Importance of applying the intelligence theories in teaching and learning process

Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №4 - 2012

Author: Yezhitskaya Svetlana, Kazakh-American Free University, Kazakhstan

The efficiency of acquiring knowledge in the learning process depends on many factors, such as students’ motivation, methods of teaching, atmosphere in the classroom, learners’ intelligence and other. Among all these internal and external factors, we may emphasize different types of intelligences that students possess which play a predominant role in getting, understanding and remembering new information by a learner.

Psychologists, educators, methodologists for many years, have investigated the question about intelligence. Such researches as J. Thurstone, G. Peterson, H. Gardner, Ch. Spearman and other emphasize the importance of different types of intelligence that should be reckoned with in the teaching and learning processes.

Different investigators have identified different aspects of intelligence in their definitions. Intelligence is defined as:

- the ability to learn (A. Binet, Ch. Spearman, S. Colvin);

- the ability to operate and manipulate abstractions and give good responses to questions (L. Terman, E. Torndike, G. Peterson, J. Guilford);

- the ability to adapt to a new environment which draws upon a number of cognitive processes, such as perception, learning, memory, reasoning, and problem solving (V. Stern, L. Thurstone, E. Klappared, J. Piaget).

According to Britannica encyclopedia Human intelligence is a mental quality that consists of the abilities to learn from experience, adapt to new situations, understand and handle abstract concepts, and use knowledge to manipulate one’s environment.

Therefore, numerous theories about intelligence exist nowadays.

Piaget's work on the intellectual and logical abilities of children provided the single biggest impact on the study of the development of human thought processes. He described the mind as proceeding through a series of fixed stages of cognitive development, each being a prerequisite for the next.

Charles Spearman introduced two-factor theory of intelligence, using the statistical procedure called factor analysis. He noticed that people who did well on one mental-ability test tended to do well on others, while people who performed poorly on one of them also tended to perform poorly on others. To identify the underlying sources and reasons of these performance differences, Spearman contrived factor analysis, a statistical technique that examines patterns of individual differences in test scores. According to him intelligence is made up of two components: a g-factor (general intelligence which pervades performance on all tasks requiring intelligence) and s-factors (a collection of specific cognitive intellectual skills which are specifically related to each particular test) (1, p. 201).

The American psychologist L.L. Thurstone disagreed with Spearman’s theory, arguing instead that there were seven factors, which he identified as the “primary mental abilities”. These seven abilities include:

- verbal comprehension (as involved in the knowledge of vocabulary and in reading);

- word fluency (as involved in writing and in producing words);

- number (as involved in solving fairly simple numerical computation and arithmetical reasoning problems);

- spatial relations (as involved in visualizing and manipulating objects, such as fitting a set of suitcases into an automobile trunk);

- inductive reasoning and general reasoning (as involved in completing a number series or in predicting the future on the basis of past experience);

- memory (as involved in recalling people’s names or faces;

- perceptual speed (as involved in rapid proofreading to discover typographical errors in a text).

According to Thurstone, each ability can be measured separately, and the sum of the unique abilities compose a high level of intelligence (2).

Vernon and Cattell viewed intellectual abilities as hierarchical, with g, or general ability, located at the top of the hierarchy. But below g are levels of gradually narrowing abilities, ending with the specific abilities identified by Spearman. Cattell also suggested, for example, suggested that general ability can be subdivided into two further kinds, “fluid” and “crystallized.”

- Fluid abilities consist of reasoning ability, memory capacity, and speed of information processing. Problem-solving abilities are measured by tests such as analogies, classifications, and series completions.

- Crystallized abilities, which are thought to derive from fluid abilities, include vocabulary, general information, and knowledge about specific fields (3, p. 107-129).

Philip Vernon introduced hierarchical model. He suggested that intelligence consists of factors and skills arranged hierarchically. The cognitive factor, at the top, is composed of two skills, verbal/ academic and practical/ mechanical, each of which is subdivided. For example, Verbal/ academic includes such skills as vocabulary and verbal fluency.

Robert Sternberg was concerned with how intelligence is used, particularly in problem solving, as well the abilities it includes. He suggested triarchic theory which deals with:

- componential intelligence, which includes components essential to acquisition of knowledge, use of problem-solving strategies and techniques, and use of metacognitive components for selecting a strategy and monitoring progress toward success;

- experiential intelligence, which is reflected both in creatively dealing with new situations and then combining different experiences in insightful ways to solve novel problems;

- contextual intelligence, which is reflected in the management of day-to-day affairs (4).

