Sprinthall & Thies-Sprinthall Notes

Sprinthall, N. A., & Thies-Sprinthall, L. (1983). The teacher as an adult learner: A cognitive-developmental view. In G. A. Griffin (Ed.), Staff development: Eighty-second yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education, Part II, (pp. 13-35). Chicago: NSSE.


Critique of Previous Models of Adulthood

Toward a Cognitive Developmental Framework

  • The authors present Table 1 that describes the domains of developmental stages from five theorists: Piaget, Kohlberg, Loevinger, Hunt, Perry.

Table 1: Domains of Developmental Stages (p. 17)


Piaget (1963)

Kohlberg (1969)

Loevinger (1966)

Hunt (1974)

Perry (1969)

















Formal Substage I


Formal Substage II

Obedience-Punishment (1)

Naively Egotistic (2)


Social Conformity (3)

Authority Maintaining (4)

Principles Reasoning (5 and 6)













Unsocialized Impulsive


Concrete Dogmatic


Dependent Abstract





Self-directed Abstract














Do Developmental Stages Make a Difference?

  • “…persons judged at higher stages of development function more complexly, possess a wider repertoire of behavioral skills, perceive problems more broadly, and can respond more accurately and empathically to the needs of others (p. 21).”

Can Adults Develop?

  • “Adults do not regress cognitively, and it may be possible to restart the developmental motor, so to speak, to nurture further growth (p. 22).”

Promoting Developmental Growth

  • “The developmental assumption of interaction holds that effective teaching involves the process of ‘matching’ and ‘mismatching’ environments according to the developmental level of the learner. Thus developmentally immature persons would interact best in a highly structured environment, with rule/example/rule teaching, short-term rewards, low ambiguity as to expectations, and so forth. The opposite would hold true for psychologically mature learners (p. 25).”
  • “…professional education can be organized to promote development (p. 27).”

Toward an Instructional Model

Guidelines for creating developmental growth:

  1. Significant role-taking experiences are highly influential components of creating growth to higher levels of cognitive functioning. They help individuals move towards more complex levels.

    1. Definition of role-taking experiences: “…the person is expected to perform a new and somewhat more complex interpersonal task than his or her own current preferred mode. The experiences is direct and active, as opposed to vicarious and indirect (p. 28).”
    2. “The concept of cross-role training or role taking for teachers seems valid – namely, that educating professionals through direct yet multiple professional roles may act as a stimulus to growth (p. 28).”
  2. Role-taking experiences must be qualitative in nature.

    1. “Role taking could be significant educative or miseducative activity depending upon the calibration or the experiential ‘match’ (p. 28).”
    2. “Developmental stage differences imply major differences in the initial ability to take roles (p. 28).” (So hybrids must therefore be at a certain level of functioning – at a more complex level.)
    3. “Also the Thies-Sprinthall study suggested quite clearly that supervising teachers at modest levels of development experienced substantial difficulty in relating effectively with student teachers functioning at higher stages (pp. 28-29).” (Could the opposite also be true?)
  3. These experiences must involve “…careful and continuous reflection (p. 29)” in order to foster growth.

    1. “Apparently the general educational enterprise rarely teaches anyone how to reflect upon real experience. Vocabulary for reflection seems to vary from the minimal to the nonexistent (p. 29).” (Hybrids learn these skills through the role taking experience, which is also growth.)
    2. “As a stimulus to growth, teaching how to ask questions, how to examine experience from a variety of views, and so forth, seem at least equal to providing real experience (p. 29).”
  4. “Balance is needed between the real experience and discussion/reflection/teaching (p. 29).” (Purpose of PDA meetings and conversations with peer, informal mentors.)
  5. “Programs need to be continuous (p. 29).” They recommend at least a one year experience.
  6. “…instruction needs to provide for both personal support and challenge (p. 30).”

    1. “New learning, in a developmental sense, requires that we actually give up old, less adequate, more concrete, less empathic, more stylized systems of thought and action. The stability that a less adequate stage may offer can often become an extremely well-entrenched barrier to change. Any effective instructional model must offer major personal support as a direct part of the instruction, not as an indirect service or adjunct ‘therapy’ (p. 30).”
  7. Assessment