Personality Tests and Teaching

March 30th, 2012 by

Have you ever taken a personality test?  Would it help you to evaluate and adapt to the personalities of students?

On hearing recently how one institution uses personality tests in training and teambuilding activities, my first reaction was to think such tests would be a terrible idea for teaching.  But then, I thought, maybe an awareness of personality types could be very helpful in communicating with students.

Let’s look at the pros and cons of personality tests as related to teaching music — first the cons, then the pros, and finally a few ideas for how to find some tests and include them in your teaching.

1. The Downside of Personality Tests

The teacher’s job is to rise above personalities

As teachers we’re always trying to rise above people’s differences, facilitate communication with students and among them.  Rather than to accept and solidify personality types, teachers try to change them, to shape them.  Every teaching day, I coax students to see things in new ways.  For example, some want to control every movement before they’re satisfied, but I have to show them that there are sometimes other priorities — sometimes they need to get a feel for the continuity of a phrase and not control every note within it at the expense of the flow of music.  This might mean I am teaching a very concrete personality see things in a more intuitive way.  Would I be less likely to try to do that if I “knew” the student’s personality was classified as not receptive to what I was offering?

Tests can freeze someone’s self-perception

A student’s self-perception can be either your best helper or the worst obstacle.  There are times when a student can make a real breakthrough by focusing on their ears and hands and closing their eyes.  But if they are convinced they are a visual person, they might refuse to try.  If a personality test tells them they are, say, a “concrete-sequential” person, they may not be open to trying a physical exercise that is about muscle memory and cannot be verbally analyzed.

Taking these tests too seriously can cross a line into personal judgment that can easily take you away from a focus on learning music.

Personality tests are not so accurate

In polling, or science and math, the more samples you have, the more accurate your results will be.  I think this is also true of personality tests — the more categories there are, the more realistic the results.  You may have heard of 8 emotional intelligences, or tests with 5 personality types; I saw one list of 20 personalities, and there are tests where 4 sliding scales are combined into 16 possible results.  The least accurate measurements of personality are probably those which reduce everybody to only 2 types, such as right brain/left brain, or male/female.

One friend told me of a personality test which was based on handwriting and drawing.  She said that if you draw with a squiggly, haphazard line, you are considered “artistic” and “disorganized”!  Clearly a test devised by someone who knows very little of artists!  And yet, this test probably had some impact on its unfortunate subjects.

 

2. The Upside of Personality Tests

Adding flexibility and focus to teaching methods

If you knew that you were teaching a very intuitive student, you might have more patience in explaining something detailed, or you might approach the subject differently.  If your student is extroverted, you might consider a more engaging and less judgmental presentation, allowing the extrovert a chance to blast through a new exercise a few times before focusing on needed improvements.

In other words, knowing something of the student’s disposition could change your approach from the start, rather than trying a new skill the same way as usual with limited success.  It could save you having to reinvent the wheel with each student.

In many ways, of course, good teachers recognize personalities and adapt to them, but it’s certainly possible that if the teacher is aware of different personality types, he/she might come up with new ideas for communicating, with increased patience, less frustration, and maybe even have more fun doing it.  Here is a link to descriptions of 16 personality types that might be of interest.

Matching teacher’s personality to students

What about the teacher taking a personality test?  If the teacher has a sense of his/her own personality traits, it might be easier to match up with the learning needs of each student.  Again, most teachers have a sense of how to do this without taking a test, but it can be helpful to read through some of the personality groups and think about how your personality might best work with each of them.

Engaging students to solve their own problems

If you have students take personality tests, and they have some ideas about their own characteristics, students might feel more engaged in solving their own problems.  For example, if a students finds that he/she is considered more on the introverted side but also judgmental, maybe that will help the student work on avoiding too much self-judgment while learning new skills.

Some organizations use personality tests as icebreakers — gathering similar personality types into groups with something to share and laugh about, while underlining that other personality types are out there and need to be respected.  Sometimes this can make people more articulate about what they want and how they want to approach what they do, knowing that others would do things differently — in other words, it can make them feel more engaged.

3. Using Personality Tests

Use voluntarily or as a game

It seems clear that requiring a personality test of your students would be an intrusion.  But offering it as a game, or as a voluntary option, or offering them links to online tests, could be fun for them.  In the right circumstances, it could even be used as an icebreaker by putting similar students together, as long as you and they keep a sense of humor about the fact that no personality test can really measure a person.

Finding personality tests

One fun “personality” test is the horoscope; after all, it has 12 possibilities, and can even be broken into sun and moon signs.  But again, a sense of humor would be necessary to keep this “test” from being taken too seriously.   It could be the basis of a fun activity at a music party or a large class.

There are several online personality tests, such as the Big Five test, a Jung Typology test, another Jung-style test, the Gregorc Learning Styles test, or the Meyer-Briggs test.  Try them, have fun, and try them with some students.

But keep a light touch.  As mentioned above in the Downside of Personality Tests, if anyone takes these tests too seriously, they can easily place artificial limits on who they think they are, and on what they can become.

 

Posted in Teaching Tips

About the Author

Ed Pearlman
Ed Pearlman has focused on performing, teaching, and judging fiddle music for over 30 years, offering performances and workshops throughout the USA and in Canada and Scotland. His original training was with members of the Chicago and Boston Symphonies, and he played with orchestras and chamber groups at Yale and in Boston. He currently teaches privately in Maine and at workshops around the countr... [Read more]

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