Diverse Learning in the Classroom

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Sternberg, Gardner, and Diverse Learning in the Classroom
If there has been one overarching theme in this course, it has been the theme of diversity. From examining the different ways that students develop physically in Module 2, to the different ways that they develop morally in Module 4, to the multiple ways in which they acquire and process information and demonstrate their mastery of knowledge in many of the other modules, we as student teachers are left with the overwhelming sense that no two learners are alike, and that there is no one theory of physical, emotional, or cognitive development that we can learn or apply to all of the possible learning situations that we may find ourselves in when we embark on our education careers.

A good example of this can be found in the Eggen and Kauchak (2005) text. Here, the authors discuss intelligence, and offer two theories in binary opposition for us to consider: Howard Gardner's theory of Multiple Intelligences (MI), and Robert Sternberg's Triarchic Theory of Intelligence. Both theories seek to help us understand how intelligence is formed and made manifest; they give us tools with which we can structure learning activities and then assess them. Of the two theories, Eggen and Kauchak single out Gardner's for the most criticism—while Sternberg's model takes into account the mental, environmental, and experiential components that make up intelligence, they argue, Gardner's never accounts for the way that information is processed. Gardner, they claim, does not account for the way that we "maintain, organize, and coordinate information" (p. 120). MI can account for how we acquire knowledge and how we demonstrate that knowledge to others, but it cannot account for the mental processes that we use to store it in our memory.

In reply, Gardner (2004) has himself criticized Stenberg's model for the very same reasons: that Sternberg, too, fails to acknowledge the role of MI in information processing. While acknowledging that both theorists "agree… on our criticism of standard intelligence theory," Gardner goes on to argue that Sternberg finds it "immaterial to his theory whether the student is processing words or pictures of bodily information or material from the personal or natural world." In other words, Gardner claims that Sternberg "assumes that the same components will operate, irrespective of the kinds of material that is being processed."

In this paper, I want to suggest that the two theories are not opposites but that they are complementary. My observations of different school age adolescents suggest that Gardner's model illuminates areas of Sternberg's theory, that it explains some areas of intelligence that influence the mental, environmental, and experiential processes that together enable us to successfully acquire, maintain and demonstrate knowledge. More, however, I want to show how implementation of either theory can have a tremendous success in classroom teaching (and, conversely, ignorance of it can lead to disengaged and unmotivated learners), and that there are some steps we, as educators, can take to implement intelligence theory-based pedagogy in our teaching and assessment strategies. Gardner and Sternberg: A Comparative Analysis

Gardner's Intelligences, I argue, can be applied to all three elements of Sternberg's Triarchic Theory. The processing components can draw on different intelligences at all stages. A learner who is predominantly spatial, for example, may seek to find or create pictures that illustrate an idea to be learned; then, if possible, the learner will seek to demonstrate competency of the material by depicting it visually. Metacognitively, too, the student can be encouraged to develop learning strategies that draw on visual techniques, such as producing charts, diagrams, or maps to guide and monitor learning of a given concept. Learners can also be encouraged to link environment with their strongest intelligences;...
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