Would you rather be clever or intelligent? A whistle-stop tour of Multiple Intelligence (MI)

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Think of a bright child in your class. Chances are it came to mind relatively quickly, but what criteria were you using? This blog investigates the difference between bright/clever and intelligence.

I am blessed enough to have two beautiful boys aged 12 and 17 – two boys with very distinct and diverse personalities.   My eldest boy Ryan, left primary school aged eleven as a ‘Straight A’ type of guy;  achieving level 5s in  all subjects; academia fell into his lap as softly as a leaf in the warm September breeze.

On the other hand the little man Leo, found most of his academic studies rather arduous and soul destroying – feeling rather ‘thick’ (as he put it) because we was poor at number ‘work’ and spelling.

I was fortunate enough to have Leo at my school for the last three years of his primary education; during that time I witnessed him blossom on his learning journey; eventually leaving school with Level 4 SATs in Maths & English and a Level 5 in Science.  Despite this achievement he always felt he was not as clever as the others in his class.

Where Leo did come into his own was within his imagination, his creativity.  Even now at the age of twelve he can play the guitar, ukulele, Bodhran (Irish handheld circular drum).  He is a competent artist (winning ‘Pupil of the Month’ for his art at school)  His woodworking and practical making skills are outstanding.  However, not one of his talents or skills above can be scored within the world of SATs! – So do they count?

What the world of academia has succinctly said to generations upon generations of children “If you can’t read or write too well; or you’re poor at counting then you’re stupid!”  Luckily, Leo has a Thought Weaver for a dad and Leo knows that he is very intelligent!   He knows his strengths and his developmental areas – he knows there is a distinct difference between being clever and being intelligent!

I was pondering on the question: What is the difference between being clever and being intelligent?

After posting the above question on Twitter; we had many replies but my favourite was from our friend Mr. Gerald Haigh:   @geraldhaigh1: (Learner, teacher, writer, piano player.)  Gerald says that in his opinion:

‘Clever” is a catch-all meaning ‘owt’ (anything) from very able to deeply cunning. “Intelligent” was once precise but is now discredited.’

Is intelligence discredited?  Should it be?  Does it still have a place within the modern ‘SATs driven’ education system? Pablo Demarchi (Argentina) @PDemarci says:

‘I think being clever is an abstract ability; being intelligent means you can apply that ability to create or find solutions.’

I know that my son Leo has the ‘abstract ability’ but where he shines is within his ability to apply his new found knowledge, skills and experience to any new situations; this I feel is very intelligent indeed.  The Slideshow at the top of the page is Leo’s ‘Cigar Box Guitar’ (or in this case it’s an Old Pasta Tin Guitar).

This is what happens when you encourage youngsters to find their own intelligence.  I swear to God I had NO input in the making of the instrument pictured.

So hopefully we all can see a distinct difference between ‘Cleverness’ and ‘Intelligence.’ The piece of theory I love about intelligence and its application is Howard Gardner’s findings on Multiple Intelligence (MI).

I know that for many the jury is still out when it comes to the scientific credibility of Gardener’s work.  But I must confess that I am a true disciple and take on his teachings verbatim.  The reason I believe in this so strongly is that I know it works and I have witnessed the benefits within my classroom

Below is a brief synopsis of each of Gardner’s intelligences. It important to know that we have them all! It’s just that some of us excel/enjoy in some aspects whilst with other aspects we don’t.

Try to think of two or three pupils/people or maybe think about yourself and pick out their/your personal traits in relation to these below.

Spatial Intelligence The artists, designers, sculptor, architects and free thinkers: These are the ones that can see and think right out of the box. These see things from different perspectives! Perhaps when a boy in my class told me he’d like to meet an Alien, he was serious!

Verbal/Linguistic Intelligence– Writers, journalists, teachers, poets and lawyers. These are the people who have a great command of language and words; they excel at speaking and are able to command an audience. Perhaps it’s not always best to ‘be quiet!’

Logical/Mathematical Intelligence: mathematicians, accountants, engineers: The number crunchers, the deal-doers. These are the market speculators of the world!  Solving problems is very well suited to this!

