Physical Training Dec 2009
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From the Teacher's Corner:
Personality and Learning

copyright 2009 Douglas Tong, all rights reserved

Why can’t this student get this? I’ve explained it a thousand times and he still can’t seem to grasp it. Is he slow or am I doing something wrong?

This is actually a very common situation for teachers. We constantly run into situations where students cannot grasp a certain concept or technique that we are trying to teach them.

Is this student slow or dim-witted?
No, he or she is not. However, it is clear that they are not getting the concept you are trying to teach them. For some reason (a reason which we do not understand), they cannot get it. It may not be that they don’t want to understand it. It may actually be that they cannot understand it. In other words, they are incapable of grasping what you are trying to teach them through the method or approach you are using. It may not be in their capacity to be able to understand it as you understand it.

Am I doing something wrong?
Difficult to say.
Maybe yes. Maybe you chose the wrong method.
But then again, maybe not. What you are doing may very well work wonderfully on another student but again, for some reason, it does not work for this particular student.

That is the frustration of teaching and yet, it is also the glorious challenge of teaching. To find that key which unlocks the student’s potential and allows him or her to learn.

I had a student who initially was very good at learning the basic mechanics of swordsmanship and showed early signs of quick progress. But he soon ran into difficulties once we ventured into higher level material. It wasn’t so much about mechanics anymore at that level. It started to become a conceptual issue. Swordfighting became less how to cut and became more when to cut and why, when to move and why, where to move and why. We had moved from the technical into the tactical, from the simple mechanics to the more abstract. And his progress stopped.

It perplexed me for the longest time until a friend of mine suggested that it may be due to his personality. Personality??

This friend of mine then pointed me to a website specializing in personality studies and I promptly investigated it and frankly was intrigued. Could personality be the explanation why this student was having so much difficulty in learning?

I printed off the personality test and asked my student to take it. When I got the test back, I plugged in his answers and presto, an analysis popped up. Here is what it said:

All Guardians (SJs) share the following core characteristics:

* Guardians pride themselves on being dependable, helpful, and hard-working.
* Guardians make loyal mates, responsible parents, and stabilizing leaders.
* Guardians tend to be dutiful, cautious, humble, and focused on credentials and traditions.
* Guardians are concerned citizens who trust authority, join groups, seek security, prize gratitude, and dream of meting out justice.

Guardians are the cornerstone of society, for they are the temperament given to serving and preserving our most important social institutions. Guardians have natural talent in managing goods and services--from supervision to maintenance and supply -- and they use all their skills to keep things running smoothly in their families, communities, schools, churches, hospitals, and businesses.

Guardians can have a lot of fun with their friends, but they are quite serious about their duties and responsibilities. Guardians take pride in being dependable and trustworthy; if there's a job to be done, they can be counted on to put their shoulder to the wheel. Guardians also believe in law and order, and sometimes worry that respect for authority, even a fundamental sense of right and wrong, is being lost. Perhaps this is why Guardians honor customs and traditions so strongly -- they are familiar patterns that help bring stability to our modern, fast-paced world.

Practical and down-to-earth, Guardians believe in following the rules and cooperating with others. They are not very comfortable winging it or blazing new trails; working steadily within the system is the Guardian way, for in the long run loyalty, discipline, and teamwork get the job done right. Guardians are meticulous about schedules and have a sharp eye for proper procedures. They are cautious about change, even though they know that change can be healthy for an institution. Better to go slowly, they say, and look before you leap.


And specifically, he is a Guardian: Supervisor. And for Supervisor, it states:

Comprising at least ten percent of the population, Supervisors enjoy and are good at making schedules, agendas, inventories, and so on, and they much prefer tried and true ways of doing things over speculation and experimentation.

Once I read it, then it made complete sense. Yes, this is why my student had such difficulties once we moved into the more abstract and nebulous phase of learning. Even though we work through kata, at higher levels the kata are explored in many different ways. Kata are the beginning, the foundation, the launching pad. Once we were not strictly adhering to the kata move-by-move then he became bewildered. It made complete sense now. Now I teach him in a different way and he does understand. But it is a different process that I use with him now and I have different expectations of what he can achieve.

Do I consider him a poor student, now that I know this about him?
Do I now think he has poor potential?

Actually, the answer is “no” in both cases. He is what he is. It is neither good nor bad. As his teacher, it is my responsibility to find the best way to teach him. But knowing this has helped me to better understand him and more importantly, how he learns, how he thinks.

This is not the panacea to cure all ills nor is it the one way to best understand a student. It is just one more tool in our teaching toolbox to help us understand our students better. And understanding our students just a little more ultimately helps us to teach them better.

Try it on your own students. You might be surprised or it might confirm what you’ve thought all along. Either way, it is an interesting and, in some cases, an enlightening experience.

Here is the test:
Once you get the test result indicating which type you are, click the first link entitled: “____ type description by D.Keirsey” to get the description of your personality type.

And here is the overview of the 4 personality types, or temperaments:

And this is all based on the Myers-Briggs personality inventory. For more information about the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, go here:

** A caveat however: when you ask someone to take the test, you should ask them to respond truthfully and honestly from a personal perspective, like the way they are when they are at home or doing a hobby. Not their work personality since the persona we all wear when we go to work is a little more of a public persona, a projection of what we wish the public to see about us and how to think about us.

In other words, it is not exactly the real “us”.

As the Japanese say: “Public face, private face. Two different faces…”

Mr. Tong has a Master’s in Education in Curriculum Studies.

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