What Does It Mean to Be Smart?

Four Key Abilities:

·         Ability to memorize information

·         Ability to analyze

·         Ability to practically apply information: can learn a set of facts better if they see its relevance to their own lives; ability to use “common sense”/street smarts

·         Ability to be creative

Four Key Learning Styles:

Highly imaginative students who favor feeling & reflecting:

·         Are at home with their feelings, people-oriented, outstanding observers of people, great listeners and nurturers, and committed to making the world a better place.

·         Prefer to learn by talking about experiences; listening and watching quietly, then responding to others and discussing ideas; asking questions, brainstorming and examining relationships.  They work well in groups or teams but also enjoy reading quietly.

·         Experience difficulty with long verbal explanations, with giving oral presentations, and with memorizing large chunks of abstract information.  They dislike confusion or conflict, environments where mistakes are openly criticized, or where they cannot discuss their perceptions.

·         Have a cognitive style that puts perception before judgement, subjective knowledge before objective facts, and reflection before action.  They prefer to make decisions based on feeling, are visual/auditory/ kinesthetic, and experiential before conceptual.

Analytic students who favor reflecting and thinking:

·         Have a knowledge-oriented style, are outstanding at conceptualizing material, analyze and classify their experiences and organize ideas, are highly organized and at home with details and data, are good at step-by-step tasks, are fascinated with structure, believe in their ability to understand, and are committed to making the world more lucid.

·         Prefer to learn through lectures and objective explanations, by working independently and systematically, and by reading and exchanging ideas.

·         Experience difficulty in noisy, high-activity environments, ambiguous situations, and working in groups.  They often have trouble with open-ended assignments, as well as with presentations, role-plays, and nonsequential instructions.  They have difficulty talking about feelings.

·         Have a cognitive style that is objective thinking, reflection before action, impersonal, auditory/visual/kinesthetic, conceptual over experiential.  They tend to make judgments first, then support them with their perceptions.

Common sense students who favor thinking and doing:

·         Are great problem-solvers and are drawn to how things work.  They are at home with tasks and deadlines, are productive and committed to making the world work better, and they believe in their ability to get the job done.  They are also active and need opportunities to move around.

·         Prefer to learn through active problem-solving, step-by-step procedures, touching, manipulating, and constructing, demonstrations, experimentation and tinkering, and competition.

·         Experience difficulty when reading is the primary means of learning and when they cannot physically test what they are told.  They have trouble with verbal complexity, paradoxes, or unclear choices, subtle relationships, and open-ended academic tasks.  They also have difficulty expressing feelings.

·         Have a cognitive style that features objective thinking and facts over ideas, action before reflection, and judgment before perception.  Their style is impersonal and kinesthetic/auditory/visual.  Need to work things out in their own ways, create unique solutions to problems, show what they learn by doing something concrete.

Dynamic students who favor creating and acting:

·         Are proud of their subjectivity, at home with ambiguity and change, and great risk takers and entrepreneurs.

·         Act to extend and enrich their experiences and challenge the boundaries of their worlds for the sake of growth and renewal, and believe in their ability to influence what happens.  Initiate learning by looking for unique aspects of the information to learn and sustain learning through trial and error.

·         Prefer to learn by self-discovery, talking, convincing others, looking for creative solutions to problems, engaging in free flights of ideas.  Like to work independently and tackle open-ended academic tasks with lots of options, paradox, or subtle relationships.  Good interpersonal skills.  Experience difficulty with rigid routines when are not allowed to question.  Have trouble with visual complexity, methodical tasks, time management, and absolutes.

·         Have a cognitive style that is perception first with slight attention to judgement, subjective, relational, action-oriented, kinesthetic/auditory/ visual, and experiential over conceptual.

All learners move from feeling to reflecting to thinking to acting through perceiving and processing.

Perceiving:  Take in what happens to us by (1) feeling, as we grasp our experience, and (2) thinking, as we begin to separate ourselves from the experience and name and classify it.  The resulting concepts become our way of interpreting the world.

Processing:  By (1) reflecting on them, and then by (2) acting on those reflections.  We also try things; we tinker.

The places in this cycle that we find most comfortable - where we function with natural ease and grace - are our learning preferences or styles, the “spin” we put on learning.

We must teach and assess in ways that enable students with all types of learning styles to use all four abilities.

·         Why do I need to know this (personal meaning)

·         What exactly is this content or skill (conceptual understanding)

·         How will I use this in my life (real-life skills)

·         If I do use this, what possibilities will it create (unique adaptations).

We need to ask students to:

·         Recall who did something, what was done, when it was done, where it was done, how it was done.

·         Analyze, compare, evaluate, judge and assess.

·         Create, invent, imagine, suppose, design.

·         Use, put into practice, implement, show use.

Excerpted from “What Does It Mean to Be Smart”, Robert Sternberg, and “A Tale of Four Learners: 4MAT’s Learning Styles”, Bernice McCarthy, Educational Leadership, Volume 54, No. 6, March 1997


Physical education: competitors need to learn and remember various strategies for playing games, analyze their opponents’ strategies, create their own strategies, and implement those strategies on the playing field.

MOST ACTIVITIES ARE A MIXTURE OF THESE ABILITIES, as are tasks we confront in everyday life.  Instruction and assessment are closely related.

A knowledge of each child’s intelligences and learning styles and the ways in which she or he demonstrates them are merely tools that can help us understand and respond to that child’s needs.  We must look for specialized strengths, but not attach permanent labels.  Children’s intelligences, and how they display them, and how successful they are, shift, grow and vary over time.

No type of activity should be limited to students whose strengths lie in that area.  We should teach all students in all four ways.  That way, each student will find at least some aspects of the instruction and assessment to be compatible with his/her preferred way of learning and other aspects to be challenging.  This also makes the teacher’s job doable: no teacher can individualize instruction and assessment for each student in a large class, but any teacher can teach in a way that meets all students’ needs.

Example:  Essays can ask students questions such as “Discuss and advantages and disadvantages of having armed guards at school” (analysis); “Describe what your ideal school would be like” (creativity); and “Describe some problem you have been facing in your life and give a practical solution.” (Practical use)

Consider the following elements in classroom design:

Noise: Places where students can listen to classical music while working, and places where students can wear old headphones with the cords cut off for quiet.

Light: Many students prefer low light; you can remove fluorescent lights, or allow children to work under tables.

Temperature: Encourage students who prefer a warmer climate to bring sweaters, and those who get hot easily to wear layered clothing that they can remove.

Design: Include informal areas as well as learning centers.

Sociological stimuli:  Create areas where students can work alone, in a team with a buddy, or in a group.  Seat students who need an adult presence close to the front of the room or the teacher’s desk.

Perception centers:  Learning centers and daily instruction include activities for the auditory, visual and tactile/kinesthetic modes.  Students can use computers, a language master, and a listening center.

Mobility: Allow students to move around the room and use special workplaces of their choice.

Intake:  Build snack times into the classroom schedule.

Research shows:

1.  Students whose instruction matched their patterns of abilities performed significantly better than the others.  Even by partially matching instruction to abilities, we could improve achievement.

2.  By measuring creative and practical abilities, we significantly improve our ability to predict course performance.