Body-kinaesthetic Intelligence: The athletes, fire fighters and actors of the world. These are the folk who use their body to its best ability, in the classroom the may ‘fidget’, but outside it they flourish! When was the last time you created a dance routine based on an electrical circuit?  Check out our blog on Physical Movement:  http://wp.me/p1upWt-1l

Musical Intelligence: The musicians, composers and DJs of the world. They have great rhythm, love the feel and sound of instruments and are passionate about listening to and making music! When was the last time you asked children to make up a song about triangles?

Interpersonal: These are the socialites of the world, those who can enter a room full of people and know something about them all in a very short space of time! They love talking! What does outstanding collaboration ‘look’ like in your classroom?

Intrapersonal: This is the philosopher’s intelligence. These folk are highly reflective and think very careful about things. This type of intelligence helps use to identify our strengths and weaknesses. Have you tried P4C?

Naturalistic: The great outdoors would certainly suit people who enjoy using this type of intelligence; the farmers, walkers and gardeners of the world! How do you link science with gardening?  How often do you take the learning outside?  Personification poems can be taught brilliantly by interviewing fences!  Trust me it works!

Many of the children in a typical classroom will be able to demonstrate with considerable skill a range of the intelligencesGardnerwrites about. It seems strange then that despite this they may not be seen as clever.

Lee & I had a chat about the question above: ‘What is the difference between being Clever and being Intelligent?’  We came to the agreement that ‘Clever’ is a title that someone gives you (usually after you have performed well in a test.)  Intelligence is something that you give yourself; an positive intrinsic energy from within that helps you to apply your knowledge and understanding in a way that clever people find difficult!

Ian Gilbert (The Independent Thinking) prompts us to consider the approach of rather than asking child:  How clever are you?  Why not ask them ‘How are you clever?’

The last word we leave to Mr Albert Einstein, his words sum up this blog:

“If you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will forever think it’s stupid.?”

Lee & David (The Thought Weavers)


Howard Gardner: Frames of Mind: ISBN: 0-00-686290


Ian Gilbert: Essential Motivation in the Classroom: ISBN 0-415-26619-X


David Hodgson: The Little Book of Inspirational Teaching Activities; Bringing NLP into the Classroom. http://www.independentthinking.co.uk/Shop!/Books+Main/BooksWritten/622.aspx


15 thoughts on “Would you rather be clever or intelligent? A whistle-stop tour of Multiple Intelligence (MI)

  1. I enjoyed reading this blog and have been aware of the multiple intelligence model for a long time. Always had fun in staff discussions when, rather than separating the intelligences as distinct, I suggested intelligence is more like a faceted diamond. A shining light may reflect off one or more surfaces. In gifted children, the light is reflected from more than one surface yet it is still a single diamond, the one hard to define intelligence which can be made up of the multiple intelligences as the facets. I loved playing mind games with people.

    Regardless of the debate on the model itself, the multiple intelligence model is a great way of recognising the individual differences of children in our care. I’ve used the ideas in class programming. In themes, I tried to include activities covering all the intelligences whenever possible. I use to look on and watch the facets shine. 🙂

    An interesting aside is the case of savant children who may show an amazing ability to calculate yet have no concept of application of the skill. Ask one to multiply a 6 by 6 figure and the answer is there but asking what coins are needed for a simple purchase draws a blank. Clever or intelligent? Clever would be the word I think from your definitions. In that sense, a computer could be considered clever but it is definitely not intelligent.

    I like your distinction between clever and intelligent. No matter how clever we may be, there is little value if we can’t apply the cleverness. I also believe your son is intelligent from what you have described. He is clever and has the ability to apply his new found knowledge. That’s a pretty good combination.

    Thank you for the interesting post. My apologies for my ramblings. You caught me in one of those commenting moods for which I think I’ve become known. 🙂

    1. Hiya Ross,
      Thanks for your comments and fear not! you never ramble but inspire! I loved the idea of intelligence as a diamond! If I may, I’d love to use the model in future blogs/articles but as always the credit will go to you sir!
      Thanks you once again for your continued support.
      Lee & David (the Thought Weavers)

      1. By all means use the idea. It tickled the fancy of a presenter at a course I attended once. He wanted to use the idea too. The idea came to me when reviewing the multiple intelligence model. Liked the attempt to break down intelligence but decided rather than separate they were really part of something very hard to define. The diamond and facets were a way of helping people understand what I meant. That was the Psych major in me. I guess I was “thinking outside the square”.

