The Teacher Is In: Personality Edition
(This post cross-posted between Front Page and Mindless Diversions. I’ll open comments on the former and close them on the latter just to keep things neat and tidy.)
Recently I asked folks to submit questions that I, as a teacher, could answer. This is one of those answers…
“Personality types and their effect upon learning.
I’m pretty sure that everybody here is an INTP or an INTJ, for example. I know that I, in my own life, don’t interact with a whole lot of non-NT types. (IT. You know how it is.)
Of course, if you don’t like Myers-Briggs (AND WHO DOES???), the personality archetype system that works best for you with regards to the kids that you teach.”
I (attempt to) answer:
While Myers-Briggs is something I vaguely remember being discussed in one education class or another, I can’t say I am that familiar with it. Having researched it a bit, I can’t say that I would find the application of it to my age-range (4- and 5-year-olds) particularly useful. That being said, “personality”, however we choose to define it, has an enormous impact in the classroom. Here are some of the ways that I find it impacts my teaching:
First, the bulk of my curriculum is focused on social-emotional development. I view this as my foremost charge in the education of young children. Helping them develop skills related to self-advocacy, conflict negotiation, problem solving, frustration tolerance, fostering positive social interactions and relationships, managing emotions, etc. is core to my work. As I learn each student, I must tailor how I teach them these skills accordingly. If little Johnny is a dominant child who likes to be in the lead, I work to help him balance this by developing comfort and competency deferring and taking on secondary roles. Conversely, if little Juan is a deferential child who prefers to follow, I work to help him balance this by giving him safe and supportive opportunities for leadership. The odds are that Johnny will remain a leader and Juan will remain a follower; my goal is not to change their essential being. Rather, it is to arm them with the skills to thrive and succeed regardless of the situation, such that if called upon to step back and follow, Johnny will be able to; and if called upon to lead, Juan will do so swimmingly. Multiply an infinite number of personalities by the vast complexities of human life and interactions and you get a sense of the bulk of my job.
Second, it is my position that there is a linear, if not parabolic, relationship between the age of a student and her ability to accommodate her learning to the demands of the learning environment. This position is a mixture of what I know about how children develop and grow and what I believe ought to be true about how schools respond to this knowledge. So, on one end of the spectrum, you have folks like myself, who must largely accommodate the learning environment and experiences to children. On the other, you have higher education, where I think it is fair to expect a student to accommodate her own approach to the environment. I might want a visual learner to grasp a concept during a circle time meeting but, odds are, she won’t. She has not yet developed the skills to be anything other than who she naturally is as a learner. I can sit there and talk to her until I’m blue in the face about what a square is but until I draw that on the board, she likely won’t get it. Going to the other end of the spectrum, I think it fair to say to a graduate student who prefers to answer long-form essays that next week’s test is multiple-choice and she should be expected to do as well (perhaps not AS well, but to at least perform competently) on that as she would on any other form of assessment (this presumes that she has been given the skills to be successful in a variety of arenas, something that we can’t necessarily presume of our education system at this point). So, again, for myself, knowing who my students are is imperative.
Third, and probably most on point to Mr. Jaybird’s question, I get to something I touched on above: learning style. I am generally a believer in Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences. As I understand it, he has spun off the original eight that he proposed (though I was always a bit dubious of the “Naturalistic” as being too content specific) into about 9 million at this point, but I think the theory as a whole stands up. I take it in a bit of a different direction and choose not to see kids as distinctly possessing specific intellects, but instead to falling somewhere along a spectrum in each area. So a child, Malcom, might rate highly in spatial and linguistic abilities but poorly in interpersonal skills. Right next to him might sit Sun, who rates highly in bodily-kinesthetic and musical abilities but poorly linguistically. And, because of their age, I can’t reasonably expect them to learn in a way that is outside of their most preferred, strongest method. HOLY JEBUS, BAT-TEACHER!
So what does this all mean? First and foremost, I must know my students. I spend the first several weeks of school just getting to know them. We establish basic routines, work to build classroom community, and go over some basic fundamentals, but I can’t launch too deeply into anything else until I know them. And even the ways in which I do these things is informed by what I know more broadly about the age I teach: the children come with a variety of strengths and weaknesses, learning styles and preferences, and personality types, which means I must offer content, skills, and concepts in a variety of forms to ensure all students have access to the curriculum. As I get to know them more, individually and collectively, I can more precisely tailor things, as mentioned in the first point above. So if we’re doing a study on shapes and I want the kids to learn about triangles, we might first hunt for triangles in the classroom, then make triangles with our bodies on the rug, then draw them, then build them out of blocks, and finally define the properties of the shape. This ensures two things: every child’s preferred learning style is targeted -and- each child has an opportunity to safely develop skills and comfort in other learning styles. And, layered over the top of this, is again what was discussed above and what we more commonly think of as personality. So little Abdul, who is a kinesthetic learner who will best understand a triangle by contorting his body into one, might also be little Abdul, the introvert with a fear of risk-taking and discomfort working in front of the group. So now I’ve got to make sure little Abdul has a chance to make his body into a triangle because that’s how he’ll best learn it, but I must also make sure I don’t call little Abdul first to do so because he’ll likely freeze up and not get the true experience; better to let him see others try, perhaps struggle, and emerge safely so that he can have the experience as anxiety-free as I can make it.
So, that, in a 1000+ word nutshell, is how students’ personality impacts teaching in my classroom. I realize I might not have tackled Jaybird’s question precisely as I believed he intended it. If he/you were wondering whether an introverted person process mathematical facts and concepts differently than an extroverted person, I can’t answer that. I haven’t heard of or seen research that touches on it, which makes me think it likely isn’t true, but it is just as possible that I have simply never encountered the work. If you meant something other than this and what I discussed here, elaborate on the question in the comments JB and I’ll take another 1000+ word stab at it!
Thoughts? Anyone want to sign up to teach PreK with me?!?!