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The Value of Personality Preferences in the Classroom

April 12, 2017


As a child I had a real passion for science and I still do or I wouldn’t be a Psychologist. My boyhood hero was Carl Sagan and one of my favourite teachers in Primary School, Mr Kenneth Rozario really nurtured and encouraged my love of Science. He encouraged me to ask questions, no matter how prickly and he created wonderful lessons for our class. He also started a Master Reader programme in school, which encouraged every student to read and write book reviews and he created the Hobby Club, which allowed us to showcase our most creative projects in school.

I took my love of science and astronomy to High School, hoping to specialize in Physics but suddenly I found a massive difference in how I was taught by Mr Rozario and how lessons were conducted by my teachers in High School. It wasn’t that the subjects were more complex, but suddenly formulae, memorization and the infamous 10 year series were touted as being far more important than an actual understanding of the subject. The goals seemed to be just about passing the exam, rather than inculcating a love of learning and a love for the subject. I became disengaged and disinterested in the subjects that I was taking. So why was I engaged with in Mr Rozario’s lessons and disengaged in High School? It seems that Mr Rozario’s lessons engaged me as someone with very clear preferences for Intuition. My High School subjects were designed and taught in a very clear Sensing way. There were rules, steps, procedures, formulae and linear processes.

One of my economics teachers described me as a bad influence because of my frequent absences from her tutorials. My chemistry teacher said it was unfortunate that I wasn’t as good in chemistry as I was in debates and drama…subjects that I excelled at. Debates, Drama and General Paper. I excelled at them because I could express my creativity in my own way. The rules and structures were those that I created. I despised the overly structured ways in which chemistry, math and economics were taught. The subjects simply didn’t come alive for me.



For a long time I thought there was something wrong with me; that I was dumb. In fact it was a wonder I actually finished junior college!



When I started University in Australia, It was like discovering a whole new world! I became far more engaged! I was actually able to ask questions which were answered logically! I started to excel! I even won an academic prize in my second year which I’m pretty sure would have astounded my high school teachers.


I had a similar experience in the UK when I was completing my masters programme. I felt engaged, energised and competent!


So what was different? Why was i disengaged in high school and college and engaged in University. I believe it was because the structure of the system at University was actively engaging my personality type. With very clear preferences for Intuition, I was allowed to delve into subjects that interested me. I had choices; options. Lecturers listened to my ideas, allowed me to learn independently, create my own topics for assignments and pretty much allowed me free rein for my creativity and curiosity.  Lessons in high school and college were designed pretty much in a very sensing way. There were steps and procedures, ways of doing things, rules, fewer options.  


It seems that the education system has been designed primarily to suit particular types, namely Introverted, Sensing, Judgers (ISJs). You'll also find that the majority of individuals drawn to teaching at primary and high school tend to be ISJs. What happens to the others? Are their preferences being met in the classroom?


When students are typically disengaged in class, we often label them inattentive, playful, lazy or even worse, dumb. If you look at how students act during silent seat work; the extraverted students are likely to be fidgeting more, tapping the pens, finding ways to get out of their seats, even if they are following directions and introverted students aren't necessarily quiet either, they can give speeches, speak up and work in groups. But if they're bored, they're just as likely to get into trouble for talking out of turn as the extraverts.


So how do we engage students who aren't engaged? When I was a teacher, this was a big challenge for me as well. Typically I would have maybe 10-15% of my class who weren't particularly engaged. I didn't know about personality type at the time, but i wish I had! 


When we did a workshop a few years ago for Students at Raffles Institution, we worked with a group of 60 students who had not performed well in their first year. These were all intelligent, enthusiastic kids. What was interesting was that when we looked at their Types, the majority had preferences for ENFP!  We did a session on learning styles with these students and discovered that their dominant learning preferences were in conflict with the way lessons were structured. So what could we have done to engage these kids? How could we have changed our teaching styles? 



This was the challenge we had when we were approached by Redlands College in Brisbane to help the teachers understand the value of differentiated learning and how to apply it in their classrooms. The school had already been using Type to help their Year 10 students to better understand themselves and to support them in their career choices.  When comparing each cohort, between 2007 and 2012, they observed that there was a pattern in the predominant styles in the student population. This pattern also demonstrated a correlation between type and choice of curriculum streams as well as student engagement and behavioural problems. When they analysed the student and teacher data they found that IJ preferences were predominant in the teachers and EP preferences were predominant in the students. In fact, 32.4% of the Year 10 students in 2012 were found to be ENFPs! We ran a workshop for the Year 10, 11 and 12 teaching staff to look at using Type theory