What Does Smart Mean?

The Theory of 
Multiple Intelligences

Often “smart” is defined as doing well on a standardized test or being a good reader, writer, and calculator. Standardized tests are important and students must be strong in the reading, writing, and calculation. However, a realistic definition of intelligence is much broader than this.

The theory of multiple intelligences (MI) brings a very pragmatic approach to how we define intelligence and allows us to use our students’ strengths to help them learn. Being smart is no longer determined by a score on a test, but rather by assessing a child’s individual strengths – whether they are strong in reading and writing, math and science, or strong in music and art.

Howard Gardner set out the theory of multiple intelligences (MI) in his 1983 book, Frames Of Mind. He defines intelligence as the ability to solve a problem or create a product that is valued in a society.  Gardner’s eight intelligences are:

  • Linguistic: sensitivity to the meaning and order of words
  • Logical-Mathematical: the ability to handle chains of reasoning and to recognize patterns and order
  • Musical: sensitivity to pitch, melody, rhythm, and tone
  • Bodily-Kinesthetic: the ability to use the body skillfully and handle objects adroitly
  • Spatial: the ability to perceive the world accurately and to recreate or transform aspects of that world
  • Naturalist: the ability to recognize and classify the numerous species, the flora and fauna, of an environment
  • Interpersonal: the ability to understand people and relationships
  • Intrapersonal: access to one's emotional life as a means to understand oneself and others

At New City School, we work to build on all of the intelligences. Students learn to read, write, and calculate, but they also learn how to use other strengths in solving problems. Our faculty has written extensively about how MI can help students learn, and teachers grow in Celebrating Every Learner (Jossey-Bass, 2010).

Learn more about multiple intelligences in the classrooms here