Being Smart, Getting Smarter

Word Smarts, Picture Smarts, Body Smarts, and People Smarts in action!

Did you know that there is more than one way to be smart? According to theorists, educational psychologists, and professors, such as Howard Gardner, Carol Dweck, and Thomas Armstrong, evidence suggests they’re right.

Howard Gardner developed the Multiple Intelligences (MI) theory about 35 years ago. I stumbled upon his theory when I was earning my graduate degree. I was immediately entranced by it because I had been teaching to my students’ intelligences for some time prior to knowing what such pedagogy was actually called. I had not received formal training in MI theory, but I had learned how to teach Shurley English, using the Shurley Method. When I began to realize the potential of what MI could do in my classroom, it delighted me to realize that I was already half-way there because I was teaching Shurley English daily to my first and second graders. Almost every new concept I taught in the Shurley Method began with a jingle. The jingles became a one-stop shop for my kids’ multiple intelligences. Gardner described the various intelligences with some fairly lofty terms that Dr. Thomas Armstrong has simplified. Here’s a quick run-down of the intelligences. I thought you might like to see a side-by-side chart of Gardner’s original titles and Armstrong’s simpler version:

Gardner and Armstrong Intelligences.png

I won’t go into all the particulars about the intelligences at this time, but I encourage you to research them. For now, let it suffice to say that I am unabashedly biased when it comes to teaching the language arts with Shurley English, but the excellent research available about MI makes me appreciate it even more.

Take the Shurley English Reading Jingles for example…say you want to teach your kids about their multiple intelligences and then to help them discover their unique combinations of smarts. Shurley jingles bring Word Smarts, Picture Smarts, Body Smarts, and People Smarts to the table every time. Using the brightly illustrated, text-rich Jingle Posters, I point out the one-to-one correspondence of the text to the words I am teaching students in the jingle. The illustrations help create a memory marker for the students to associate with the particular jingle. That’s the Picture Smart and Word Part component. As the jingles are learned to a rhythm or a tune, students tap into their Music Smarts. To help them lock down the memorization of the jingle, I have my students make specific choreographic movements to jingles, bringing in their Body Smarts. It’s amazing to watch how students’ coordination improves simply by rehearsing the same movements every day in the jingles! Finally, my students’ interpersonal skills get a workout as the jingles are mastered. Since the jingles are recited or sung aloud chorally, a sense of community saturates the classroom. When someone bobbles up a jingles, everyone can giggle freely without risk of feeling “called out.” Jingle Time generates a perfect opportunity to help kids develop risk-taking skills under the careful community support of their peers. Of course, this gave me the opportunity to help students learn HOW to support, self-correct, and peer-correct without creating a sense of shame for making a mistake.

This is where the work of Dr. Carol Dweck comes in. Her Growth Mindset theory is all abuzz right now, and for good reason. I love how her research defines the possibilities for every learner. Basically, her theory posits that our smarts are not necessarily a fixed quantity of intelligence, talent, or aptitude—we are not just a bundle of inherited genetic traits that spell out fame and fortune for our future. Simply stated, her theory explains how we can help students (and people, in general) to perceive themselves as potential learners of anything new they would like to know. Unfortunately, empty praise for a child’s looks, smarts, or athletic ability can promote a lack of motivation. Whereas, a systematic mindset of “My smarts are not fixed—I can become smarter if I apply myself” seems to have a remarkable impact upon student learning.

As I taught systematically the structures behind the Shurley Method, I was doing just what Dweck prescribes in her research…more time on task learning the tougher parts, practicing systematically every day the various aspects of the lessons—it all makes sense. I was “accidentally” stretching my students’ self-awareness and their self-esteem by teaching them to have fun while learning the hallmark concepts of our language. This daily practice had a profound influence on my students, and now that they are grown and pioneering their own careers, I still hear from them. They tell me how they believed they were smart when they were in my class. Their underlying beliefs, as Dweck puts it, were directly influenced in a remarkable way because they actually believed they could get smarter with hard work.

My hat’s off to these gifted researchers, whom I consider mentors, for making public such important, evidence-based theories that helped me achieve success in my teaching. And a special thanks to Brenda Shurley for developing a curriculum for teaching English that enabled me to apply these theories naturally!

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David Lutz

David, a former classroom teacher, administrator, and self-proclaimed grammar nut, considers the oddities of English vocabulary and grammar his playthings! He received his degrees in elementary education, teaching, and curriculum design from CMU in Fayette, MO, and the University of St. Mary, Leavenworth, KS, respectively. His career has been a colorful collage of experiences in education, ranging from Kindergarten to Adult education and parenting classes.


He and his wife, Marjorie, have been blessed with 30 years of marriage, three grown sons, a cherished daughter-in-law, and the smartest, cutest grandson on the planet! He’s worked for Shurley Instructional Materials, Inc., for over 11 years and loves to help students and their teachers learn to love language and language learning as much as he does.