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Intelligence: You may be ‘cleverer’ than you think

Image of Stuart Pedley Smith - Kaplan Head of Learning, next to title of Learn Better Series
Stuart Pedley-Smith
By Stuart Pedley-Smith, Kaplan Head of Learning Link to Stuart Pedley-Smith's LinkedIn profile

Intelligence is a concept we often use to define people.

David is “clever” or “bright”, maybe even “smart” - and it can also be a way you define yourself. The problem is that accepting this “identity” can have an impact on motivation. For example, if someone thinks they aren’t very clever, how hard will they try? Effort would be pointless. And yet sometimes it’s the effort that makes the difference.

This is where Howard Gardner comes into play. A Professor of Cognition and Education at Harvard, he’s an inspiration when it comes to intelligence theory.

Multiple Intelligence Theory (MIT)

It’s not really Howard Gardner who’s inspiring - it’s his ideas.

He’s famous for his theory that ‘the traditional notion of intelligence, based on I.Q,. is far too limited’. Instead, he argues that there are 8 different intelligences. He first presented the theory in 1983, in the book Frames of Mind – The Theory of Multiple Intelligences.

Here’s how Gardner defines intelligence:

The capacity to solve problems, or to fashion products, that are valued in one or more cultural setting

(Gardner & Hatch, 1989)

Here are his theories on different types of intelligence:

  1. Spatial – The ability to conceptualise and manipulate large-scale spatial objects e.g. airplane pilot, sailor, driving.
  2. Bodily-kinesthetic – The ability to use your whole body, or parts of the body, to solve problems or create e.g. dancer.
  3. Musical – Sensitivity to rhythm, pitch, meter, tone, melody. May include the ability to sing, play musical instruments, and/or compose music e.g. conductor.
  4. Linguistic – Sensitive to: the meaning of words, the order among words, and the sound, rhythms, inflections, and meter of words e.g. poet, writer.
  5. Logical-mathematical – The ability to understand the logic between  actions or symbols e.g. mathematicians, scientists.
  6. Interpersonal – The ability to interact well with others. Sensitivity to others’ moods, feelings, temperaments and motivations e.g. negotiator, teacher.
  7. Intrapersonal – Sensitivity to one’s own feelings, goals, and anxieties, and the ability to do what is right for yourself.
  8. Naturalistic – The ability to make distinctions in the world of nature. For example, such as between one plant and another, or one cloud formation and another e.g. taxonomist.*

Intellectual strengths

Identifying which intelligences apply to you is an interesting exercise, but be careful, these are not learning styles. They are simply intellectual strengths.

For example, if someone has higher levels of linguistic intelligence, it doesn’t necessarily mean they prefer to learn only through lectures.

You might also want to take this a stage further by having a go at this simple test.**

Building your self-esteem

Gardner argues that schools largely focus their attention on linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligence, and reward those who excel in these areas.

However, if you were more physically intelligent the school wouldn’t consider you to be “clever” in the same way as an equally talented maths student.

They might advise you to think about a more manual job. Yet someone with high levels of physical and spacial intelligence may well find themselves playing for Manchester United earning over £100,000 a week!

Gardner’s intelligence theory offers a fresh perspective on intelligence. For students, it can  help build self-esteem and motivation when a subject is proving hard to grasp.

No longer do you have to say “I don’t understand this. I’m just not clever enough”. Change the words to “I don’t understand this yet, I find some of these maths questions challenging as it’s not my strongest intelligence”.

For me, this is what make Gardner’s MIT so powerful. It’s not a question of how intelligent you are, but which intelligence you work best in.

Discover your difference, the asynchrony with which you have been blessed or cursed and make the most of it.

Howard Gardner

As mentioned, Howard Gardner is not the most inspirational figure, but it’s his theory which can help you better understand yourself and others. This could be a powerful way to change your perception of who you are and what you're capable of.

Now that's inspiring!

Stuart Pedley Smith is Kaplan Head of Learning, this piece is inspired by the theories of Howard Gardner.

*This is an abridged version from Stuart Pedley Smith, Kaplan’s Head of Learning.
**Please note, this is for your personal use. It’s main purpose is to increase your understanding of the intelligences.