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Temperament in the Classroom

Temperament in the Classroom

Understanding Individual Differences
Author: Barbara K. Keogh Ph.D.

ISBN: 978-1-55766-601-7
Pages: 224
Copyright: 2003
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Stock Number:  66017
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One of the few research-based resources to explore the effect of temperament on educational experience, this book shows readers how individual temperaments of students and teachers influence behavior and achievement. Filled with classroom examples described in everyday language, Temperament in the Classroom helps general and special educators, school psychologists, social workers, counselors, and administrators understand

  • the impact of temperament on children's behavior, interactions, and achievement

  • the effect of temperament on teachers'; perceptions, decisions, and attributions

  • the importance of "goodness of fit" between a child's temperament and school environment

  • temperament in students with learning disabilities, developmental delays, and ADHD

  • methods of assessing temperament, including interviews, observations, and rating scales or questionnaires

Perfect for professionals at the preschool, elementary, and middle school levels, this book will help readers become aware of their own temperament, recognize the differences in temperament among students, and use this knowledge to improve classroom interactions and outcomes.

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Review by: William Carey, The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia; co-author of Coping with Children's Temperament: A Guide for Professionals and Understanding Your Child's Temperament
"This book is extremely valuable and urgently needed. It should be required reading for all teachers. Particularly timely is its emphasis on the common problem of a "poor fit" between the child's temperament and the expectations of the teacher."
Review: LD News
Review: educator
"Well written . . . easy to read and assimilate."
Review by: John Bates, Indiana University
"Barbara Keogh has been for many years an important pioneer in work on the role of children's temperament in school. Now, in this engaging book, she offers many practical applications of temperament concepts for educators, and at the same time explains critical theoretical and measurement issues."
Review by: Michael Lewis, Robert Wood Johnson Medical School
"A must read for anyone interested in educating our children. Scholarly and relevant, it breaks new ground in our understanding of why some children do so poorly in school."
About the Author
Stella Chess, M.D., with Alexander Thomas, M.D.

  1. Temperament in the Classroom: An Overview

  2. What Is Temperament?

  3. Why Understanding Temperament Is Important

  4. What Is the Basis of Temperament?

  5. Does Temperament Influence Children's Achievement in School?

  6. Does Temperament Influence Teachers' Academic Decisions?

  7. Are Temperament and Behavior Problems Related?

  8. Temperament and Children with Disabilities

  9. How Is Temperament Assessed?

  10. How Can Temperament Knowledge Be Applied in School?

  • References

  • Recommended Readings


  • Appendix A: Longitudinal Studies of Temperament

  • Appendix B: Scales and Questionnaires for Assessing Temperament

  • Appendix C: Publications and Programs on Temperament for Teachers and Parents

Excerpted from chapter 1 of Temperament in the Classroom: Understanding Individual Differences, by Barbara K. Keogh, Ph.D.

Copyright © 2003 by Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Temperament in the Classroom: An Overview

Each fall the process begins anew. Hundreds of thousands of pupils and tens of thousands of teachers begin the annual migration to the classroom. The pupils are many ages and sizes. They come from different ethnic, cultural, and linguistic backgrounds. Some have the aptitudes and experiences necessary for success in school. Others have limited skills or have not had opportunities to master the prerequisite knowledge demanded in the classroom. Some come to school eagerly — motivated to learn and confident that they will be successful. Others approach school reluctantly — uncertain about themselves and about the academic and social demands of school.

Teachers, too, are of many ages and different ethnic, cultural, and linguistic backgrounds. Like pupils, they approach the start of school differently. Some are experienced and well prepared. Others are novices, facing a classroom of students for the first time. Some are confident; some are fearful. Some are enthusiastic; others dread the start of the school year.

Both pupils and teachers bring a range of individual differences to school, yet the expectation is that they share a common goal of acquiring new knowledge and skills. They will spend 5 days a week together in the same classroom for 8 or 9 months. For some, this will be a positive experience, but for others the months will be filled with stress and unhappiness. The students will not have learned and the teachers will feel dissatisfied and unsuccessful.

What accounts for these differences in experiences? Certainly the physical conditions of classrooms and schools and the resources available affect learning. Some aspects of school life are very basic or tangible. Do students feel safe? Are text books and instructional materials available? Is the classroom overcrowded? Have teachers been well prepared in the subject matter to be taught and for the many demands of the classroom?

Other contributing factors to successful schooling, not as overt, lie in the students themselves. Many student characteristics contribute to whether the students' experiences in school are positive or negative and to whether they are learning or simply passing time. Students differ in academic aptitudes, in cognitive abilities, in linguistic skills, even in the languages they speak. In addition to their previous learning opportunities and experiences, students' attitudes, motivations, and interests affect how they respond to the content and the methods of instruction. They also affect how students interact with teachers and with peers. Similarly, teachers' knowledge and abilities, their instructional skills, their interests, their expectations, and their motivations influence how they organize and manage the classroom, how they teach, and how they interact with students.

