Howard Gardner and Robert Sternberg’s Work on Diversity in Development

Essay which demonstrates an understanding of critical research of two seminal researchers who adopt different positions on human development.

The work of seminal researchers Howard Gardner and Robert Sternberg have been examined and compared in depth in order to gain a greater understanding of their theories of intelligence in relation to practice within the area of SEND. Intelligence can be defined as the ability to gain and apply knowledge and skills (Soanes and Hawker, 2013). Intelligence is best known to be measured in intelligence quotient (IQ) with tests dating back to the end of the nineteenth century, and the result of research of Francis Galton and Alfred Binet (Maltby, Day and Macaskill, 2011).

Through initial studies of heritability Sir Francis Galton believes exceptional intelligence is passed on to children through heritability and that intelligence could be measured through the ability to react to large amounts of information, which would be processed through the senses. However, he also considers idiotic people struggle to process information acquired through senses and show a lower response to sensory information (Maltby, Day and Macaskill, 2011). Whilst Galton was the first to attempt to measure intelligence it was Alfred Binet who formed the first test after being commissioned to offer a range of techniques for the identification of children lacking in ability who may need special education. With the help of Theodore Simon, together they produced the first intelligence test, which was of practical nature, and involving a series of short tasks (Maltby, Day and Macaskill, 2011).

Today a range of intelligence tests are still being used, for example, the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC) is used to identify and label children with learning disabilities, it consists of tests of verbal comprehension, perceptual reasoning, working memory and processing speed which are each given a composite score with a full-scale IQ which if below 70 results in a diagnosis of learning disability (Thepsychologist.

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Hire writer, 2012). However, (Keith, 1994) argues that alternative methods of measuring cognitive function should be considered as intelligence is individual and more complex. In contrast (Carroll, 1997) considers IQ tests to be an effective tool to determine the learners capability, and the speed in which an individual can learn and is a discipline that has resolved many questions concerning cognitive abilities (Carroll, 1997).

Howard Gardner is a Professor of Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education as well as a researcher at the Boston Veterans Administration Medical Centre. His theory on multiple intelligences (MI) won the Grawemeyer Award in Education and he is the author of numerous books (Gardner, 2011). Much of Gardners work is based within the area of educational psychology and the links between scientific study and practice within the educational setting, as he notes an area of difficulty with conveying scientific outcomes in intelligence to an educational location, which he suggests is due to scientific methods of collecting data, requiring a more direct method of measurement which is more objective and quantifiable (Maltby, Day and Macaskill, 2011).

Gardner suggests flaws in more traditional systems used to test intelligence claiming that some intelligence theorists relate their views to a more sensory system. Gardner contends this, professing that an individuals sensory system is made up from the processes which take place, regardless of the system, which led him to challenge the assumptions of other theorists IQ testing, and particularly regarding education (Maltby, Day and Macaskill, 2011).

Within his theory of multiple intelligence, Gardner believes there exist seven elements, linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, musical, bodily kinaesthetic, interpersonal and intrapersonal. Later Gardner suggested there are two more intelligences, naturalist, relating to the understanding of nature and biology and existentialist, which is an understanding of surroundings which has been inked to spiritual reasoning (Maltby, Day and Macaskill, 2011). Although not always the case Gardner believes that the different intelligences all inhabit a different part of the brain and these all operate individually, but can function together when needed (Gardner, 1993).

Differing from more traditional IQ testing, Gardner proposes testing should be achieved through active engagement among children within a learning environment or school, however tests would be exceptionally long to achieve an accurate measurement (Gardner, Kornhaber and Wake, 1996). Although there is an increased recognition of learning theories, it is argued that there is little evidence to suggest that children learn differently (Riener and Willingham, 2010).

Gardners MI theory can be particularly relevant within the area of SEND as (Feuerstein et al., 1979) suggests, assessing how learning can be better enabled, depending on involvement within a particular task, by evaluating learning conditions and provision or support provided, making a vital difference and supporting more modern views about SEND. Knowing how to enable children who have difficulties with processing or retaining information prefer to learn, and the style of learning best tailored to their individual needs could help to match teaching strategies more successfully than by merely differentiating their mental ability as a whole (Frederickson and Cline, 2015).

However, (Klein, 1997) considers Gardners theory to have the equivalent restrictions as the theory of general intelligence, consequently making it too broad to be of use in curriculum planning, giving a static outlook as a theory of ability, suggesting that research into the strategies that students use in given activities, and how knowledge is collected could be more relevant within the classroom (Klein, 1997). Gardner however dismisses claims made by (Klein, 1997) contending that he confuses the concepts of intelligence claiming that it is of a sustainable paradigm (Gardner, 1998).

