the Achievement of all Students:
Teaching for Successful Intelligence
J. Sternberg, Yale University
(To appear in: Educational Psychology Review)
describes how we can teach students more effectively by teaching for successful
intelligence. Teaching for successful intelligence involves instructing
and assessing analytically, creatively, and practically, as well as for
memory. Such teaching helps students recognize and capitalize on strengths,
and at the same time recognize and correct or compensate for weaknesses.
The articles describes how to teach for successful intelligence, and presents
empirical evidence that teaching for successful intelligence really works
in the classroom in raising student achievement.
Raising the Achievement of all Students:
Teaching for Successful Intelligence
Our goal is
to raise the achievement of all students. The question, of course, is
how to do it. We think we have a way.
is that some children seem to benefit just fine from the schooling they
get, but others do not. Teachers try very hard to reach all students,
but rather frequently, find that there are some students who just seem
to be hard to reach. There can be many reasons why certain students are
hard to reach-disabilities, disorders, motivational problems, health problems,
and so forth. One reason, though, can be the mismatch between a pattern
of strengths and weaknesses on the part of the student and the particular
range of methods that a teacher is using in trying to reach that student.
"Teaching for successful intelligence" provides a series of
techniques for reaching as many students as possible (Sternberg &
Grigorenko, 2000; Sternberg & Spear-Swerling, 1996; Sternberg &
Teaching for successful intelligence is based on a psychological theory,
the theory of successful intelligence (Sternberg, 1997). This theory is
quite different from traditional theories of intelligence, which posit
that intelligence is just a single construct, sometimes called g, or general
intelligence, and sometimes known in terms of the IQ measure. The methods
based on this new theory are not the only series of teaching methods based
on a new psychological theory of intelligence. Gardner (1983, 1999) has
proposed a different theory, with somewhat different, although sometimes
overlapping methods of instruction. But I believe that our methods are
particularly effective, and, moreover, have hard empirical data to support
Permit me to give a concrete example. When I took my introductory psychology
course, I was very motivated to become a psychologist. I received a grade
of "C" in the course. The grade as extremely discouraging to
me, as was my instructor's comment that "There is a famous Sternberg
in psychology, and judging from this grade, there won't be another one."
I decided that I did not have the ability to major in psychology, so I
switched to mathematics. This was a fortunate decision for me, because
on the midterm in advanced mathematics, I got a grade of "F."
Now, the C was looking pretty good, so I switched back to psychology.
I received higher grades in subsequent courses, and today, I am a psychologist
and was just recently elected President of the American Psychological
Association, a national organization of about 155,000 psychologists.
The problem is that many children who might like to study a given subject
area-whether language arts, mathematics, history, science, foreign language,
or whatever-may give up because they think they cannot succeed in studying
it. They may either stop taking courses in the subject area, or just give
up in the courses they are taking. Teaching for successful intelligence
can give these students the chance to succeed that they might not otherwise
What is Teaching for Successful Intelligence?
successful intelligence involves a way of looking at the teaching-learning
process that broadens the kinds of activities and assessments teachers
traditionally do. Many good teachers "teach for successful intelligence"
spontaneously. But, for one reason or another, most do not. Teaching for
successful intelligence involves, at minimum, using a set of prompts that
encourages students to engage in memory learning as well as analytical,
creative, and practical learning.
The key ideas are these:
Teaching for Memory Learning
teaching is teaching for memory learning. Teaching for successful intelligence
does not ask teachers to stop what they already are doing. Rather, it
asks teachers to build on it. Teaching for memory is the foundation for
all other teaching, because students cannot think critically (or any other
way) about what they know if they do not know anything. Teaching for memory
basically involves assisting or assessing students' memory of the who
(e.g., "Who did something?"), what (e.g., "What did they
do?"), where ("Where did they do it?"), when ("When
did they do it?"), why ("Why did they do it?"), and how
("How did they do it?") of learning.
