article originally written for Lesson Planet by Jen Lilienstein

Focusing on personality type in lesson planning increases classroom engagement and learning.

When planning lessons for your class, what types of insights do you use to differentiate and personalize instruction for your students? Do you try to connect with them based on abilities? Experiences? Interests?

While there are various ways to push pupils slightly beyond where they can work without assistance, most of these techniques are based upon meeting individual learners where they are, or where they are coming from. When you use personality type to differentiate instruction, you can take these insights a step further by viewing the world through their eyes. Understanding the personality type of your class as a whole, as well as those of each individual, can give you a framework for instruction on which to develop more engaging lesson plans.

Personality Types and the Elementary Learner

Over the course of the summer, we will explore the mindset of each of the eight types of elementary learners. The categories are based on Carl Jung’s cognitive processes and form the foundation of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). As children get into their teens, they develop more nuanced personalities that morph into the MBTI’s 16 personality types, or Kiersey’s temperaments. However, K-6 learners have only established these aspects of their personality:

  • Extraversion vs. Introversion (typically by age 2)
  • Judging vs. Perceiving (typically by age 4)
  • Just ONE vs. TWO of the following: Sensing vs. Intuiting vs. Thinking vs. Feeling (typically by age 6)

As with differentiating in general, there are three areas to consider when layering personality type into lesson planning:

  • Instruction content
  • Process and techniques
  • Work product

In upcoming articles, I will offer some optimal curriculum planning strategies for each of these three planning areas, as well as highlighting areas of struggle and strength for each personality type. My hope is that you’ll be able to use the techniques in each article to plan for both whole class and breakout groups, and to reach struggling students more quickly. For the moment, we’ll focus on introducing the dichotomies of personality type, and how each aspect impacts the way the kids most enjoy learning.

Extraversion vs. Introversion

At its core, this dichotomy is rooted in the direction of energy. If you get your energy from lots of interaction, you are an extravert. If you get your energy from reflection, you are an introvert. Other ways this dichotomy shapes the ways in which kids prefer to learn are as follows:

  • Process initial thoughts better by talking them out and will often volunteer an answer they’re not sure is correct
  • Like to be the ones talking (vs. listening)
  • Feel comfortable around people they’ve never met
  • Think about a question before volunteering an answer – especially if the idea is new
  • May hesitate to speak up unless invited
  • Quiet and reserved around new people, but may talk your ear off if they know you well

Judging vs. Perceiving

This temperament dichotomy is most like Aesop’s fable, “The Tortoise and the Hare.”

  • Approach assignments like an endurance runner, and work at a certain pace to get done by a specified deadline
  • Are organized and purposeful, and focus on the destination
  • Are systematic and prefer to stick to a game plan
  • Approach assignments like a sprinter and thrive on the pressure of a looming deadline
  • Are open, curious, interested, and focus on the journey
  • Are spontaneous, adaptable, and prefer to keep their options open

The Four Dominant Types

Finally, peoples’ dominant personality types are often referred to as their “hero processes.” It’s the lens through which they feel most comfortable viewing and interpreting the world. The opposite side of each dichotomy is what the learner will find to be most challenging, so anything you can do to help create a path from one “side” of the concept to the other will be incredibly helpful for the learner. A sensor, for instance, will feel most confident in the details, be able to see both logic and love, and will have the toughest time with the big picture. A thinker, on the other hand, will feel most confident with black-and-white learning, be able to see both big picture and details, but will have a tough time with new “shades of gray” knowledge. As mentioned earlier, elementary-aged children are grounded in one of the following four areas:

Sensors vs. Intuitives

Sensors feel most comfortable starting at the bottom of Bloom’s Taxonomy and working their way up. (Starting with knowledge practice and zooming out to synthesis.) Intuitives, on the other hand, feel most comfortable starting at the top of Bloom’s Taxonomy and working their way down. (Starting with synthesis and zooming into knowledge practice detail.)

Other ways this dichotomy impacts learning:

  • Remember details, facts, and tangible specifics
  • Most engaged while practicing skills already learned
  • Prefer instructions broken into small, sequential, actionable tasks
  • Enjoy reproducing things that already exist more than designing new things
  • Like to focus on the main idea, and may miss details
  • Most excited about new and different tasks and ideas
  • Prefer general guidelines to specific directions
  • Look for patterns, themes, and meaning beneath the surface of things

Thinkers vs. Feelers

Best described as the line between effect and affect, or love and logic.

  • Stimulated by problems to be solved and things to fix
  • Value impartial consistency in application of rules in all cases to all people
  • Think and judge in black and white
  • Value competition above consensus
  • Are prone to interpreting no feedback as negative
  • Enjoy helping, cooperating with, and pleasing others
  • Think and judge in shades of gray
  • Value consensus above competition

Maybe it’s because I am a feeler, but as a kid, when my teachers landed more on the feeling side of the line vis-à-vis this dichotomy, I was much more excited about attending class and going the extra mile for them. In my conversations with thousands of parents, teachers, and students, these hero-process dichotomies seem to be what makes the biggest impact on pupils. They’re also what can create the most friction if you and a pupil live on opposite sides of the line.

I hope you’ll read each of the upcoming articles highlighting each individual personality type. My goal in this article series is to help you stretch and strengthen your EQ through personality type, which should ultimately better prepare you to reach and connect with individual learners in the coming school year.

Additional Lesson Planet Resources with Respect to Personality Type:

Encouraging Introverts in an Extroverted World4

A good follow-up article to the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. The author offers techniques and suggestions to help your class flourish as they enjoy and accept a balance of noise and peace, loud and quiet, extroverts and introverts.

Susan Cain: The Power of Introverts

A TEDTalk by Susan Cain, based on her above book.

Who Am I and What Do I Do?

A student activity that draws upon personal exploration, including: work values, hobbies, interests, skills, aptitudes, and the definition of personality. The lesson traces the path of temperament exploration and theory from ancient Greece through present day.

John Holland’s 6 Personality Types

A different way of looking at temperament. Pupils explore John Holland’s six personality types after listening to information shared by the teacher. They then take a personality assessment, and consider possible occupations linked with their personality traits.

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The 8 Elementary Personality Types – An Introduction