Differences in knowledge, aptitude, motivation, cultural background, and interests alone neither explain nor capture fully the nature of children's and teachers' experiences in school, however. Classroom life is also affected by individual differences in temperament. Indeed, students' and teachers' temperaments have powerful interactive effects that contribute to their experiences in school. These interactions are the focus of this book.


Temperament is one of those elusive and hard-to-define characteristics that describe individual differences among people. Researchers classify specific temperaments differently, but on a day-to-day basis, parents and teachers have a "we know it when we see it" attitude. All of us recognize individuals who have a slow tempo; they move through life at an unhurried pace, are slow to respond, and are slow to action. In the classroom, these students often have trouble finishing assignments; they lag behind their peers, and they are constantly playing "catch up" with others. We also know highly active, impulsive, quick-to-respond people who go through life at high speed. As children, they are the students who start to work on an assignment before the teacher has finished the instructions and rush to get to the end of a book or a project. Some children find any change in routine upsetting; they take time to adjust to new situations, new seating arrangements, new classroom routines, and new people. In contrast, we know other children who thrive on novelty, who seek out new experiences, and who interact vigorously with teachers and classmates. These personal characteristics reflect individual differences in temperament.

Temperament differs from other individual attributes such as intelligence, motivation, or interests. Those describe what people do and why and how well they do it. Temperament refers to how they do it. We often hear children described as bright; hard working; or interested in sports, card collecting, or music. These descriptors refer to the content of what children do and how interested they are to do it, but they do not address temperamental differences or behavioral styles that characterize individuals. To get a picture of children's temperament or behavioral style, think of how differently students respond when a teacher gives a new assignment, how they differ in persistence when faced with a long project, or how quickly or slowly they settle down after returning from recess.

Temperament as Behavioral Style

The definition of temperament proposed by psychiatrists Thomas and Chess specifically captured the notion of behavioral style. They defined temperament ". . . as a general term referring to the how of behavior. It differs from ability, which is concerned with the what and how well of behaving, and from motivation that accounts for why a person does what he is doing" (1977, p. 9).

Temperamental differences are apparent in many situations, including schools and classrooms. Almost all children go to school, yet their responses to the first days of school vary widely. Compared with children who enter school enthusiastically, shy children tend to stand back on the sidelines and watch until they feel comfortable and at ease, for example.

Differences in temperament or behavioral styles may have positive or negative effects on children's experiences in the classroom. Teachers will recognize elementary school children who respond quickly and intensely to others around them and who are distracted by the many ongoing activities in the classroom. They will also recognize those active, energetic children who respond eagerly to new experiences and novelty, as well as those children who withdraw from new demands and situations and who may be reluctant learners. Such individual differences in behavioral styles are important influences on how children experience school.

The recognition that there are individual differences in temperament is not new; rather, they have long been noted. The early Greeks described individuals as phlegmatic, choleric, melancholic, and sanguine — personal styles the Greeks associated with four body humors. Sheldon (1942) proposed three body types — ectomorph, mesomorph, and endomorph — and linked each to a different temperament. Novelists and playwrights have described their heroes and heroines in temperament terms, such as Shakespeare's Hamlet, the "melancholy Dane" the dour Mr. Rochester in Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre; the responsible Beezus and her spunky and mischievous sister Ramona Quimby in Beverly Cleary's Beezus and Ramona; or the amiable Winnie the Pooh in A.A. Milne's famous children's stories.

Children's behavior and development are obviously affected by environmental conditions, but those conditions do not operate on a tabula rasa, or blank slate. Rather, children bring unique intellectual aptitudes, physical abilities, and language skills to school. They also bring differences in temperament. These personal differences affect how individual children respond to the school environment and how they interact with teachers and peers. Thus, these personal differences have consequences for adjustment and achievement. A great deal of attention has been paid to the contribution of intellectual and language abilities to success in school, but relatively little has been directed at the role of temperament.

Stylistic attributes making up temperament are less amenable to quantitative assessment compared with cognitive ability or achievement in reading and arithmetic and, therefore, don't lend themselves easily to traditional research designs. Still, findings from many groundbreaking studies have contributed to the temperament dialogue. This book describes the research base documenting how temperament contributes to students' achievement, adjustment, and personal experience in school.

Excerpted from chapter 1 of Temperament in the Classroom: Understanding Individual Differences, by Barbara K. Keogh, Ph.D.

Copyright © 2003 by Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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