  2. Quite flattered that my off the cuff distinction between ‘clever’ and ‘intelligent’ is included here. There are real problems with the whole concept of intelligence, whether multiple or not. For many years everyone, including educators, really wanted to believe in a sort of mental muscle — general intelligence — that varied in strength, person to person. At college, long ago, I was taught psychologist Charles Spearman’s 1920s definition of what he called ‘g’ — “general intelligence’ — “The ability to perceive relationships and educe co-relationships.” Spearman was one of many who strove to ‘get at’ pure abstract intelligence, and to construct non-verbal reasoning tests that would test intelligence rather than the ability to read the tests. Such tests still exist and are used from time to time Now, though, they’re used in full understanding of their limitations.
    So when you think about it, Spearman’s definition is actually pretty attractive, but in the end it’s a definition of one particular mental skill, not a holistic measure of ability. The trouble is, of course, that society, and schools, value particular kinds of ability, defines them as “intelligence” and ignores the huge range of abilities beyond that narrow band.
    Gradually, over fifty years or so, we’ve striven to escape from that. So we’ve had theories of “emotional intelligence” and “multiple intelligences” . Notice how reluctant we are to abandon the word “intelligence”, and how these more recent ideas are still, in the end, concerned with putting children into measurable boxes.
    Still, Gardner’s work, shaky though it is if you try to apply it too literally to individuals, works well as a constant reminder that we learn in many ways. If it results in teachers thinking beyond the standard traditional ways of presenting tasks to children, then that’s surely to the good.

    I enjoy, and learn from the blog and the comments.

    1. Hi Gerald,
      Thanks for your kind words – Yes ‘intelligence’ is still the word we all opt for! But what else could we call it? It’s a difficult one! Most of my passion for writing comes from the heart (not necessarily from the brain) and how the education system of the 1970s treated me as an individual! I was written off due to my poor spelling/grammar and over exuberant behaviour, I am still convinced that I have ADHD but I have gone almost 48 years without a diagnosis and have learned to develop many coping strategies.

      The fact is; that if a child cannot jump through the writing or counting SATs hoops they are written off as a failure by the Education system and that’s simply not fair!
      My little boy Leo is a really intelligent human being but feels inadequate when it comes to an academic test!

      Thanks for you comments.

      Lee & David

  3. Great post and I’m liking the diamond model in the first comment and the reassurance not to take it too seriously but use it to remember differences in children’s learning from the second. I like to think of it as ‘dumbing up’, giving every child access to the learning, something Gardner talks about as ‘multiple chance learning’ as opposed to a more traditional ‘single chance’.

    Keep up the good work Thoughtweavers


    1. Hi Ian

      Thanks for the comments it’s great to know that we all sing from the same song sheet. We were singing from it for years and when we came across your work it just reaffirmed that what we were doing was correct! I love the way that you try to demystify all the jargon that surrounds education. (I don’t know if you set out to do this but it works for me!)

      A few years ago I was working as a youth worker and we were designing posters for a forthcoming event! For years I felt that ‘spelling’ was the one chink in my armour that would let me down and I was very conscious of being caught out: I causally asked a group of youngsters:
      “How many ‘m’s are there in commences?”
      Without turning round they shouted:
      “Dave just write ‘starts’!” Classic!

      When I first read a summary of Gardner’s work in ‘Essential Motivation’ it threw me a life line – I wasn’t thick after all – I realised that I was good at other things that didn’t always include writing or counting. This is the message that I share out with all the young people that I meet on a daily basis.

      I also have a great game I devised with ‘mints’ (edible ones) based on the ideas from David Hodgson’s book – Bringing NLP into the classroom.

      Take care and God bless.

      David & Lee (The Thought Weavers)

  4. I read Ian Gilbert’s work on the idea of ‘How are you clever? vs. ‘How clever are you?’ and, as teachers, I think it’s essential that we keep this at the forefront of our minds.

