Cognitive Functions in the Learner/Teacher Interaction

Now that sounds like a dissertation title. Maybe it could be work for a dissertation, but I have no aspirations to a PhD, so I’ll just blog about it.

We have long been familiar with the Myers-Briggs personality type system, but only recently have DOB and I begun to really comprehend the underlying cognitive functions originally defined by Jung. Here is a helpful website if you’re not familiar with the terms.

For purposes of this post I’ll just point out that there are two ways of perceiving information: intuition and sensing; and two ways of judging information: thinking and feeling. Each of those ways can then be expressed in a more introverted or extraverted manner, thus making eight possible functions. Everyone has a primary and a secondary function, one of which is a perceiving function and the other of which is a judging function, one of which is extraverted and one of which is introverted. (Everyone uses all the rest of the functions, too, but that’s the important part for this discussion.)

Now, typing preschoolers is probably a bit iffy, but we know our children quite well and it seems pretty clear to us that D2’s dominant function is introverted intuition (or Ni)–he’s always off in his own little world, from which he returns with out-of-the-blue flashes of insight. It’s harder to be sure what his secondary function is, but we think it’s probably extraverted Thinking (Te), the ability to organize and marshall resources. D1’s dominant function is clearly extraverted Feeling (Fe), the ability to interact and seek harmony with others; it seems likely her secondary function is Ni, as she also is prone to those sudden insights and not that responsive to step-by-step demonstrations (which would be more in line with an introverted sensing outlook, the other possibility).

That means I have two kids (and a husband) whose primary way of taking in data is through introverted intuition, a process that is utterly mysterious to an outsider. These are the kids who you show them a thing five thousand times–because they seem smart and you thought they were ready for it–and they DON’T GET IT. You give up. Then a month later you happen to pass them using that information or skill flawlessly. They do not respond well to external motivation. They don’t like to be shown how to do things (though they do like to watch).

My primary function is extraverted intuition–I’m always bubbling over with new ideas for how we can do things. These ideas, I have observed, do not usually catch on very well right away. In fact, usually when I come up with something new I want to do right now! Come on! It’s fun! I’m greeted with blank stares or wails of dismay. Plus I haven’t yet thought through whatever it is, so things are not prepared and it doesn’t work anyway.

This, I realize, is why the classic preschool activities do not work at all for us. They are dependent on Mother being able to carefully prepare and set out what is to be done, and they are dependent on children who are easily stimulated by what is set out in front of them.  Here is an extract of a day last week:

D1 and D2: "Can we do playdough today? You said we could do playdough today!"

QOC: "Oh yes, you can do playdough today. Go get it out." (Returns to puttering about on the internet, thinking about Christmas presents.)

D1 and D2 start setting up the playdough.

QOC: "Hey, what if we made our own salt dough. I mean it’s playdough! Just like playdough! And we can mix it ourselves. Only we can roll it out and make Christmas ornaments with it."

D1 and D2: "Nooooo! You said we could do playdough! We want to do playdough! We can do that another day."

QOC: "Oh fine, do playdough. Hmm. We’re almost out of salt."

D1 and D2 remain happily engrossed in playdough for two hours. QOC has twenty more ideas about potential Christmas presents.

For a similar reason, Montessori-style materials do not quite work–even though the ducklings love "projects" and beg to get them out. But I am no good at showing them a precise way to use something, and they are no good at following someone else’s ideas of how things should be used. A basket full of jars to screw  and unscrew the lids on in precise order? Boring. A basket full of jars and another basket full of glass gems with which to work for an hour of "canning" like Little Sal’s mother (this all being their own idea)? Engrossing.

So I’m intrigued by the potential of a more project-based approach–especially at this age. Free play is supposed to be the order of the day, but even free play needs stimulation of new ideas, a variety of materials (with guidance on how to use them properly), and a feeling of purpose and value. There’s a need for something "more" in our days, especially with winter coming (though even outside there are moments of dullness when they start climbing all over me and the babies or squabbling), and it’s not Letter of the Week with Matching Snack. That’s not our style.

What works best–what I want to see more of–is for me to spend time simply observing and analyzing them (that’s my secondary function, introverted thinking–Ti). Then I have an "aha!", a thought of something that would enhance and enrich their play and learning. Here’s the tricky part: Instead of inflicting it on them right away, I want to move toward then analyzing that idea, working the bugs out (give my Ti a little more time to work), and transforming it into a simple provocation of a new arrangement of available materials or an offer of a new activity that can be done at any time in the future. (Usually they respond well if given plenty of advance warning.)

I’m also working on using their interests better instead of, at times, fighting them because they don’t fit my scheme. I’m not too bad at this, but there are a couple of areas that have bugged me. One is D1’s obsession with cooking. Every toy–every toy–becomes either something to cook with or something to cook. And then everything gets dumped together instead of being in nice separate containers and I cannot find a single wooden spoon or the pasta pot. Well, instead of fighting this, I’m going to give her more materials that are meant to be dipped and poured and stirred. And maybe we could tie it in to her budding interest in writing by giving her some recipe cards? And, of course, I should be giving her a larger role in real cooking–not just stirring the dish, but learning to measure properly. (D2 has some interest here, too, but I would say D1 is the driver.)

Similarly they love Curious George, which doesn’t quite fit my standards for Excellent Children’s Literature. Still, it’s not awful, and there are quite a lot of directions you can go with Curious George, who tries to do all sorts of interesting thing. Right now we’re just looking up more about jungle animals.

Looking back, this is something I have done in some ways instinctively, and it is always the way things have worked best. It sounds a lot like my earlier fantasies of how I wanted to homeschool. I’ve been leaning pretty strongly towards Charlotte Mason purism for awhile, but I’m feeling more comfortable with the idea of loosening up and using her (wonderful!) insights in a way that works for us.

I’m still not quite certain how Charlotte Mason and project-based learning will interact–they have some strong similarities in core philosophy and look almost totally different in outworking. A common factor that will be key both ways is the setting out of ideas before the children and then giving them time and opportunity to ponder and interact in their own ways. And there’s still time to develop that, to blend the different flavors into our own unique homeschooling stew. After all, we’ve still got almost two years before "formal school" is even supposed to start.

3 thoughts on “Cognitive Functions in the Learner/Teacher Interaction

  1. You have two more years to formal school age…and two more children who will undoubtedly break the mold. Having five of my own children, I am learning that when I finally figure out what might work, the variables invariably morph into something altogether new. Decisions and directions are needed, though, so good for you for thinking clearly enough to start!

  2. Oh wow. That is so US! J & J have the attitude of DOB and your kiddoes while I have your "fly by the seat of your pants and do something new just because IT"S FUN (and won't bother ME if it fails)" attitude.

    It's an interesting world that I am trying to conform to (to some extent).

  3. I don't know about the personality type part of this, but the rest is so much like us! This is exactly where we are: "There's a need for something 'more' in our days, especially with winter coming (though even outside there are moments of dullness when they start climbing all over me and the babies or squabbling), and it's not Letter of the Week with Matching Snack. That's not our style." Amen!

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