J. P. Guilford proposed three dimensional model of mental ability:

- operations (the act of thinking);

- contents (the terms used in thinking);

- products of thinking (ideas).

Each of these dimensions is subdivided into the smaller ones. Combinations of the dimensions and subdivisions can lead to over 100 separate factors, many of which have been demonstrated experimentally.

Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence Theory strongly suggests that everybody has a different mind, and no two profiles of intelligence are the same. He defines intelligence as the ability to create an effective product or offer a service that is valued in a culture; a set of skills that make it possible for a person to solve problem in life; or the potential for finding or creating solutions for problem, which involves gathering new knowledge (5, p. 4-5).

According to Howard Gardner, human beings have eight different kinds of intelligence that reflect different ways of interacting with the world. Each person has a unique combination, or profile. Although we have all nine intelligences, no two individuals have them in the same exact configuration, similar to our fingerprints. The theory suggests that traditional ways of testing for intelligence may be biased to certain types of individuals depending on their perception of the world. The perception still exists that intelligence can be measured in relation to reading, writing and arithmetic skills alone, and a person’s future success is judged accordingly. Here are intelligences that people can possess:

1. Linguistic Intelligence involves the capacity to use language to express what's on your mind and understand other people. It includes students’ sensitivity to spoken and written language, the ability to learn and use languages for accomplishing certain goals. Language is a means to remember information.

2. Logical-Mathematical Intelligence consists of the capacity to understand the underlying principles of some kind of causal system, the way a scientist or a logician does; or to manipulate numbers, quantities, and operations, the way a mathematician does. In Howard Gardner's words, it entails the ability to detect patterns, reason deductively and think logically. Therefore, it involves the capacity to analyze problems logically, carry out mathematical operations, and investigate issues scientifically.

3. Musical Rhythmic Intelligence involves skill in the performance, composition, and appreciation of musical patterns. It encompasses the capacity to recognize and compose musical pitches, tones, and rhythms, and perhaps manipulate them. People who have strong musical intelligence don't just remember music easily, they associate newly acquired information with music.

4. Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence entails the potential of using one's whole body or parts of the body (your hands, fingers, arms) to solve problems, make something, or put on some kind of production. It is the ability to use mental abilities to coordinate bodily movements. Howard Gardner sees mental and physical activity as related. Students easily remember information through trying, performing, or acting.

5. Spatial Intelligence involves the potential to recognize and use the patterns of wide space and more confined areas. It’s the ability to represent and visualize the spatial world internally in your mind.

6. Naturalist Intelligence describes the ability to discriminate among living things (plants, animals) and sensitivity to other features of the natural world (clouds, rock configurations). It enables human beings to recognize, categorize and draw upon certain features of the environment.

7. Intrapersonal Intelligence consists of having an understanding of yourself; knowing who you are, what you can do, what you want to do, how you react to things, to appreciate one's feelings, fears and motivations, which things to avoid, and which things to gravitate toward. We are drawn to people who have a good understanding of themselves. They tend to know what they can and can't do, and to know where to go if they need help. In Howard Gardner's view it involves having an effective working model of ourselves, and to be able to use such information to regulate our lives.

8. Interpersonal Intelligence is concerned with the capacity to understand other people, their intentions, motivations and desires. It allows people to work effectively with others. It's an ability we all need to communicate easily with other people.

Learning through a variety of unique experiences allows students to better understand themselves as lifelong learners, and to see how others acquire knowledge and apply their skills. Psychologists and educators indicate that it’s important for a teacher to determine students’ learning styles by introducing a broader range of learning methods appropriate to all the types of intelligences. This would consequently give them the opportunity to learn in ways more productively to their unique minds.

There are multiple benefits to employing intelligence theories in the classroom. Teachers may combine various methods and techniques in teaching. Students become more active, and involved learners as intelligence theories allow students to opt for many different means of learning and expression.

Such activities as drawing a picture, composing or listening to music, watching a performance, and other can be vital in learning process. Therefore, we may come to regard intellectual ability more broadly. Studies show that many students who perform poorly on traditional tests are turned on to learning when classroom experiences incorporate artistic, athletic, and musical activities.

Teachers may provide opportunities for authentic learning based on students' needs, interests and talents. Parents and community involvement in your school may increase. This happens as students often demonstrate work before audience. Activities involving apprenticeship learning bring members of the community into the learning process.

Students will be able to demonstrate and share their strengths. Building strengths gives a student the motivation to be a "specialist." This can in turn lead to increasing self-esteem.

