Intelligent kids: different kinds of smart

Let’s think differently about being smart…

As adults, we all have a view about ourselves on whether or not we are intelligent. We reach this conclusion after years of being compared to and comparing ourselves against others.

Sadly, for many children, they reach a conclusion during their school years that they are not. This is understandable considering the amount of testing that is done. And what happens when children reach this conclusion? Well, there is a real danger that they can become ‘turned off’ from school and education.

For far too long we have been thinking about intelligence – and intelligent kids – the wrong way. Even now, most people think that ‘intelligence’ means being good in literacy and numeracy – the academic subjects. Regular, rigorous testing in reading, writing and maths gives the impression that intelligence is a unitary attribute that can be measured and summarized by these two areas alone, and if you don’t excel in these areas you are not intelligent. This is simply not the case. For example, take a renowned artist that can’t read, or a world-class footballer that doesn’t know the times table. Does that mean they are not intelligent?

Developmental psychologist Dr. Howard Gardner stated: “We need to broaden our notion of what can be considered intelligence.” He adds that there are eight ways to be intelligent. We each have all eight but we have varying degrees of intelligence in each one – and maths and English only form two of the eight.

Fortunately, many online tests now exist allowing us to determine in which of the eight areas we are strongest. It is useful to imagine your multiple intelligences as a bar chart. If you were to stack all eight bars on top of each other, you would probably have a similar gross score to anyone else, however, we each have a unique blend. So it is no longer a question of ‘How intelligent are you?’ but ‘How are you intelligent?’

While we tend to be stronger in areas that are of greater interest to us, it is important to remember that we can strengthen any intelligence. A test is meant to empower the learner, not label them. If we know we have a weak area, we can work on it.

It makes sense then that the results of such a test are only a snapshot in time – they will change many times throughout our lifetime, depending on our changing interests and the time we spend in each area. It is also useful to know that people with strengths in particular areas often end up with careers in related fields. Therefore, if children know their strengths, they may also gain a better understanding of which careers they might be more suited towards.

Hopefully by now, you are beginning to think this makes a lot of sense. You may be surprised to hear then that this is not a new idea. Dr. Gardner first presented the theory of Multiple Intelligences in 1983, yet it is still relatively unknown. If more children in schools were taught about this theory, and gained an understanding of their own personal intelligences, it would eradicate the possibility of children ever believing that they are not intelligent. For parents too it is important to understand that not every child will excel in literacy and numeracy, but that this is not the be all and end all.

• We each have a unique blend of intelligences.

• We can strengthen each intelligence.

• An inventory is meant as a snapshot in time – it can change.

• A Multiple Intelligence test is meant to empower, not label learners.

The eight intellengences

Where do your strengths lie?

1) Verbal-Linguistic: People with linguistic intelligence are naturally good with writing or speaking and memorization.

2) Logical-mathematical: People with logical intelligence are driven by logic and reasoning.

3) Visual-Spatial: People with visual intelligence are good at remembering images and are aware of surroundings.

4) bodily-Kinesthetic: People with kinesthetic intelligence love movement, have good motor skills and are aware of their bodies.

5) musical: People with musical intelligence are musically gifted and have a “good ear” for rhythm and composition.

6) intrapersonal: People with intrapersonal intelligence are adept at looking inward.

7) interpersonal: People with interpersonal intelligence are good with people and thrive in social interactions.

8) Naturalistic: People with naturalist intelligence have a sensitivity to and appreciation for nature.


*Brendan Hearne is a senior teacher at Saigon Star International School. He moved to Vietnam in 2013, having previously taught at two award-winning schools in the UK 

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