Teaching for Wisdom, Intelligence and Creativity

by Robert Sternberg

How does one teach for wisdom, intelligence and creativity?

Teaching analytically means encouraging students to (a) analyze, (b) critique, (c) judge, (d) compare and contrast, (e) evaluate and (f) assess. When teachers refer to teaching for critical thinking, they typically mean teaching for analytical thinking. A student could analyze a political argument, critique a poem, judge the quality of a work of art, or compare and contrast two systems of government.

Teaching creatively means encouraging students to (a) create, (b) invent, (c) discover, (d) imagine if …, (e) suppose that … and (f) predict. Students could create a work of art, invent a machine that swims in the water, discover how force relates to mass, imagine what it would be like to grow up in a different culture, suppose that global temperatures keep increasing and speculate on the likely effects, or predict what will happen if the national debt keeps increasing at current rates. Teaching for creativity requires teachers not only to support and encourage creativity but also to model it and reward it when displayed. In other words, teachers need to not only talk the talk, but also to walk the walk.

Teaching practically means encouraging students to (a) apply, (b) use, (c) put into practice, (d) implement, (e) employ and (f) render practical what they know. For example, students could apply what they have learned in a Spanish class to interacting with a Spanish-speaking resident of their community, use what they have learned in mathematics to balance a checkbook or compute how much interest is owed on a consumer loan, put into practice a “constitution” for their classroom, implement a new student council governance plan, employ what they have learned in chemistry to understanding how artificial sweeteners work, or render practical their knowledge of physics to understand why jogging uphill is so difficult. Teaching for practical thinking must relate to the real practical needs of the students, not just to what would be practical for individuals other than the students.

Teaching for wisdom means encouraging students to (a) think dialogically (i.e., see alternative points of view); (b) think dialectically (i.e., understand that what is true in a social context can change over time); (c) think for the long term as well as the short term; (d) think about how actions can be directed toward a common good; and (e) think about how actions can balance one’s own interests, others’ interests and institutional interests.

Students could seek to understand how people in another country could have a different view of the United States than they do; try to comprehend how lowering taxes may have more successful outcomes at some periods of time than at others; endeavor to understand how smoking can in the short term be pleasurable, but in the long term may kill you; consider how, if everyone littered in a park, what little convenience the individual experienced might lead to a common catastrophe; and think about how businesses that pollute may think they are serving their own interests, but at the same time are hurting almost everyone else’s.

Additional details about this approach can be found in three books: Teaching for Successful Intelligence (2nd ed.) by Robert Sternberg and Elena Grigorenko; Teaching for Wisdom, Intelligence, Creativity, and Success by Robert Sternberg, Linda Jarvin and Elena Grigorenko; and Applied Intelligence by Robert Sternberg, James Kaufman and Elena Grigorenko.