There is now a great deal of interest in teaching and learning styles. Indeed Professor Frank Coffield in his review of learning styles for a report into post-16 education in the UK reported that there were 71 different theories and models. Ultimately Coffield and his team were extremely dismissive of most of them saying that they were not only a distraction from the things that really matter for good teaching and learning but that they could be dangerous leading to bad practices, particularly labelling. Coffield was particularly critical of the VAK approach (visual, auditory and kinaesthetic) which, at that point, was very popular in the USA and increasingly so in the UK. Other reports have also taken a similar approach.
As the MBTI™ can be used to help think about teaching and learning it was one of the systems analysed by Coffield and his team. Only one system is given any plaudits by the Coffield enquiry and it isn't the MBTI. However, it is worth mentioning that it came out much better on their points system than many of the systems they reviewed. Indeed the MBTI scored two out of four points whereas Kolb's and Honey and Mumford's models only scored one each.
Even without Coffield's report, we would urge extreme caution with the use of MBTI in the classroom. We think there is a real danger of stereotyping young people whose preferences are still developing or of teachers jumping to the wrong conclusion about pupils they teach.
However, we think that there is merit in teaching staff undergoing an in-service day based on the MBTI as it can help them think through their own preferences and those of other colleagues. It can help them also think broadly about differences in pupils. For example, it can be particularly helpful in encouraging teachers not to demonise quiet children (who may well have a preference for introversion). But we think that teachers should be discouraged from labelling children and young people. We are also concerned about taking a strengths based approach, particularly in the classroom, as we think that it is all too easy for this to lead to stereotyping. (I'm not good at maths. I'm hopeless at foreign languages.) This is why we are keen to promote the research of Professor Carol Dweck and her work on mindset.
Our cautionary approach to the use of the MBTI with young people (at least under the age of 16-17) is partly the result of how ideas often get taken up in an unthinking way. Sensitive, good work may be done by experts but very often this is not how things later get applied by people who have much less knowledge.
© Carol Craig
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