences to greater or lesser degrees. It is the strength or weakness of each that affects our learning style. Curious about yours? Visit

I believe teachers must understand not only their own dominant intelligence, but those of their students, as well. This simple assessment can save a lot of frustration between a teacher and student. A classroom environment that accommodates the various approaches will enhance learning, make the instructor's job easier, and create a fun learning experience for students. FUN?!

Since when is school fun? Never, for a sad majority of us. We cannot wait to escape the classroom, and we return kicking and screaming in protest. Most of my massage students felt dread and fear at the thought of going back to school, even for a future career that excited them. If the goal of school is to inspire a lifetime love of learning, it must turn students on - not off - to the academic experience.

Tips for Teaching to Multiple Intelligences

The verbal person's strengths are speaking and listening; they shine in the eyes of most teachers. Since the majority of us are also verbal/linguistic folks, the challenge for teachers is to move out of their comfort zones to embrace approaches to teaching that they are not familiar with. Adding drama and storytelling to lectures will enhance the experience for verbal learners.

The musical learner fits easily into the hands-on massage classroom, where background music is played as a soothing accompaniment to bodywork. Creating rhymes from lesson plans will help in memorizing information, as well. I once heard of an anatomy and physiology instructor who gave her class the assignment of creating a song for the flow of blood through the heart! The students did so with such enthusiasm, they easily memorized details they had previously struggled with.

The bodily/kinesthetic learner is a natural in the massage classroom! They excel at hands-on activities and movement, and will best absorb the lesson by performing the strokes.

Intrapersonal learners may seem "spacey" to an instructor, since their strength is self-reflection and inner awareness. These students are most in touch with their own feelings and do well with independent assignments that provide opportunities for self-discovery, such as journaling. Interpersonal learners have the ability to relate to others and understand another perspective. They do well in group discussions and cooperative learning environments. When I had an uneven number of students to pair up for the hands-on work, I assigned an interpersonal learner the role of assistant. The student excelled at reminding fellow students about proper body mechanics and demonstrating strokes, as well as offering general support and encouragement.

The logical/mathematical student is your analyzer. This person enjoys problem solving and quickly grasps patterns and connections. Based on my informal observations over years of teaching and staying in touch with graduates, these are the students most likely to continue advanced studies in rehabilitative bodywork. I call them the "Sherlock Holmes" of massage, as they love to figure out pain patterns, solve the mystery and provide relief. They will be serious students of the muscle system, and relentless inquisitors. Problem-solving experiments, diagrams and research will prove most helpful for this group.

The visual/spatial student learns via images. Videos, charts, and overheads help integrate information best for this person. They may enjoy working with the Anatomy Coloring Book.

The root of the verb "to educate" means "leading out that which is within." Our highest goal as educators is to do just that for our students - to help them bring forth the successful massage therapist within each of them. Deepak Chopra believes that encompassed within every desire is the power to fulfill it. I hope this article has helped you tap into that power with your students.

Gail Frei has 20 years of experience as an educator and has specialized in massage education since 1994, working as an instructor and program supervisor. She offers consulting services for schools desiring to set standards of excellence, and is currently working on a book for massage teachers.


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