Personality Type in the Classroom

[by Dave Merritt]

Following on from the April blog on introversion and extraversion… the concepts were popularised by the work of Carl Jung who was very interested in patterns of, and regularities in, personality.
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He proposed two further dichotomies which also can have an impact in the classroom. I will deal with one in this blog. He called the dichotomy sensing and intuition and believed that all people have a preference for one style or another even though they can do the other thing, though less expertly – a bit like an introvert can chat at a party if need be, whilst an extrovert can be quiet and focussed at revision time!

Sensing (S) and Intuition (N) are the information-gathering (perceiving) functions. They have to do with what sort of information we like and how we like to receive and process it.

Individuals who prefer sensing are more likely to trust information that is in the present, tangible, specific and concrete: that is, information that can be understood by the five senses. They tend to distrust hunches, which seem to come “out of nowhere”. They prefer to look for details and facts. For them, the meaning is in the data. They like clear instructions and are happy with set procedures and established routines.

On the other hand, those who prefer intuition tend to trust information that is more abstract, general and theoretical. They look for patterns and links in things. They like the big broad picture. They may be more interested in future possibilities than in making things work in the present. For them, the meaning is in the underlying theory and principles which are manifested in the data.

Hermione Granger is probably S whilst Albus Dumbledore is N.In the Obama house, probably, Barack is the N, Michelle is the S.

Maybe you can recognise yourself in one of these two more than in the other! I myself am strongly intuitive in preference and this has to be kept in check in my classroom teaching. The specifications and the exams these days are strongly S style and so if I constantly go with my natural N style and follow any interesting idea that comes into my head then the class will not get the ordered logical notes they need for the exam.


Having teachers and students with different personality preferences may affect how well they get on.


The sensing student will see the flight of fancy N teacher as being disorganised and chaotic ‘all over the place!’ In contrast the intuitive student, keen to run with ideas, will see the logical, ordered bullet pointing S teacher as boring!


Similarly, teachers will find that N students don’t listen for precise instructions but will be ready to get on with the job once they have been given the general idea (‘just a minute, I haven’t finished telling you yet…)’ S students, however, will be very keen to know exactly what is expected of them before they are prepared to get going. (‘yes, you can underline the title if you want to!’)


The table below summarises the preference of typical S and N students (and, of course, teachers):


Sensing Students Intuitive Students
Like precise instructions


Focus on the present


Work steadily and patiently


Prefer facts and measurable things


Like things presented sequentially


Enjoy detail – the fine print


Like routine and tradition


Solve problems with tested and tried methods

Like the chance to be original


Focus on the future


Work best when burst of inspiration comes


Prefer ideas and possibilities


Happy to dot around ideas


Not so concerned with precision


Like variety and spontaneity


Enjoy designing new methods to solve problems


To be aware of the possible personality preferences of teachers and students can avoid misunderstandings and if S and N activities (as well as E (Extrovert) and I (Introvert) activities) can be built into lessons, a good balance can be struck!



3 responses to “Personality Type in the Classroom

  1. An older category of personality types is the melancholic, the choleric, the sanguine and the phlegmatic. Hippocrates called them temperaments. There are some online tests for this that students might find interesting. What I liked about the sight was an explanation of how teachers can recognize and teach to these types of personalities. I could actually see these attributes in my students. And in my teaching. It really does help with classroom management, and I know it makes me more compassionate towards my students.


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