Perry’s Model of Intellectual Development

Perry’s Model of Intellectual Development*
William Perry, educator and administrator at Harvard University (1946-1998) became interested in student intellectual development through his encounters with students as a faculty member and student advisor.  Perry had, “a fateful curiosity about the ways in which so many of [his] students succeeded in not learning that which [he] was teaching them so well.” (Felder, 2005).
So he began to collect data from student essays and interviews in order to understand the intellectual progress of students through time. After many years of interaction, reflection, and study, he designed a nine-step model of intellectual development that describes the steps students move through as they progress
from simplistic black and white thinking to more complex and integrated thoughts and actions. He published his findings in Forms of Ethical and Intellectual Development in the College Years (1970). In it, he also discusses ways that faculty can identify stages and implement interventions that help students move along the continuum.
There are four broad categories, within which the nine stages lie:
  • Dualism
  • Multiplicity
  • Relativism
  • Commitment with Relativism
Read more about the stages HERE
Perry found that most entering college freshmen were at the Dualistic level. In this stage, students:
  • exhibiting black/white thinking which relies on authority figures to provide right answers
  • perceive their intellectual job as to memorize and repeat the correct answer which was given by the authority figure (author, professor, etc.)
  • dislike active or cooperative learning. They are looking for facts and figures, and aren’t comfortable with abstract concepts.
He also found that most graduating seniors only progressed to the next broad category, Multiplicity. In this level, students:
  • are more able to accept questions with gray answers, although there is still a belief that all answers will eventually be known.
  • are also starting to use supporting evidence (outside that provided by the professor) to support their arguments or assertions.
  • still are very tolerant of their own pre-conceived notions and are unwilling to challenge them or be inclined to look at other points of view.
A few students reach Relativism stages by graduation. In this stage, students:
  • understand that knowledge and values depend on context and individual perspectives
  • use evidence to reach and support conclusions in habitual and internalized ways
  • begin to see the need for commitment to a course of action even with gray areas – based on critical evaluation and not external authority
Only rarely do students reach the upper levels of dev elopement: Commitment with Relativism, characterized by individuals who can:
  • make commitments based on personal values
  • evaluate the consequences and implications of these commitments
  • attempt to resolve conflicts and acknowledge that these may never fully be resolved
  • come to terms with struggle (getting comfortable with the questions)
Perry recommended employing the following strategies to help students move through the levels:
  • Provide appropriate balance of challenge and support, occasionally posing problems/questions 1-2 levels above student’s current level
  • Assign open-ended real world problems
  • Have students work in small groups – automatically exposes them to multiplicity of ideas
  • Model the type of thinking being sought
  • Provide supportive feedback, with respect for students at all levels of development
Harvard was strictly male as Perry did his research, so his findings are one-sided in that regard. Baxter-Magolda continued the work to include gender-related patterns (see reference below for more information).
Baxter-Magolda, M.B. (1992). Knowing and reasoning in college: Gender-related patterns in students intellectual development. Jossey-Bass.
Felder, R.M., & Brent, R. (2005). Understanding student differences. Journal of Engineering Education, 94(1), 57-72.
Perry, William G., Jr. (1970). Forms of Intellectual and Ethical Development in the
College Years. New York: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston.
*( ‘den alınmıştır. Ancak orada alıntılandığı belirtilen kaynak ile ilgili ibare ise şöyledir:
( 07/17/2006). Critical literacy. Retrieved July 23, 2007, from About English – Critical Literacy Web site:

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