Here are some
examples of teaching and assessing for memory learning:
- Recall a
fact they have learned, such as the first president of the United States,
or the product of 7 x 8, or the chemical formula for sodium.
a fact they have learned, such as whether the first president of the
United States was Washington, Adams, Jefferson, or Lincoln; or whether
the product of 7 x 8 is 54, 56, 48, or 60; or whether the chemical formula
for sodium is So, Na, Sd, or Nd.
- Match one
set of items of one kind with another set of items of another kind,
such as the list of presidents-Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Lincoln-with
the list of numbers, 2, 1, 16, 3; or the elements hydrogen, sodium,
oxygen, and potassium with the list of abbreviations H, K, Na, and O.
- Verify statements,
such as whether the statement "George Washington was the first
President of the United States," or "The atomic number for
uranium is 100," is true or false.
- Repeat what
you have learned, such as a poem, an article of the Constitution, a
scientific formula, or a mathematical formula.
Teaching for Analytical Learning
teach for successful intelligence do not only teach for memory, because
some students are not particularly adept as memory learners. I, myself,
was not, as I mentioned above, and am not until this day. Many students
have the ability to learn, but fail miserably when they sit down and try
to memorize a set of isolated facts, or even when they are asked merely
to recall a set of isolated facts.
Here are examples of teaching and assessing for analytical learning and
an issue, such as why Truman decided to bomb Hiroshima, or why certain
elements are radioactive, or why children today still find Tom Sawyer
entertaining, or why how to solve a particular algebraic factoring problem.
an issue, such as why unlimited political contributions can lead to
corruption in a political system, how the Internet is vulnerable to
catastrophic sabotage, what part of speech a certain word is, or how
best to make a cake.
how the U.S. Electoral College works, or a wool blanket can produce
static electricity, or how to solve an arithmetic word problem, or why
a character in a short story acted the way she did.
and contrast two or more items, such as the systems of government in
the United States and England, or igneous and sedimentary rocks, or
two different ways of proving a geometric theorem, or two novels.
- Judge the
value of characteristics of something, such as a law, or a scientific
experiment, or a poem, or the metric system of measurement.
Key 3: Teaching
for Creative Learning
successful intelligence also involves encouraging students to use and
develop their creative-thinking skills. It recognizes that some students
learn best when they are allowed to find their own ways to learn material,
and when they are left free to explore ideas that go beyond those likely
to be in books or in lectures.
Here are some
examples of teaching and assessing for creative learning and thinking:
a game for learning the names of the states, or a poem, or a new numerical
operation, or a scientific experiment.
a toy, or a new way of solving a difficult mathematics problem, or a
new system of government that builds on old systems of government, or
new ways of solving a mathematics problem beyond those taught by the
teacher, or how to achieve a certain chemical reaction, or different
ways of reading so as to improve your reading comprehension, or the
nature of volcanoes
what it would be like to live in another country, or what will happen
if temperatures on the Earth keep rising, or what Picasso might have
been thinking when he painted Guernica, or what might happen if the
United States switched to the metric system of measurement.
that people were paid to inform on their neighbors to the political
party in power-what would happen?, or that all lakes instantly dried
up-what would happen?, or that schools stopped teaching mathematics-what
would happen, or that Germany had won World War II-what would have happened?
Key 4: Teaching
for Practical Learning
are primarily practical learners. They do not catch on unless they see
some kind of practical use for what they are learning.
Here are some
examples of teaching and assessing for practical learning and thinking:
- Put into practice what you have learned about measurement in baking
a cake; your foreign-language instruction in speaking with a foreigner;
your knowledge of soils to determine whether a particular plant can
grow adequately in a given soil.
- Use your knowledge of percentages or decimals in computing discounts;
a lesson learned by a character in a novel in your own life; your knowledge
of the effects of particulate matter in the atmosphere on vision to
figure out whether a car driving behind you in the fog is substantially
closer than it appears to be.
- Utilize a physical formula to figure out the speed at which an actual
falling object will actually hit the ground; your understanding of cultural
customs to figure out why someone from another cultures behaves in a
way you consider to be strange; the lesson you learned from a fable
or a proverb to change your actually behavior with other people.
- Implement a plan for holding a classroom election; a strategy for
conserving energy in your home; what you have learned in a driver-education
class in your actual driving; a psychological strategy for persuading
people in raising money for charity.