When the teacher "teaches for understanding," the students accumulate positive educational experiences and the capability for creating solutions to problems in life.

It goes without saying it’s challenging to teach all intelligences at the same time. However, teachers may think positively: different kinds of intelligence would allow various ways to teach. Powerful constraints that exist in the mind can be mobilized to introduce a particular concept (or a whole system of thinking) in a way that students are most likely to learn it and least likely to disfigure it. The key to implementing intelligence theories successfully is to design your classroom and the particular lesson so that students are able to participate in learning and understand the material in a variety of ways.

There are some ideas that the teacher should keep in mind in the process of teaching.

1. Provide the students with sufficient materials.

If the teacher takes into account all the intelligences it’s necessary to make students work together in groups and/or on projects that employ many materials. The teacher must be sure that he/she adapts the classroom space as best he/she can to the parameters of the lesson. For example, if the lesson plan asks students to work with computers and there are not enough in the classroom, the teacher should try to schedule time in the computer lab in advance. If the lesson plan involves drawing or acting, the teacher should be sure to arrange the classroom so that there is sufficient space and materials.

2. Make clear instructions and strict limitations for carrying out the given task.

The teacher should be prepared not only to encourage collaboration and thinking process, but also to maintain some control by setting specific boundaries for students. For example, if the assignment calls for the students to work together to develop a presentation, be sure to define exactly how they should work together (perhaps by asking them to muck in the task among the members of a group, or encouraging them to assign different roles within the group) and what to do if they have trouble cooperating.

3. Be ready for getting different ways of students’ performance.

One answer or outcome is not the only acceptable measure of a student’s understanding. For example, if your objective is to help students understand the literary elements of a story or novel (e.g., rising action, conflict, climax, etc.), different learners might grasp the concept in different ways. One student might illustrate them through drawing, another might be able to re-create the elements through acting, and another might better be able to summarize them in writing. The teacher may set an alternative how to get the result by allowing students to choose the most suitable and easiest way for them to achieve the aim.

4. Let students know the criteria of assessment.

The students need to have a clear understanding of how their work will be evaluated. The teacher should lay out the exact objectives and expectations of the lesson before beginning. The students need to understand that there may be many different forms of evaluation used at the lesson, and that one style of work is not necessarily more demanding or time consuming than another. For example, if a project gives participants a choice between writing and illustrating, the outcomes will obviously be very different, but they may be given the same grade for meeting the same objective.

In conclusion, I’d like to refer to Howard Gardner’s thoughts about human uniqueness, “I want my children to understand the world, but not just because the world is fascinating and the human mind is curious. I want them to understand it so that they will be positioned to make it a better place. Knowledge is not the same as morality, but we need to understand if we are to avoid past mistakes and move in productive directions. An important part of that understanding is knowing who we are and what we can do... Ultimately, we must synthesize our understandings for ourselves. The performance of understanding that try matters are the ones we carry out as human beings in an imperfect world which we can affect for good or for ill (6, p. 180-181)

Therefore, teachers may create conditions to change the world and help students acquire new information easily. We should remember that intelligence is like people’s capacity to solve problems in their own way. Teachers can fashion products that are valued in one or more cultural setting by choosing different methods and techniques that are easier and more effective for problem solving. That’s why it’s important for every teacher to find some individual approach to every student, know his/her type of perception of the world. If a student is not learning in the way the teacher is teaching, then the teacher must teach in the way the student learns.

Educators should take advantage of the uniqueness of their students, explore students’ interests in world cognition, be creative, use their skills to maintain students’ potential and help them understand the world easier and more consciously.


1. Spearman, C. (1904) General Intelligence: objectively determined and measured. American Journal of Psychology 15, 201-293.

2. Thurstone, L.L. (1938) Primary Mental Abilities. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

3. Horn, J.L., Cattell, R.B. (1967) Age differences in fluid and crystallized intelligence. Acta Psychologica, 26, 107-129

4. Sternberg, R.J. (1985) Beyond IQ: A Triachic Theory of Intelligence. Cambridge University Press.

5. Gardner, Howard (1983; 1993) Frames of Mind: The theory of multiple intelligences, New York: Basic Books. The second edition was published in Britain by Fontana Press. 466 pages.

6. Gardner, Howard (1999) Intelligence Reframed. Multiple intelligences for the 21st century, New York: Basic Books. 292 pages.

7. Britannica Encyclopedia. Britannica. com

Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №4 - 2012

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