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The Secrets to Raising a Smarter Child
- By Inderbir Sandhu, Ph.D


What is Sternberg's Triarchic Theory of Intelligence? A Primer for Parents

By Andrew Loh

Intelligence in children comes in many forms and types. Some children are extremely gifted and they have exceptional talents. On the other hand, other children are just good with an average set of skills and intelligence. Measuring intelligence among children is a difficult task, as there are no definite or fixed methods can measure or assess the level of intelligence in them. However, experts and academicians from world-renowned institutions advocate using different types of intelligences and smartness to train and teach children. Most of these intelligence models propose different types of views to help parents and teachers to develop the careers of their children.

One such model is Sternberg's Triarchic Theory of Intelligence. This unique model of intelligence equates different combinations of children's preferences from three distinctive levels of mental self-management. In humans, the basic or inherent intelligence has three basic aspects depending on its usefulness. In fact, intelligence in children can be either useful or wasteful depending on the nature of the outcome. In essence, skills, knowledge and intelligence in children can be:

  • Theoretical or analytical ((componential),

  • Practical (contextual), or

  • Creative (experiential)

No one can have just one of the above-mentioned intelligence. Rather, almost all people, barring a very few, will have a delicate mixture of all the three intelligences. However, the degree or the extent of individual type of intelligences may vary from children to children. Intelligence among some children can be purely theoretical and academic. while it can be practical and useful in other children. A number of children will also possess intelligence that is productive in its nature.

Sternberg's Triarchic Theory of Intelligence is a thoughtful way of defining intelligences among children and it attempts to explain about the intrinsic nature of intelligence. Simply speaking, intelligent behavior among children can involve adapting to their immediate environment or ambience or changing/transforming it or choosing/selecting a better environment.

Sternberg's theory acts as an additional component to the theory of reasoning, where your children can learn their lessons by providing valid reasons to different problems and challenges. According to this theory, when your children use their intelligence in a proper manner, they can reach real success in their life. In essence, a child will have to learn and master all the three intelligence to get success in the classroom and outside of it. Most children tend to learn the theoretical and analytical intelligence in the initial stages of life, because classrooms always rely on academic intelligence to measure the intelligence in children.

Academic problem solving relate to analyzing a given problem and finding a valid solution to it. These problems could be anything in nature; solving puzzles, analogies, riddles, writing answers to questions or answering oral questions, are all simple examples of theoretical intelligences. According to educational experts, analytical intelligences always relate to a child's ability to interact with his or her internal world. Some more examples are:

  • Analyze a given problem by choosing a proper strategy to solve it. Children will find out what do and choose those components that can solve the problem. For example, basic math problem allow your children to think about the scope of the problem and later find or choose a practical method to solve it. There may be several methods available to solve a problem, but your child may actually choose a method that best suits his or her ability.

  • Executing a proper strategy to solve a given problem is more of a cognitive skill that your child will acquire over time. Some children may develop it very early in the age, while others may acquire it as they age. These cognitive processes may include such intelligences like developing short-term memory, performing mental calculations, compare different solutions or retrieve information from long-term memory.

Fact: Children with better reasoning abilities can spend more time understanding a given problem, but find out solutions for problems much faster than those children who have fewer skills at the same task.

On the other hand, practical intelligence among children is more of street-smart type of intelligence, when they develop an actually ability to solve the problems in a practical manner. Children with an extraordinary sense of practical intelligence can easily grasp things and understand the innate methods that can easily solve problems in the shortest time possible. This intelligence can reflect how a child can relate to the external world that influences him or her. Some examples are

  • A simple example of a child trapped in a real maze will provide a classical example of practical intelligence. Children may find their own methods to come out of the maze, even though the methods used are of trial and error types.

  • Another example is a child using a set of building blocks to create a definite shape or pattern. A child may use his or her practical abilities to build a shape or pattern better than other children, who do not have the required skills. Such activities are always multi-dimensional consisting of a number of sub skills like muscle coordination and mental calculations.

The third intelligence that your child may develop is of the creative type involving developing an ability to react to external situations and stimuli. Children with this ability can easily think in a creative manner and find out practical solutions. Some of the simple examples are:

  • Using the experiences to find out newer solutions is a very good strategy for many children. A classical example is handling a burning candle without burning the fingers. It is possible that some children will have burnt their fingers or palms while holding the candle in a wrong manner. This bitter experience may teach the children to hold the candle in the right manner. Some children may even use a small plate to carry the candles.

  • Another simple example is creating an alternative ending to a short story you just read to your children. This may involve creating story in a different manner, where things might have gone wrong for all the characters in the story.

Sternberg's intelligence theory is more of how you understand your children's ability to solve a problem or relate to a situation in their daily life or how they approach a given problem to find a practical solution. In essence, parents and teachers may need to understand their children better, so that they can find a practical strategy to train and teach them. Continue to read Sternberg's Practical Intelligence in Children's Everday Life


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