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Comparison of Educational Developmental Theories: Gardner and Sternberg

Numerous researchers have studied the cognitive development of children for more than a century. Many researchers and theorists have focused on the measure of the Intelligence Quotient (IQ) as a means of assessing cognitive ability. Developmental theorists Howard Gardner and Robert Sternberg questioned the exclusivity of IQ as the only meaningful measure of intelligence. Gardner and Sternberg proposed other theories of intelligence, which focused on abilities that prove useful outside of academic settings. While Gardner's and Sternberg's theories differ in many ways, they both focus on abilities that involve common sense, social competencies and self-awareness.

Apr 2, 2016 / EssayNews
Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligence

Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences questioned the assumption that analytical ability, which is a focus of traditional IQ testing, equates to greater intelligence. Instead, Gardner suggested that people have at least 8 different types of intelligences. Variation in the strengths of each of these types exists between individuals. Students may best learn material if it is taught in a modality that complements their preferred type of intelligence. In addition to a different view of the previously singular perspective on intelligence, Gardner's theory also provided a direct way to apply his findings to the classroom.

Gardner's focus on the usefulness of his theory to the applied setting of the classroom is not surprising. Unlike Sternberg and most other developmental theorists, Gardner is a neuropsychologist and educational researcher. He focuses on the interaction between brain developmental, learning, and traditional approaches to education. Gardner believes that most traditional approaches to teaching only reach the three conventional types of intelligences. Conventional intelligences include linguistic, logical-mathematical, and spatial. According to Gardner, only these three conventional types of intelligence are measured by IQ testing. The other five types of intelligences include: musical, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalist. Although strengths in these areas can propel an individual to career and personal success, they are less valuable in academic settings and poorly measured by traditional cognitive assessments.

Gardner's approach to cognitive assessment differs greatly than what is typically employed with psychological testing. Rather than a paper and pencil or verbal assessment, Gardner observes the product of the intelligence. He watches children's ability to maneuver in space, listens to them recall a story, observes their musical ability, and times how quickly they put together a puzzle. Gardner believes that the types of intelligence cannot be arranged in a hierarchy.

Individuals may be equally strong or weak in all, but most show variation in their abilities among the different types of intelligences. Instead of a focus on comparing individuals to each other, Gardner views cognitive assessment as an opportunity to improve self-awareness and create the most effective approach to helping a child reach his or her full potential through education.

Sternberg's Triarchic Theory of Intelligence

Like Gardner, Sternberg's theory expanded on the traditional conceptualization of intelligence. Sternberg's theory does not support differing forms of intelligence but rather posits that there are three specific elements or aspects of intelligence. These elements include: componential, experiential, and contextual. The componential aspect of intelligence related to one's ability to analyze a situation, process information, and solve problems. The experiential aspect of intelligence is seen in people who are exceptionally insightful and creative. It is measured by how a person approaches a new situation and an individual's originality in their approach to problem solving. Finally, the contextual element relates to practical knowledge or common sense. It is measured through observing how a person deals with their environment and how well they make decisions. Sternberg believed that everyone has all three elements of intelligence but many individuals are stronger or weaker in some aspects of intelligence.

Sternberg criticized traditional IQ tests because they focus almost exclusively on only one element of intelligence, componential ability. This ability is most frequently tapped through academic assignments and it is an accurate predictor of academic success. Still, argues Sternberg, it does not accurately summarize one's true ability to navigate the cognitive tasks of the environment. Other challenges beyond academia exist. Knowledge needed to succeed in the outside world, but not formally taught in school, was called tacit knowledge by Sternberg's theory. Tacit knowledge is typically described as common sense. It is poorly measured by traditional IQ assessments.

To more accurately measure intelligence in a manner informed by his theory, Sternberg developed the Sternberg Triarchic Abilities Test (STAT). The assessment measures analytic ability, creative capacity, and practical knowledge. The STAT has strong validity in predicting critical thinking, problem solving, and creativity. It is comprised of multiple choice and essay questions and involves three domains: verbal, quantitative, and figural.

Similarities in the Theories

Gardner's and Sternberg's theories expanded the definition of intelligence to consider realms of cognitive abilities not captured by traditional assessments and often not taught in Western classrooms. Gardner's and Sternberg's theories were born from what they viewed as missing elements from previous definitions of intelligence. Each theorist considered aspects of practical intelligence and creativity as important predictors of life success. Each theorist also considered unique ways to measure intelligence with a focus on a broadened view of capturing one's true abilities.

Differences in the Theories

Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences contrasts to Sternberg's because Gardner believes that the 8 types of intelligences he defined were different enough to be classified as their own types of intelligences. Sternberg argues that one capacity for intelligence exists, but it is made up of three distinct elements. Although some overlap exists, especially regarding creativity, Gardner's types of intelligences and Sternberg's aspects also differ. Gardner recognizes aspects of intelligence like kinesthetic, musical, and naturalist. Sternberg focuses primarily on elements of cognitive development that can be measured through somewhat traditional means (i.e. multiple choice and essay format).

Applications of Gardner's and Sternberg's Theories to the Learning Environment

Gardner's and Sternberg's research offers a number of valuable insights for educators. First, educators must recognize the importance and potential in the existence and further development of abilities not always captured by academic tests. Creativity, musical talent, and exceptional social skills should not be viewed as extracurricular skills, but rather facets of intelligence that can be utilized to bolster other less developed cognitive abilities. To adopt this approach, educators must adopt an individualized approach to assessment because children's strengths and weaknesses among different types of intelligences/elements vary so greatly.

The theories of Gardner and Sternberg also allow for the use of creative lesson planning strategies to tap into strengths that are less prioritized in the classroom. Teachers can design activities that encourage creative problem solving, body movement, and exploring nature. In addition to maximizing the potential of all of their students, teachers can foster the development of skills that may be more useful in the outside world than some traditionally high valued academic abilities. As predicted by Gardner and Sternberg, facilitating the development of all types of intelligences or aspects of intelligence will likely result in improved academic skills, better problem solving, and more effective social skills.


What Is Learning - Creativity and Conversion: A Reflection of a Visual Learner. Web.

Gardner, H. Are there additional intelligences? In J. Kane (Ed.), Education, information, and transformation: Essays on learning and thinking. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Sternberg, R.J. The concept of intelligence and its role in lifelong learning and success. American Psychologist, 52, 1030-1037.

Sternberg, R.J. & Clinkenbeard, P. A triarchic view of identifying, teaching, and assessing gifted children. Roeper Review, 17, 255-260.

Sternberg, R.J. Torff, B., & Grigorenko, E.L. Teaching triarchically improves school achievement. Journal of Educational Psychology, 90(3), 374-384.

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