- Apply your knowledge of political campaigns in history to running
for class president; your knowledge of the principles of mixture problems
to mixing paints to achieve a certain color; your understanding of the
principles of good speaking to giving a persuasive talk.
for Successful Intelligence Work?
some demand--some level of assurance that, if they take the trouble to
use a method of teaching, it really will work. We have done a series of
studies showing that teaching for successful intelligence really does
work. The common element of all these studies is the demonstration that
when students are taught for successful intelligence, they are better
able to capitalize on their strengths and to correct or compensate for
their weaknesses, so that they learn at higher levels.
In a first
study (Sternberg, Grigorenko, Ferrari, & Clinkenbeard, 1999), for
example, we identified high school children for their patterns of analytical,
creative, and practical abilities. We then taught these children a rigorous
psychology course that either fit their pattern of abilities particularly
well, or did not do so. For example, a highly creative child might receive
an instructional program that emphasized creative learning and thinking
(good fit), or one that emphasized memory learning (not so good fit).
We found that children who were taught in a way that, at least some of
the time, enabled them to capitalize on their strengths, outperformed
students who were not so taught.
In a second
study (Sternberg, Torff, & Grigorenko, 1998a, 1998b), we taught third-grade
students social studies and eighth-grade science in one of three ways.
Either we emphasized just memory learning, or primarily analytical (critical)
thinking, or teaching for successful intelligence (memory, analytical,
creative, and practical learning). All students received the same quantity
of instruction and for the same time period, and all students received
the same assessments for memory learning as well as for analytical, creative,
and practical learning. We found that students who were taught for successful
intelligence outperformed students who were taught either for memory or
critical thinking, pretty much regardless of grade level, subject matter,
or type of assessment.
In a third
study (Grigorenko, Jarvin, & Sternberg, in press), we helped primarily
inner-city urban students at the middle and high school levels develop
their reading skills. At the middle-school level, reading was taught as
a separate subject-matter area, whereas at the high-school level, reading
was infused into other subject-matter areas, such as English, science,
foreign-language, and history instruction. Students were taught either
for successful intelligence or in a standard way that emphasized memory-based
instruction. The students who were taught for successful intelligence
outperformed the students taught in the more conventional way on all assessments,
whether for vocabulary or reading comprehension, and whether emphasizing
memory-based, analytical, creative, or practical thinking.
intelligence involves teaching students for memory, as well as analytically,
creatively and practically. It does not mean teaching everything in three
ways. Rather, it means alternating teaching strategies so that teaching
reaches (almost) every student at least some of the time. Teaching for
successful intelligence also means helping students to capitalize on their
strengths and to correct or compensate for their weaknesses. We believe
we have good evidence to support teaching for successful intelligence.
Teaching for successful intelligence improves learning outcomes, even
if the only outcome measure is straightforward memory learning. We therefore
encourage teachers seriously to consider use of this teaching method in
their classrooms-at all grade levels and for all subject-matter areas.
successful intelligence potentially provides benefits at multiple levels.
It helps students to achieve at a level that is commensurate with their
skills, rather than letting valuable skills, which could be used in facilitating
learning, go to waste. It helps schools reach higher levels of achievement
as a whole. And in these days of school accountability, reaching higher
average scores is a goal virtually every school wants to reach. Finally,
it helps society make better use of its human resources. There is no reason
for a society to waste its most precious resource-its human talent. Teaching
for successful intelligence helps ensure that talent will not go to waste.
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of this article was supported by Grant REC-9979843 from the National Science
Foundation and by a government grant under the Javits Act Program (Grant
No. R206R000001) as administered by the Office of Educational Research
and Improvement, U. S. Department of Education. Grantees undertaking such
projects are encouraged to express freely their professional judgment.
This article, therefore, does not necessarily represent the positions
or the policies of the U.S. government, and no official endorsement should
be inferred. Correspondence regarding this article should be addressed
to Robert J. Sternberg, Director, PACE Center, Yale University, Box 208358,
New Haven, CT 06520-8358. E-mail: Robert.Sternberg@yale.edu.