Tufts professor Sternberg speaks to students

By on October 5, 2005

“A principal in Oregon was having problems with some girls in the school,” Robert Sternberg said. “The girls had just started to wear lipstick and were pressing their lips against the mirror. After a few weeks, when the culprits were caught, the principal wanted to teach them a lesson, so the custodian showed them what he had to do to clean the lipstick. He dipped the sponge into the toilet and proceeded to wipe the mirror. Needless to say, the girls never pressed their lips against that mirror again.”

Armed with a smile and a positive attitude, this true story was the opening for Sternberg, the Dean of Arts and Sciences at Tufts University. Sternberg’s speech, “Teaching for Successful Intelligence,” sponsored by the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Service to Students gave students and teachers pointers on how to teach with students who have different ways of thinking and learning which are important for any teacher, past, present, or future.

Sternberg admitted that he was not a very good student and admitted his IQ was quite low. He had different teachers throughout his life who influenced him to become the man he is today. His fourth grade teacher believed he had the potential to be a better student. Wanting to please her because of a self-admitted crush, he became an ‘A’ student and changed his whole academic career.

Another positive teacher in Sternberg’s life was his senior advisor at Yale, where he was an undergraduate student. He had just written an article that had been rejected, but that still needed to be cited. Feeling depressed, he did not want to continue with the piece. His advisor told him “if you believe in the article that’s all that matters, don’t give up.”

“There is no recipe to be a great teacher, that’s what is unique about them,” Sternberg said, reflecting on his mentors through life.

Sternberg then told his ideas about teaching, saying there is a triarchy of abilities. Students learn and think differently, thinking analytically, practically or creatively.

“Teachers can’t afford not to be flexible,” Sternberg said. “The world is changing quickly. Don’t just teach to those who think and learn analytically.”

Some advice he gave for teachers was to adapt to different environments, shape it to make it a better place to be, and make sure to select the environment you want to be in. “If Tufts doesn’t work out, my safety is to go back to Yale, where I used to teach,” Sternberg said.

It is hard to find the right thing that one want’s to do for the rest of one’s life, but Sternberg encourages everyone that when something goes wrong, don’t give up, don’t waste the potential that you may have.

To accommodate the different ways of learning, Sternberg arranges his classes so that the triarchy of abilities is met. He includes multiple choice, short answers, essays, where students can best show their abilities, a term paper, and an oral presentation.

Met by a round of applause at the end of his speech, students learned a great deal.

“The speech was great,” said Laura Kurian, a junior math major in the MAT program. “It was funny and informative. When I become a teacher, I am going to try to help each student the best I can, and do projects that cater to their needs.”

Jen Pescik, a senior English major in the MAT program knows she will have to accommodate every student.

“I plan to handle the different ways that children learn by implementing a variety of teaching styles into my lessons…it’s important to accommodate the visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners, as well as provide opportunities for group work and independent work in the classroom,” Pescik said.

Kurian thought that teachers here at Quinnipiac were great at teaching to a wide array of students.

“They are very helpful and find a balance in their teaching,” Kurian said.

Teachers, new and old, learned a great deal and can hopefully find a way to implement some of Sternberg’s ideas into their curriculum.


About Jennifer DeAmicis