Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?

There’s a television show called, “Are you smarter than a fifth grader?”

Quite honestly, I’ve never watched it.

The truth is that while I’d like to think I’m smarter than a fifth grader, I’m afraid to find I might not be.

When I was in grade five, I was a good student although it wasn’t always easy. Virtually the entire curriculum was based on being able to demonstrate knowledge by memorizing and regurgitating information.

There weren’t a lot of opportunities to do something with that knowledge that would require imagination and critical thinking skills – an area where I was more comfortable.

Additionally, while I am normally undaunted by creative or literary challenges, I remember the panic I felt when called upon in math class. The mere sight of a row of numbers still sends me into a panic.  I’ve had to accept the fact that when it comes to mathematical or technological intelligence, I am severely deprived. On the other hand, I have a son who adores number crunching.  Go figure.

According to the theories advanced by Dr. Howard Gardner of Harvard University, these differences shouldn’t be surprising…people are often smart in different ways. 

Rather than a single, generalized intelligence that can be described by an IQ score, Gardner believes we have multiple intelligences (MISs).  He believes there are seven different types of intelligence; musical, interpersonal, logico-mathematical, linguistic, spatial, intrapersonal and bodily-kinesthetic

Not surprisingly, these intelligences go beyond the two forms of intelligence generally measured in our school systems - the two dealing with words and numbers. 

Sadly, because most school systems focus on the intelligence dealing with words and numbers, the different areas of intelligence of a child may not be recognized or rewarded.  A child’s musical ability, mechanical skills, or talent for leadership may go unnoticed.

A child with musical intelligence will be sensitive to the essential elements of music - pitch or melody, rhythm and timbre or quality of tone.  One of the earliest talents to emerge, a child with musical talent will be able to sing on key, keep a beat, compose his own songs, and remember music she has heard.

Interpersonal intelligence is the ability to distinguish differences among people, to pick up on their vibes and perceive their different moods, temperaments, and motivations.

Logico-mathematical intelligence – the one I definitely do not have – is the intelligence necessary to work in the world of logic, computers, or mathematics. This would include the ability to think conceptually, to investigate relationships in the physical world by experimenting, and to explore more abstract relationships.

Not surprisingly, linguistic intelligence is the talent for using language to express verbal and written meaning. Reading and writing, and therefore school in general, will be much more appealing for the student with this type of intelligence.

Spatial intelligence deals with good visual memory – the ability to recognize shapes and to mentally modify a visual image. This kind of intelligence is important for architects, inventors, painters, and sculptors.

Intrapersonal intelligence is the ability to recognize and sort out one’s own feelings. Young children with this type of intelligence will be able to talk insightfully about their own experience and feelings and can later translate this intelligence into roles as poets or artists. Although they may prefer to work alone, some choose to use their understanding of themselves to work with others as a therapist or counselor.

Bodily-kinaesthetic intelligence relates to the capacity for using one’s body. It isn’t your imagination, some people simply are more coordinated and have better motor skills. Potential athletes, actors, and dancers will need this kind of ability.

The bottom line is that everyone has their own unique combination of smarts. While I will never be a whiz at math, it’s reassuring to know there are other stronger types of intelligence within me. While they may not be forms of intelligence that would have helped me out as a fifth grader, they’ve certainly been useful in real life.

Posted on 02-21-10

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