An individual's learning style is the preferred way to use one's abilities. Much of the initial work in the field was done by psychologists developing effective team building for business management. Many theories of styles have been published (Gregorc, 1985; Kiersey & Bates, 1984; Rideout & Richardson, 1989). The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is a popular personality inventory that has been simplified and adapted for use in education.
The foundational belief in attention to learning styles is that if teachers understand their preferred learning styles and those of their students, they will be able to adjust their curriculum and teaching methods to accommodate students with different learning styles. "By keying teaching and assessment techniques to the diverse ways people think and learn, teachers will be surprised at how much smarter their students get" (Sternberg, 1994, pp. 36-40).
Kiersey simplifies the 16 Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) types into four groups. The MBTI uses two categories, labeled N for intuitive and S for sensing, based on the preferred mode of processing information-either by senses (S), which includes about 76% of the population, or by intuition (N), which includes about 24% of the population. Then each of these types is paired with either perception (P) or judging 0), which are basic differences in ways persons approach problem solving. Judging types like to have issues clarified, desire an agenda, and work toward closure. In contrast, perceiving types like openness, flexibility, and as much information as possible. They resist being tied to a schedule. It is particularly interesting that the Myers-Briggs styles in these four categories for the general student population differ greatly from the Myers-Briggs styles for the population of K-12 teachers. The conforming person SJ (sensing-judgmental) comprises 38% of the general population, in contrast to 56% of the teaching population. It does appear that the traditional school setting favors the learning style of this type of individual. The greatest mismatch in the traditional school setting is with the SP person, who learns through sensory activity and may be criticized by the judging person as aimless and indecisive due to his preference for the perceiving mode of problem solving. SP types make up 38% of the general population and only 2% of the teaching population (Rockinger, 1980).
These differences in learning styles are of particular interest in mathematics because of the wide variations in approach to problem-solving activities by different personality types. Campbell and Davis (1988) suggest we can improve learning by considering psychological type in designing activities involving critical thinking skills. They view the dichotomy of judging and perceiving as central to differences in students' orientation to learning. Problems designed to elicit a variety of approaches allow students to access the learning task using their preferred style.
As part of a classroom research project, a group of four exemplary secondary-level teachers administered a personality profile test similar to the Myers-Briggs, the Kiersey Temperament Sorter (Kiersey & Bates, 1984). They focused on the judging versus the perceiving learning styles in problem solving. Approximately half of the population is one style and half the other, according to the research based on the Kiersey Temperament Sorter. The teacher researchers found a 50% split for the two types in the low-level classes such as pre-algebra, but the percentage of judging types increased as the level of mathematics increased. For example, students in second-year algebra were 75% judging, and 80% of the pre-calculus class were judging types. The obvious question is whether methods of teaching mathematics are inhibiting the progress of students who are perceiving types (Mussack, 1996). It would be of considerable interest to administer the Kiersey Temperament Sorter to accomplished research mathematicians. Would they be more likely to be high in perceiving or in judging characteristics? It would appear that the openness and flexible problem-solving styles of a perceiving individual might be helpful to a researcher on the edge of accepted theory who is moving into new territories. Yet, according to this study, this personality type is less likely to persist in taking higher mathematics. In view of our effort to teach mathematics for all students, these thoughts are especially intriguing.
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