Teaching Piano for Different Learning Styles: Part 3

Welcome to part 3 in our 4-part series on using Myers-Briggs Type Indicators to understand differences in personality and learning styles. 

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

As a piano teacher, you probably know that different people learn differently. How do you think about these differences? How do you adjust your teaching tactics to account for them? Do you know how to recognize personality conflicts, and how to work through them?

There are many systems designed to help educators think about these questions. For this series of articles, we've decided to introduce you to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicators (MBTI). 

This system places each of us on four different spectrums: extraverted vs. introverted; sensing vs. intuitive; thinking vs. feeling; and judging vs. perceiving. It's important to remember that these are preferences - we may prefer to do things one way, but it doesn't mean we can't do things another way if we decide to. 

In part 1 and part 2 of this series, we talked about approaches you might try based on the differences between introverted and extraverted students, and sensing and intuitive students. Today's article will look at the differences between thinking and feeling students, and why your teaching methods should account for both types.

Thinking vs. Feeling

In Myers-Briggs, thinking vs. feeling preferences describe how we approach decision-making. It doesn't mean that "thinking" personalities are "unfeeling" or vice versa. Everyone both thinks and feels! It also has nothing to do with whether you make more or less rational decisions.

For our purposes here, thinking and feeling simply describe what is more likely to be top of our mind when deciding something. If we prefer the "thinking" approach, we're more likely to start by considering logic, consistency, and general principles. The more we lean towards "feeling," the more likely we are to start by considering the people involved, and how they'll be impacted by the decision. 

For example, if you sometimes have to remind yourself to give praise in addition telling your students what they need to work on, your preference is probably for thinking. If you tend to hold back from addressing issues because you're afraid of hurting your students' feelings, feeling is probably your preference here. Again, whatever your preference, you probably understand the need for both sensitivity and constructive criticism when giving feedback.

Teaching Thinking vs. Feeling Students

For teachers, this personality spectrum is very important when thinking about how to foster trusting relationships. While all of these articles are about understanding your students better, this one goes to the heart of how you and your students interpret one another's actions. 

Your thinking students are likely to value fairness and honesty above all. Mind you, they're not necessarily better than average at evaluating fairness, so you may have to draw heavily on your skills of persuasion. 

For example, any perceived inconsistency in your feedback might provoke a debate. This can be especially frustrating for feeling teachers, who prefer social harmony to arguments. However, it's important to remember that what frustrates your student may be the sense that you are not being consistent and fair. Acknowledge any apparent inconsistencies with what you taught in the past, and then explain why this particular case is different.

If you handle this teachable moment well, your student may come out of it with a deeper understanding of music. The most important thing, however, is that your student knows that you'll always be honest and fair with them. 

Your feeling students are likely to value social harmony above all. They care less about whether you're being fair and honest, and more about whether the two of you are getting along. 

This means that they'll be alert for signs of disappointment and dissatisfaction from you, so you'll need to frame criticism carefully. For teachers with a bias towards thinking, it may seem like constructive criticism is the most useful and important type feedback. However, a student who's used prioritizing people's feelings might be slow to criticize others, and more likely to feel hurt when they themselves are criticized.

Feelers need to trust that you value and care about them. Mix praise and constructive criticism liberally, so that they understand that your approval does not depend on them being perfect. Don't be fake, but create opportunities for sincere compliments by setting achievable goals. Taking an interest in your students' lives outside of piano is another way to show that you value them as people, not just as piano players.

As always, we don't suggest an either-or approach - being consistent in what you teach and setting your students up for success is good advice across the board. It's also important to remember that no one only thinks or only feels when it comes to making decisions.

However, we sometimes find that our actions seem to be interpreted by our students in ways we never expected. In these cases, understanding thinking vs. feeling preferences can help us understand our students better - and then we can emphasize the practices that work best for them!

Many thanks to Lynn and her TurtleHead blog, whose application of Myers-Briggs' ideas to her own children was a fun and illuminating read, and helped spark many of the ideas in this article.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

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