HOW WE ARE SMART by W. Nikola-Lisa and Sean Qualls

How We Are Smart

How We Are Smart celebrates diversity on many levels. In mini-biographies of twelve leaders in a variety of fields, from a variety of ethnic groups, Howard Gardener’s eight multiple intelligences are explored.

How We Are Smart is a book to read aloud to help fourth graders and older students expand their understanding of the concept of intelligence. Howard Gardener’s theory of multiple intelligences, as popularized by Dr. Thomas Armstrong, is the motivating force behind this book. The idea is that what matters is “not how smart you are, but how you are smart.” Here the eight intelligences are called Body Smart, Logic Smart, Music Smart, Nature Smart, People Smart, Picture Smart, Self Smart, and Word Smart. Each double page spread showcases a famous person who is a clear exemplar of a particular kind of intelligence. There are well-known people such as Thurgood Marshall, Georgia O’Keefe, and Marian Anderson as well as lesser known ones like Annie Jump Canyon (an astronomer.) Each person’s talent is revealed through one of their quotes, a mini-biography in prose (including dates) and a rendition of their interests and achievements in verse. The accompanying artwork consists of a modernist painted portrait in a palette of earthy, multicultural tones overlaid with charcoal drawings of objects that are integral to this person’s fame. While some of the verses are a bit awkward, the book achieves its goal: there is bound to be someone here every child can relate to because of the variety in strengths, ethnicities, and gender.

I have seen this book used very successfully at the opening of fourth grade. Using the child friendly definitions of each of the intelligences in the back of the book, teachers have led children on an exploration of their own intelligences. It’s important to have children think about more than one intelligence they possess or to have them highlight their primary intelligence and then pick one they’re interested in developing. The point of this book is to move kids away from a rigid idea of intelligence, so don’t inadvertently impede that growth by having students box themselves into one kind of smarts. Talking about different kinds of intelligence is a great way to reassure kids (particularly the ones who struggle with academic work) that there is a place in your class for what they have to offer.