What do students need to know in order to succeed in school? The Practical Intelligence for School (PIFS) Project explored this question with the assumption that success depends on more than traditional academic intelligence. In order to gain academic knowledge--about historical events, character development in stories, multiplication and division--students need practical knowledge about themselves, teacher expectations, and the school system at large. They need to learn how to learn. With its theoretical roots in Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences and Sternberg's triarchic theory of intelligence, the project developed a set of lessons that helps students to build these skills in the context of the regular curriculum.

The PIFS curriculum targets the sixth and seventh grades, a time when students make the difficult transition from elementary to middle school. In this setting, they receive less individual attention and so must assume more responsibility for themselves. They move among several classes in the same day and are challenged with more complex work. To meet these demands, students work through lessons that develop their understanding of their own strengths and interests; the purposes of various school tasks (why is there homework and how is it similar to what adults do?); the demands of different subject areas (how is studying for a math test different from studying for social studies?); the many steps involved in school tasks (such as making plans and using resources); and the importance of self-monitoring through reflection (in journals and discussions).

The PIFS curriculum encompasses some standard study skills but differs from other programs in two important ways. First, instead of offering general solutions, it helps students develop their own approaches to work. Second, rather than being a separate course, it is meant to be incorporated into regular subject matter instruction. The curriculum is divided into five sections. It begins with an introduction that helps students consider both the purposes of school and their own strengths and weaknesses in doing school work. The introduction is followed by sections on reading, writing, homework, and test-taking. The curriculum has been used and evaluated in urban schools in the Boston area, in a suburban school in Tewksbury, Massachusetts, and in rural schools in Connecticut.

Building on the PIFS results, researchers and teachers went on to develop the Creative Intelligence For School curriculum. This project took PIFS a step further: Instead of helping students adapt themselves to school, the new effort helped students figure out how to adapt school to their own interests and talents in the ways they approach projects and other assignments.

Project Info

Project Dates: 1988 - 1996
Funder: The James S. McDonnell Foundation