Seven Smarts Are Better than One

By Renee Snell

If you were disappointed in your IQ or SAT scores, take heart. These tests, although revered by the general community as measures of intelligence, may not provide a complete picture of how smart you are. In fact, if you’re not linguistically talented, skilled at math or able to commit obscure facts to memory, you may not perform very well on these traditional tests.

But that doesn’t mean you aren’t smart. In 1983, Dr. Howard Gardner, a professor at Harvard Graduate School of Education, proposed the revolutionary “Theory of Multiple Intelligences” in his book Frames of Mind. Gardner’s theory is that we all exhibit, to some degree, seven different types of intelligence, including:

  • Linguistic intelligence (as in a poet)
  • Logical-mathematical intelligence (as in a scientist)
  • Musical intelligence (as in a composer)
  • Spatial intelligence (as in a sculptor or airplane pilot)
  • Bodily kinesthetic intelligence (as in an athlete or dancer)
  • Interpersonal intelligence (as in a salesman or teacher)
  • Intrapersonal intelligence (exhibited by individuals with accurate views of themselves)

Source: “Intelligence in Seven Steps,” Howard Gardner, Ph.D.

Gardner’s theory can easily be witnessed. We’ve all known people who are “book-smart” and others who are gifted athletes. Other examples can be found on the TV show “American Idol”—many contestants can carry a tune, but how many possess the ability to write their own songs, which takes a tremendous amount of musical intelligence? And don’t forget the few unfortunates who are lacking in the intrapersonal intelligence area—the ones who should know better than to sing outside the shower!

Update lessons to appeal to different types of intelligence.

In the context of experiential education, many educators have adopted Gardner’s theory in the classroom by updating their lessons to appeal to different types of intelligence. Not only does it make learning more interesting and fun, there is anecdotal evidence that it improves both comprehension and retention.

Smarty Pants in the Classroom

Consider the story of Smarty Pants, a learning aid that was used at Fort Craig School of Dynamic Learning in Maryville, Tenn. Fort Craig was a public school of choice, based on a teaching model of Integrated Thematic Instruction (the school has since closed, but its techniques are used throughout the city of Maryville’s elementary schools). The students had never heard of Howard Gardner. But in every classroom, there were Smarty Pants.

The pants actually featured eight smarts: word smart, picture smart, body smart, people smart, number smart, music smart, nature smart and self smart. The kids knew each of the smarts, and they knew which ones described their strengths.

When a teacher complimented a child, it was usually about a smart they were showing the class. The intent was to teach every topic using at least four of the smarts. This way, every child got engaged when the learning style fit their own smarts.

At Fort Craig, every nine-week school session was based on a theme. In the first and second grade, for example, one theme was “A Bug’s Life” featuring the study of ants. In keeping with the eight smarts, the kids learned about ants in a variety of ways.

They added and subtracted ant larvae. They created histograms where each unit was an ant. They read books about ants and how they structure their colonies. They sang songs about ants (“Head, shoulders, knees and toes” became “Head, thorax, abdomen”). They sculpted ants in art class, and cultivated ant farms in the classroom. They even wrote and performed ant plays (think picnic scenes) to present to the other classes. And all the while, they used their smarts to learn in different ways.

When I first saw this method, I thought it was interesting but I wondered how much the kids would retain when they spent such a short amount of time learning in lots of different ways. But I have had many conversations with my kids about ants, and other topics they learned at Fort Craig, and they not only remember the different activities they did, they usually recall many interesting facts about the subject. So, in my experience, Smarty Pants was a winner.

How You Can Harness the Smarts

If you’re in charge of training at your company, you don’t have to hang a pair of decorated jeans in your classroom (although that might be fun). But you may consider changing up your curriculum to accommodate the different kinds of smarts. By focusing on all the smarts, you have a better chance of reaching every student, making their training experience more effective and memorable.

Renee Snell is a former principal at the Lean Methods Group. A Master Black Belt/eLearning instructor, she has more than 20 years of experience in developing and teaching continuous improvement techniques.