Wake magnet schools define students' smarts

Posted February 11, 2010

— How do you define "smart”? There's no single right answer, but some Wake County magnet schools have come up with various definitions of the word to help students learn.

At Douglas Magnet Elementary School in Raleigh, it's not a question of whether a student is smart – it’s how they are smart.

Wake schools define students' smarts Wake schools define students' smarts

“I’m more like a math learner. I really like math,” said student Delfi Ortega-Mackenzie.

Math smart is just one of the definitions. Psychologist Howard Gardner has identified eight kinds of smarts, or "multiple intelligences":

  • Linguistic intelligence or "word smart"
  • Logical-mathematical intelligence or "math smart"
  • Spatial intelligence or "picture smart"
  • Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence or "body smart"
  • Musical intelligence or "music smart"
  • Interpersonal intelligence or "people smart"
  • Intrapersonal intelligence or "self smart"
  • Naturalist intelligence or "nature smart"

Since students' brains process information in different ways, teachers say they typically have multiple activities going on at once in their classrooms, and each activity plays to a certain strength. Some students might draw a story on paper while others act it out or put the story to music.

School leaders say the goal is to offer kids different ways to take in the curriculum and encourage them to be all-around learners.

“You want to both give them some comfort by working in those strengths, but you also want to build up their weaker areas. So that’s why kids participate in those eight ways of being smart,” said Michelle Burrows, a creative arts and science magnet school coordinator.

All teachers at Douglas Elementary go through special training in the theory of multiple intelligences so they can incorporate the concept in the classroom.

“It’s fun, and every child gets to succeed and excel,” said teacher Carolyn Florence.

Teachers say the various approaches build up kids' confidence and their enthusiasm for learning. Bugg Elementary, Wendell Elementary and East Millbrook Middle also use multiple intelligences as the core philosophy. All are magnet schools.


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  • Ready2Taxi Feb 11, 2010

    I'm sure that the parents of kids in the one-room, dirt floor schoolhouse in India, doing integral calculus in middle school, would be pleased to know that Americans ponder whether we are "self-smart".

  • veyor Feb 11, 2010

    anne - it does help to know it is a Harvard professor - I was actually very agreeable to students having varied intelligence abilities; now I'll have to be suspicious.

  • MileageWarrior Feb 11, 2010

    "A lot of posters should get past using the word "smart" as a means of describing what a child is good at. It is also being used to describe their learning types"

    I completely agree. Those who feel otherwise probably just aren't that smart....and this time, I'm using the typical definition of the word.

    It doesn't take a whole lot of intelligence to understand that people comprehend information differently than others. Like I said, I'm a visual/tactile learner. I didn't need a study to tell me that I comprehend complex data better with a visual aid or hands on experience. And last I checked, I don't wear a paper hat to my sweet, lucrative job. Course, I understand the concept of being a visual learner and used it to my advantage.

  • putsomethoughtinit Feb 11, 2010

    A lot of posters should get past using the word "smart" as a means of describing what a child is good at. It is also being used to describe their learning types. I have yet to see a good argument as to why this is negative. In some way all are being taught according to their preferred style, and others are learning to use the styles that may not be their preference.

    And those who continue to insist more time is spent by the school teaching their kids, please consider that some of you feel that a classroom that seats 30 is being under-utilized by there only being 20 students in the class (lower teacher to student ratio equals more time spent with individuals) and some, not all, of parents feel that a child's learning is to be handled ONLY by the classroom.

  • mdsmks Feb 11, 2010

    This concept works well with elementary school children and possibly even middle school students. However, when the students get to high school, particulary 11th & 12th grade AP classes and definitely college, the teachers and professors are not going take the time to determine each students individual learning style and help them make up for their deficiencies. At that point, it is up to the student to recognize their learning style and make their own behavioral changes necessary to learn the material.

  • carla349 Feb 11, 2010

    As vrybsymom pointed out, I'm sure many of those in the service industry are "people smart". Thanks I'll pass, teach my kid until he IS math smart and word smart, he can figure out self smart later on when he has a decent job that doesn't involve a paper hat.

    This is right up there with a trophy for everyone that participates. Ridiculous!

  • time4real Feb 11, 2010

    let me tell you what a "magnet" school means, it means the haves and the have nots. if you didn't win the "diversity" lottery to get your child in a "magnet" then you understand what that means. how come all children don't have the same equal opportunities? Costs more you say? Fine, that we should be able to pay for, but all of us paying for some to get the chance is as unequal and unfair as it gets. way to go wake county, you have failed 1,000's upon 1,000's of children!

  • Reader Feb 11, 2010

    It's not just magnet schools that use this approach. Experienced teachers have applied the basic concept for years. As in, some kids are helped by flash cards (visual), while some prefer practice spelling bees (auditory). I have a copy of Dr.Garderner's publication on multiple intelligences which was given to me by a veteran wcpss teacher more than six years ago. She was thrilled to see someone validate her personal experiences.

  • happymom Feb 11, 2010

    It looks like a number of posters are so eager to down Wake County schools that they completely misinterpreted Gardner's theory and how it is being applied in magnet schools.

    I don't approve of every move made by the school system, but they got this right. No one is getting a free pass or an "excuse" to not try, but what the students are getting is encouragement and acknowledgement for the competencies in which they excel. Montessori uses a similar approach. This is a way students can learn from each other, stretch themselves in their area of excellence, and continue to receive support in the areas in which they struggle.

    It's a much better approach than a kid feeling like he's stupid because he's struggling in one or two subjects. AND it has a lot of science behind it.

  • jeffcockman Feb 11, 2010

    OMG, what next?? Little Johnny cheated off his classmate, "Oh he's just "People Smart"....!! Seriously, this is SAD and possibly the most stupid use of school time I've ever heard! Really "SMART" Wake County....lord help my 2 boys!!