IQ versus Multiple Intelligences versus Triarchic Theory

Ah, Saturday mornings! Unusually for me, I had done the ironing in Glasgow by 6.40 am, and despatched most of Jarvis’s Chapter 3 before leaving Haymarket at 9.05.  I’m on my way to Dundee for the Friends of Wighton AGM – what else would I do but take my laptop along for the ride?  (Actually, it feels quite late in the day – I get the 8.05 from Haymarket on my fortnightly trips to St Andrews!)

So, where were we? Ah yes, Jarvis.

Jarvis, M., The Psychology of Effective Learning and Teaching (Cheltenham: Nelson Thomas, 2005), Chapt.3, ‘Intelligence and Academic Ability’

Jarvis begins by outlining the general history and rationale behind IQ tests.  The problem, he asserts, is that it only measures one kind of intelligence.  Having said that, testing has become more sophisticated and trustworthy, and cannot be entirely discounted.  However, it also raises many questions – nature versus nurture, for one.  Various research projects have looked at early-start programmes devised to give very young children an assisted start to their nurture and early learning, as compensation for disadvantaged family situations.  Results do show benefits, though sometimes the benefits have not lasted as the children progress through school.

Jarvis introduces Howard Gardner’s work in researching multiple intelligences, Robert Sternberg’s triarchic theory of intelligence, and some of the subsequent research by other individuals.  This substantial body of work demonstrates that – whilst someone may rate highly or lower on an IQ scale – in fact there are many different facets to intelligence, and it also shows that one can improve ability in different spheres depending on motivation and practice.  Teachers certainly need to be aware of all these different aspects of intelligence, but Jarvis warns against deliberately setting out to address every single mode in a single lesson, which he regards as a ‘crass’ over-simplification and less than helpful.

Gardner’s identification of multiple intelligences certainly explains how individuals can have different strengths, and obviously different learning activities will suit these strengths – so to me, it does make sense at least to vary the activities so that everyone in a seminar has the opportunity to play to those strengths.  Having said that, not all these intelligences will necessarily come into play in a session on historic Scottish song collections or bibliographic referencing practices!  The following is the list of Gardner’s multiple intelligences (Jarvis, Table 3.1, p.25):-

  • Linguistic/verbal
  • Logical/mathematical
  • Visual/spatial
  • Kinaesthetic
  • Musical
  • Naturalist
  • Interpersonal
  • Intrapersonal  (understanding ‘one’s own motives, characteristics, strengths and weaknesses)

It seems to me that some of these intelligences might be stimulated in a school classroom, whereas they are clearly less relevant in higher education.  Obviously, students can be encouraged to verbalise what they observe; to look for logical patterns; and to look at the graphic display/musical presentation/bibliographical layout and compare different models. They can be encouraged to move around between displayed items in a comparison exercise, if the classroom set-up permits this.  They can perform the music (but not a bibliographic referencing tool); and can either discuss the music (or research problem, or bibliographical technique) in pairs or small groups, or each spend a few minutes individually contemplating the question before sharing with the group.  I have used all these modes of learning in sessions that I have conducted over the past couple of years.  Short of taking the group outdoors, it’s hard to see how there would be any way of ‘recognising and interacting with the natural world’!   (Having said that, a few years ago I gave a talk to gifted young traditional musicians at Plockton, and I would very much have liked to have begun the session by taking them outside and asking them to imagine what a song-collecting exercise might have felt like in 1815, with no motor transport, no electronic devices –  and clothing and footwear that would have been much less waterproof than Goretex.  I thought better of it, since I wasn’t familiar with the school or its general ethos, and was nervous of taking a dozen unknown teenagers out into a neighbouring field!

Some researchers have experimented with self-rated questionnaires to help pupils/students identify their own strengths.  These are ipsative (assessed by the individual in isolation) rather than normative (comparing individuals against norms in the population – in other words, they are subjective tests.  It’s not something I could see myself needing to do in my current practice.

Robert Sternberg’s triarchic theory of intelligence breaks down different intellectual activities in slightly different ways. He identifies three elements, which can themselves be subdivided.  (Jarvis, pp.57-58):-

  • Componentional intelligence (knowledge acquisition components; performance components – ie ‘counting, comprehension and reasoning’; and metacomponents (‘planning, problem-solving and decision-making’).
  • Experiential intelligence, ie how experience helps us master knowledge and tasks
  • Contextual intelligence, ie, how different cultures may prioritise different aspects of intelligence.

I find this a very interesting theory, but perhaps not so readily applicable to my own practice.  I don’t spend long enough with students, or conduct consecutive sessions, so I wouldn’t be able to judge how their componential or experiential intelligence developed or affected their learning over a period of time. And I certainly wouldn’t have the temerity to attempt to theorise how postgraduates from different cultures might approach bibliographic referencing or research skills, although I certainly already bear in mind that a different cultural background may affect student attitudes to study and research in general.

The remainder of the chapter considers streaming and banding in schools, the question of hot-housing children, and giftedness.  These are considerations for school-teachers, but in my practice, we’re working with young people who may already have been hot-housed, and they are certainly gifted in their disciplines irrespective of their school experiences.  I don’t dismiss these issues, but I choose not to dwell on them today.


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