At a new research center at Yale University, investigators hope to foster the notion that abilities are not fixed, but rather are a form of expertise that can develop and change over time.
That view runs counter to traditional models of education and testing, says Robert Sternberg, PhD, director of the new Center for the Psychology of Abilities, Competencies and Expertise (PACE) at Yale University. He and his colleagues--about two dozen research faculty, postdoctoral fellows and graduate students from around the world--hope the center will alter educational practices in the United States and abroad.
"A lot of teaching is based on the notion that you have the smart kids and the not-so-smart kids," Sternberg says. "Schools are set up in a way that always values the same sort of kids: the ones who have good memory and analytic skills. The problem is that those abilities, once you get out of school, become less important, and abilities to get along with other people, to write well, to be creative and so forth become more important."
In an effort to integrate the academic fields of abilities and expertise in research and practice, the PACE center has so far obtained about $7 million in grants and contracts from the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Office of Educational Research and Improvement, the U.S. Army Research Institute, and the W.T. Grant Foundation.
One major study tests Sternberg's theory of "triarchic teaching"--a method that exploits not only students' analytical skills, but also their creativity and practicality--in a national sample of fourth graders in science, math and language arts.
Another investigation, performed in collaboration with researchers at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J., will examine ways of using real-time Internet data in science teaching.
Other projects measure how giftedness changes over time, ways to train effective leaders and to what extent "wise thinking"--using one's intelligence for the greater good of society--is an ability that can be taught.
Sternberg emphasizes that the center will not revolve around any particular theories of education, development or intelligence--least of all, his own.
"What we're trying to do is to change the way education is done in this country," he says. "We're trying to create a center that's based on a vision that we should not view abilities as something that are fixed, that are genetically determined and which are your lot in life. We'll take on any project that falls under that general framework."