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Intelligence Theory and Gifted Education
Originally prepared by: Jonathan Plucker (Fall 2001)
Note: This essay is based on material prepared for an introductory essay in a special issue of the journal, Roeper Review, published in April 2001. The purpose of the special issue was to provide educators of the gifted with descriptive and critical perspectives on new and emerging intelligence theories that could potentially influence educational practice. Readers are strongly encouraged to read the special issue.
The study of giftedness has closely paralleled the
study of intelligence. Many scholars who were concerned with matters of
intelligence also focused on manifestations of talent and genius: Kant,
William James, Galton, Terman, and Hollingworth, to name just a few. The
interrelationship between intelligence and gifted education continues
today. Intelligence theory influences the way we identify and assess students,
our attitudes toward giftedness and gifted students, the models upon which
we base our programs and interventions, and many other aspects of gifted
The unitary, entity view of intelligence ("g")
has been by far the most influential conception of intelligence since
Spearman first provided evidence of its existence early in the 20th century.
Although g is much maligned in educational circles, anyone concluding
that unitary entity perspectives are out of fashion should note the passion
surrounding the publication of The Bell Curve. This book, which
is among the most exhaustive defenses of g, elicited a great deal of debate
within gifted education (e.g., Pyryt, 1996; Robinson, 1995; Rogers, 1996;
Sternberg et al., 1995). At the time of its publication, I was surprised
at the number of educators who openly disagreed with the authors' rather
extreme social recommendations but quietly agreed with the authors' scientific
positions. Indeed, Jensen (1998b) goes so far as to argue that Sternberg's
Triarchic Theory is fully compatible with the idea of g. The death
of g has been exaggerated.
Several "new" approaches to intelligence theory
have become rather widespread in their acceptance and application. Foremost
among these theories are the Theory of Multiple Intelligences (Gardner,
1983) and the Triarchic Theory of Intelligence (Sternberg, 1985). MI
Theory has enjoyed widespread application since its inception, but
the popularity of the theory in educational circles has peaked. Triarchic
Theory, which has received much less attention from educators primarily
due to its complexity, is well-known and may be gaining momentum --
the work of Sternberg and his colleagues applying the theory in educational
settings (in conjunction with Sternberg's theories of successful intelligence
and mental self-government) has produced promising results.
A major goal of this special issue is to introduce emerging
theories of intelligence and ability. Some of these theories (e.g.,
PASS Theory) have had longer incubation periods than others, but all
provide alternative perspectives on the nature of human intellect. For
example, many educators are exploring the potential applications of
emotional intelligence (Mayer, Perkins, Caruso, & Salovey, 2001;
Pfeiffer, 2001), implicit theories of intelligence (1987), and similarly
alternative perspectives (Rea, 2001; Ritchhart, 2001).
Representative Summary of New and Emergent Theories
Cattell, R. B. (1971). Abilities: Their structure, growth, and action.
Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Ceci, S. J. (1990). On intelligence - more or less: A bio-ecological
treatise on intellectual development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice
Das, J. P., Naglieri, J. A., & Kirby, J. R. (1994). Assessment
of cognitive processes: The PASS theory of intelligence. Boston: Allyn
Dweck, C. S., Chiu, C., & Hong, Y. (1995). Implicit theories and
their role in judgments and reactions: A world from two perspectives.
Psychological Inquiry, 6, 267-285.
Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences.
New York: Basic Books.
Gardner, H. (1993). Multiple intelligences: The theory in practice.
New York: Basic Books.
Gardner, H. (1995, November). Reflections on multiple intelligences:
Myths and messages. Phi Delta Kappan, 200-209.
Gardner, H., Kornhaber, M. L., & Wake, W. K. (1996). Intelligence:
multiple Perspectives. Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace.
Guilford, J. P. (1967). The nature of human intelligence. New York:
Jensen, A. R. (1998a). The g factor and the design of education. In
R. J. Sternberg & W. M. Williams (Eds.), Intelligence, instruction,
and assessment: Theory into practice (pp. 111-131). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence
Jensen, A. R. (1998b). The g factor: The science of mental ability.
Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.
Pyryt, M. A. (1996). IQ: Easy to bash, hard to replace. Roeper Review,
Robinson, N. M. (1995). Rescuing the baby: A commentary on The Bell
Curve. Gifted Child Quarterly, 39, 180-182.
Rogers, K. B. (1996). What The Bell Curve says and doesn't say: Is
a balanced view possible? Roeper Review, 18, 252-255
Sternberg, R. J. (1988). Mental self-government: A theory of intellectual
styles and their development. Human Development, 31, 197-224.
Sternberg, R. J. (1990). Metaphors of mind: Conceptions of the nature
of intelligence. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Sternberg, R. J. (1996). Successful intelligence : how practical and
creative intelligence determine success in life. New York: Simon &
Sternberg, R. J., Callahan, C. M., Burns, D., Gubbins, E. J., Purcell,
J. P., Reis, S. M., Renzulli, J. S., & Westberg, K. (1995). Return
gift to sender: A review of The Bell Curve, by Richard Herrnstein &
Charles Murray. Gifted Child Quarterly, 39, 177-179.
Sternberg, R. J., & Grigorenko, E. L. (2000). Teaching for successful
intelligence: To increase student learning and achievement. Arlington
Heights, IL: Merrill-Prentice Hall.
Sternberg, R. J., & Lubart, T. I. (1995). Defying the crowd: Cultivating creativity in a culture of conformity. New York: Free Press.
Prepared by Jonathan A. Plucker, Ph.D.
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