Robert J Sternberg likewise to that of Gardner agreed that standard intelligence tests which measure general ability only assess a restricted selection of the abilities necessary to succeed in school and subsequently in life (Sternberg, 2015). Although Gardner adopted a wide range of intelligence to his theory, Sternbergs triarchic theory contends with three main intelligences which ascend from gaining a balance of analytical, practical and creative abilities which work collectively, allowing achievement in a range of social and cultural environments (, 2016). Sternberg, like Gardner also recognises the need for teaching to be more diverse with more emphasis to be placed on practical and creative skills (Sternberg, 2015).

Sternberg believes that all three modes of intelligence, analytical, practical and creative should be considered as people learn and adapt to different situations, cultures and environments (Sternberg, 2003). Gaining the ability to adapt to changes and compensate for weaker areas will allow other areas of intelligence to become stronger which can make the difference between being successful both in work and life (Sternberg, 2003).

Schools often use ability grouping, even within the EYFS framework children are often split or streamed for subjects such as phonics. Lower groups often reported with children making less of a contribution and paying less attention and consisting of children with behaviour difficulties (Hallam and Parsons, 2013). However, teachers have reported that grouping permits a better teaching input resulting in a better quality of work from students (Baines, Blatchford and Kutnick, 2003).

A recent move towards alternative emphasis of the learning strategies and styles of learning being analysed, should surely be a positive move for children with disabilities (Frederickson and Cline, 2015). Labels are a huge topic of debate with a dilemma between the need for medical diagnosis and the effects of branding that it can cause (Ratner, 2016). Although having a label is necessary to enable the right support to be put in place, for example, Education Healthcare (EHC) Plans, access to specialist schools, one to one support, or adaptions to the learning environment, (Veck, 2009) argues that labelling an individual with what has been considered deficient about them creates a barrier to their opinion being heard.

As a result of this barrier, students can be deprived of opportunity to contribute, leading to feelings of exclusion (Veck, 2009). School values often include a statement of acceptance while promoting inclusion regardless of background and celebrating diversity within a broad enriched curriculum (, 2018). However, part of inclusion within a school setting is to be heard as an individual, not in a way that others have classified, but in a way chosen by the learner (Veck, 2009). Sternberg notes that a labelled child should have interventions put into place tailored to their needs, that strengths should been capitalised rather than using them to compensate their weaknesses (Keane and Shaughnessy, 2002).

Segregation of children with SEND also attracts debate, with general opinion and the publication of the Code of Practice 0-25 Years, being that where possible children should be taught in a mainstream setting (, 2014). According to (Gorard, 2015) segregation is needless and damaging to children, although in contrast, (Shaw, 2017) noted that within mainstream schools much of the support comes from Teaching Assistants and not specialist teachers. Research has also shown that children with learning disabilities benefit more from good quality of provision which is not always available in mainstream schools (Shaw, 2017).

Sternberg believes only common sense can decide weather a child should attend a special school or mainstream, noting that some children might cope well in a mainstream setting being a benefit to themselves and others, whereas some may not receive the support they need whilst removing support from other children (Keane and Shaughnessy, 2002). More importantly the view of the child and their family should be carefully considered, it is possible that they perceive themselves as a failure or develop low self esteem as a result of their diagnosis, placing importance on being a part of an environment where they can feel included within their own context, maybe alongside others with similar abilities will contribute towards belief in their own ability, promoting their total cognitive performance (Enea-Drapeau, Huguet and Carlier, 2014).

There are many definitions of intelligence, which depending on definition also effects the way it is interpreted, for example Sternberg defines intelligence as the ability to achieve success in life in terms of ones personal standards, within ones socio-cultural context (Sternberg, 2003). Whereas Gardner defines intelligence as the ability to solve problems, or to create products, that are valued in one or more cultural settings (Helding, 2009).

In relation to assessing children with all kinds of learning difficulties, and because a wider context is considered, a multiple intelligence approach could be more realistic within inclusive education as it considers the whole child (Takahashi, 2013). How can a test which takes place in a clinic, sitting in a quiet room for maybe an hour possibly be adequate test of a disability? Surely a low IQ score could be a mask for other disabilities for example Autism Spectrum Disorders? There is a need for agreed and shared tools and clarity in incidence and occurrence studies and for schemes that are not reliant on local systems for identification, and which can display educational or other preferences (Baird et al., 2006).

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Howard Gardner and Robert Sternberg’s Work on Diversity in Development. (2019, Nov 21). Retrieved from

Howard Gardner and Robert Sternberg’s Work on Diversity in Development
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