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The Value of Personality Preferences in the Classroom

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 in a learning context. We introduced the senior teaching team to MBTI Type Theory and differentiated learning and using this approach we enabled the staff to understand that students learn most effectively (especially when they are approaching new or difficult topics) when they are provided with the opportunity to use their most effective or dominant learning style. If children are supported and encouraged to learn in their most preferred and natural ways they become more confident and engaged in learning.

We created exercises around differentiated learning to show how these type preferences presented in the classroom. For example, we got teachers split into Extraverts and introverts and asked them to design their ideal classroom. One of the first things we noticed was that the extraverted teachers all gathered around one large flip chart to design their classroom which was filled with space for movement, exercise mats, moveable furniture, activity areas for group work. The introverted teachers initially worked on their own designs on their own piece of paper before coming together to discuss their ideas. Their ideal classroom was filled with spaces for individual work, visual aids for reflection, books and windows to the outside, study carrels or individual desks with online capabilities and activities where perhaps only 2 students would work together.

We also did an exercise around Thinking and Feeling. We asked the teachers what their rules were around students handing in assignments late. The thinking teachers immediately said that they would be happy to fail any student who handed in an assignment late. The feeling teachers, on the other hand said that 9 times out of 10, they would give the student an extension, IF THEY LIKED THEM. So with thinking and feeling you also want to consider a student's interactions with you. Some Thinking students have no hesitation telling a teacher what they're doing wrong (esp if they're extraverted)

Feeling students may struggle with critique. "The teacher doesn't like me so i'm not going to do the work. Whats the point?" With 32% of the Year 10 students being ENFPs, it would be quite telling if the student felt disengaged if they thought the teacher didn't like them!

We also looked at exercises around Sensing and Intuition and Judging and Perceiving.

It was quite revealing to the teachers that who they were was how they taught and sometimes there was a disconnect between their personality and their students! Over the next four months, we worked with the Year 10 Math Department to help them refine their lessons to incorporate differentiated lessons. We had a monthly coaching meeting with the department to see how their lessons were progressing. We also asked them to work with at least one student who was disengaged to see if they could use their understanding of Type to re-engage them.

After the initial oneday workshop, the Head of the School commented on the amount of positive 'type talk' in the staff room. Teachers were commenting on the similarities and differences in each other and were suggesting ways to improve their own communication between each other. During the 4 month pilot programme, the math teachers told us that there was a noticeable

change in student engagement. A number of students who had not been previously engaged were starting to show up for lessons and even show interest in the lessons. Even the teachers were more enthusiastic, as they started sharing ideas for delivering differentiated strategies in their classrooms. The programme was a real success in showing that with a little effort and understanding and encouragement, differentiated learning by Type actually works!

So what preferences work best in teaching? Every preference … is an asset when we teach from the strengths of our personality but can FLEX when either the task or the students' needs require us to use the other preferences.

I think that it is a challenge for education in the 21st century! What are we going to do differently to meet the needs and the personality types of kids in our schools? How do we bring those disengaged students back into the fold?

I believe Type is an important tool to start answering those questions.

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