Designers Should Provide Support by Fostering
Steven McGee & Lisa Ann Scott
Copyright © 2001.
What are multiple
The latest theories regarding student
intellectual abilities involve the nature of intelligence, a topic
of considerable debate for more than a century. On one side of the
debate, psychologists define and measure general intelligence as a
single, fixed trait. From the early 20th century Intelligence Quotient,
or IQ, tests have been the most commonly used instruments for measuring
general intelligence. The idea that a single number can signify someone's
level of intelligence is entrenched within the education community.
Because IQ scores are a strong predictor of academic performance,
schools still use them to sort students into academic tracks (gifted,
special needs, college prep, vocational, etc.).
On the other side of the debate, psychologists
have recently pointed out that IQ scores are not a good predictor
of success outside of school. In their landmark work on intelligence,
Howard Gardner and Robert Sternberg crystallized many of the arguments
against IQ testing when they each proposed a theory of multiple intelligences.
They believe a single number cannot capture the complexity of real
world, human performance. Instead, both Gardner and Sternberg theorize
that there are a variety of intellectual abilities and that it is
possible for schools to cultivate all of them.
Gardner's multiple intelligences theory (1993a) is
descriptive and encompasses seven intellectual abilities; Sternberg's
(1997) is predictive and focuses on three intellectual abilities that
predict success in the real world: analytic, creative, and practical.
The National Science Education Standards recommend
that students engage in independent scientific research. However,
that's a tall order for students new to scientific inquiry. They aren't
proficient in the range of intellectual abilities a robust research
challenge requires. To prepare students, instructional designers should
develop authentic, ill-structured investigations that engage students'
analytic, creative, and practical abilities.
Why is fostering multiple abilities
- Fostering multiple abilities improves academic
Authentic, ill-structured investigations that foster multiple intellectual
abilities are better at improving academic achievement than traditional
curricula, which focus on memorization and analytical intelligence
(Sternberg, Torff, & Grigorenko, 1998). Authentic, ill-structured
investigations enable students to employ their strengths and also
challenge them to cultivate their weaker intellectual abilities (Gasiorowski,
- Fostering multiple abilities creates positive
attitudes toward science.
Instead of traditional memorization and analytic activities, students
with strong creative and practical abilities enjoy authentic, ill-structured
investigations (Howard, McGee, Shin, & Shia, 2001). Such investigations
give all students the opportunity to contribute meaningfully. That
instills a more positive attitude toward science. Conversely, students
with strong analytic abilities might be frustrated at first by authentic,
ill-structured investigations. Their challenge is to cultivate their
creative and practical abilities (Howard et al.; Sternberg & Clinkenbeard,
- Fostering multiple abilities makes team
research more effective.
Students bring different abilities to an investigation. That's an
advantage for team research because it's unlikely that any one student
has all of the abilities needed to complete the investigation. Designing
investigations that foster multiple abilities is an effective way
to engage students in team research (Cohen, 1994).
How does a designer
foster multiple abilities?
- Design investigations that require the use
of analytic, creative, and practical abilities.
It is important to cultivate different abilities within an investigation
(Gardner, 1993b). Instructional activities should not be matched to
students' strengths (Sternberg & Grigorenko, 2000). Instead, they
should prompt students to use analytic, creative and practical thinking
at different points in the investigation. It's not necessary to engage
all three abilities within each activity, but they should be represented
across the set of activities within an investigation. By engaging
all three abilities, students capitalize on their strengths as well
as exercise their weaker abilities (Sternberg, 1998).
- Help students identify their intellectual
strengths and weaknesses.
Knowing one's cognitive abilities is part of self-regulated learning.
The more students are aware of their intellectual strengths and weaknesses,
the better they will perform on authentic, ill-structured investigations.
See self-regulated learning for details on helping students become
more aware of their intellectual abilities.
Cohen, E. G. (1994). Restructuring the classroom: Conditions
for productive small groups. Review of Educational Research, 64(1),
Gardner, H. (1993a). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple
intelligences (2nd ed.). New York: Basic Books.
Gardner, H. (1993b). Multiple intelligences: The theory
in practice. New York: Basic Books.
Gasiorowski, J. H. (1998). The relationship between
student characteristics and math achievement when using computer spreadsheets.
Unpublished doctoral dissertation, West Virginia University, Morgantown.
Howard, B. C., McGee, S., Hong, N. S., & Shia, R.
(2001). The triarchic theory of intelligence and computer-based inquiry
learning. Educational Technology Research & Development (ETR&D),
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Sternberg, R. J., & Clinkenbeard, P. C. (1995).
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