Nurturing all personality types in group lessons

All children come to us with their own special and unique personalities. And on the whole, where private lessons are concerned, and with some experience, we are able to adjust our approach to suit, not only their learning styles, but also their personalities.

But what about in a group where you may have up to eight little personalities in one room at the same time?! How do you ensure that you are speaking to each of them as individuals?

Luckily we can largely put personality types into categories with, generally speaking, four main groupings. Your awareness of these groupings will hugely inform your approach (and understanding of their needs!).

The first one I like to call Super Foxes: These children are super competitive, and want to win at everything! They like challenges and will take risks. But they don't always pay attention to the detail. So in the context of a group piano class, they may believe themselves to be "done" with the piece that they are learning, long before they actually are!

The second group are the Super Owls: These children are super curious and are problem solvers. They want to get into the nuts and bolts of everything, and are very organised. They need to be given everything in clear steps, and like to know what to expect. They can tend to be perfectionists who may be worried about starting a piece because it won't be perfect straight away. They will do everything to the best of their ability, once they get over the fear of failure.

The third group are the Super Rabbits: These children are really sociable and thrive in the group set-up. They love to have fun and are super positive. They also love being praised. These children shy away from hard work and may even refer to the work as boring!

The last group are the Super Bears: These children love to help others. They are very thoughtful and patient. They may be the ones that don't volunteer for anything because they can see it means more to others. You need to watch out that they're not solely listening to others for the whole lesson; make sure they have their voice heard!

Now most of us don't just fall into one of these, we probably fall into two. And then there's the consideration about whether we are an extrovert or an introvert. An extrovert will want to speak out loud about the learning, and that is how they best process it. They want to be active learners and will like opportunities to discuss topics with peers.

An introvert needs time to reflect and wants to know exactly what they're doing before doing it! Introverts might prefer to work alone or with familiar peers.

Now with all of these, we work fairly intuitively, and some are faster than others at grouping personalities, perhaps being more naturally adept. But as long as we are all aware of the possibilities, we will hopefully be able to provide the breadth needed so that everyone thrives in our lessons.

Before we delve into what we can do to simultaneously provide for the most important aspect of each personality, just a quick note that we, as teachers, are human beings, with our own personalities. There may be one or two groups that we particularly relate to and probably understand how to cater for better, and there will be a group that we may even find it difficult to work with for one reason or another.

For example, for me the trigger group are the Super Foxes. This is the super competitive child who wants their voice heard all the time. And the reason I am triggered by this group is because my own kids are often made invisible by the presence of these children. My kids are reflective introverts and can be taken advantage of, which is hard for me to watch. So actually the children that are more like my own are the ones that I am most likely to focus on, to hear their voice, to give them opportunities to shine. Whether this is right or wrong, it is part of being human, as I say!

But there are things we can do through our lesson structure and general approach that will help all of the personality types to feel heard, respected and put in their sweet spot for learning (all major aims for us as teachers!!). These highlight the most important aspect for each group, not to the detriment of any of the others:

  • Give step-by-step instructions and a consistent structure from lesson to lesson; this will ensure that those who need it, are able to thrive.

  • Give opportunities for verbal explanations and talk-throughs - from teacher to student, student to teacher, and student to student.

  • When asking questions or asking for students to demonstrate, don't have hands-up - it will be the same group of children that get their voice/piano heard every time. Others WILL answer or demonstrate if you ask them directly. Spread those opportunities out evenly. You can either have their names in a spinning wheel (there are various apps which you can use for this) or, if you have time, hear everyone and let the order be decided by the students - you choose the first one, they choose who goes after them!

  • Be super positive and praise a lot!

  • Allow opportunities for peer-interaction and helping each other!

With the right lesson plan and structure, most of this will be taking place automatically. But when I first thought about doing this topic as a live training, it was because I kept getting the same children saying the same thing at the start of EVERY lesson!

So I had one girl who would say, "I can't do it!" before even starting and a few who would say, "I've done it!" and on checking, they hadn't at all! Plus a variety of learning attitudes between these two extremes.

Consequently we have done some work on a 'growth mindset'. This essentially helps all personality types to work on their attitude to learning. We have statements such as, "I will always try hard", "I will challenge myself", "I will listen to feedback", "I will be inspired by my friends", "I will not be afraid to make mistakes", "I understand that I can always improve." We notice where someone has shown a particularly good growth mindset and give out a certificate!

If you would like a copy of the certificate, download it here: Growth Mindset Certificate

Best wishes, Melanie

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