    On a recent course about extending gifted and more able children in science, we were asked to think of a G&T scientist in our class. We then analysed how easy it was to confuse this with a more able all rounder or gifted literacy student. The fact is, that being gifted in literacy does not equal being gifted in science, but all too often we put all the emphasis on the recording side of things. As a direct result of this, we developed ‘focussed recording’ (where the recording in a two hour science lesson would be no more than 20 minutes) to make science about doing and, well, about science! Of course writing is important and of course number work is important, but if a child is not excelling at those, are they not excelling at anything? Of course not. My true gifted and more able scientists have now been able to shine.

    As I move into year 6 in September and face the pressure of SATs, I know I have to keep on asking the question, ‘how are you clever?’ now more than ever.

  5. Hi Claire
    Thanks once again for your continued support. When we rule the world you can be in charge of education – is that alright? Seriously, we really appreciate all your positive comments, Re-tweets, and words of encouragement as this is what drives us on with our writing. I don’t know if we have told you but we are also writing a book that’s due to be published early part of next year – 2012. Yesterday we had our weekly Saturday morning, breakfast, writing session at Frankie and Benny’s and drew up an Action Plan of what we need to finish off. We have written four of the seven chapters, two are in draft form and the remainder is on an A3 piece of paper in Spider-gram form.
    We’ll keep you posted with the progress. If you need any help with your move to Y6 just give us a shout.
    Lee & David (The Thought Weavers)

    1. Haha, fine by me. I quite like that job title – In Charge of Education.

      I really enjoy your posts, we seem to be on the same page about things, so I’m thrilled to hear you’re writing a book. Good work, and very inspirational. Would love to be a fly on the wall at Frankie and Benny’s. 😉 Definitely keep me and your other followers up to date on the progress of your book.

  6. Simple Intelligent people use clever people, clever people learn anything and everything
    eg, Internet clever people fill the internet, intelligent people use the internet
    clever know it all,intelligent use it all

  7. Intelligent is the ability to think logical based on what u are been asked or come up with an idea or answers that is some how akin to the issues of the most or what u are been asked,while brilliance is the ability to remember what u are been told,to be able to give a teacher what he gave u in the class on the exam day

  8. I haven’t read the comments, only your post and hardly ever comment in a context like this (although I want to and I will once I finish my studies) oh, I see last comment is from 2013. Wow, I think I was first year students back then. I finish this year.. I think I’m most verbal/linguistics (well, I study linguistics and literature but was a chatter from womb!
    Any way, focus! – Your sons’ names are beautiful. I pronounced it to myself a few times : “Ryan and Leo” (hope it doesn’t sound weird 🙂 written language ans all… I just love words and sounds. not just though.
    second point – I have a ready-made-by-myself-and-with-some-changes-I-think-many-will-enjoy-it lesson on MI (When I first read about it my reaction was : what’s so unique about it? as I thought this is common knowledge/reason. But then I got the concepts of theories (some I think a waste of time and money, but so are Smart-phones… at least Theories are God, because those phones are surely rhe Devil’s doings). so if this message goes through and you want me to send it to you (its a Power Point, and worksheets and test-yourself quiz… its nice, the kids liked it).
    And I almost forgot – as previously noted (I’m writing a paper 🙂 ), I haven’t read the comments so apologies if I’m repeating an idea . my view on clever and intelligent –
    First I though “but why not be both?” (greedy, I know)
    I think the if you’re clever, then you know you’re also intelligent (and how intelligent for that matter)
    If you’re intelligent – you’ll never act upon the knowing that you’re clever. You are intelligent enough to be humble, and clever enough to be elegant about it.
    as always, sounds better in my mind! but I’ll submit anyway… this is technology og the 21st century right?! 🙂
    Oh and just to add that these are not constant and can be changed (either deliberately or not). and also (I tell my students, and I found these tips online) people can do things to improve in the intelligence they want. for example – musical. my students think immediately that it means singing like Sia (or Streisand, but they don’t know people after 35). They are often so happy to find put that they can change things about themselves…it’s great to watch. I’m emotional, especially with my students 🙂
    I wish you and your sons good health and lots of fun.
    it’s important to keep wishes short, so they might come true 🙂 perhaps this one, I assume, is already true. Nice writing to you.
    All the best.
    Shany. 🙂

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