I recently stumbled across an interview with Dr. Carl Hermanns, Clinical Associate Professor in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University. While discussing his time as a second grade teacher in a high-poverty school in San Diego — and the opportunity and expectation gap these children are up against — he said something that struck a chord with me:
“Every day, my goal is to ensure that our students, future principals and teacher leaders, understand that there are inequities in the education system that can block students from reaching their full potential.”
Though Dr. Hermanns was speaking to a much deeper problem in our education system, it got me to thinking about introverts in the classroom. As beloved introvert author Susan Cain has pointed out on many occasions, society has a cultural bias towards extroverts — and unfortunately, our schools are no exception. Many teachers still consider public speaking to be an essential skill and assess students’ intelligence based on class participation and collaboration. They perceive their extroverted students to be future leaders and ignore the valuable contributions their introverted students bring to the table.
The good news is that it’s never too late to start supporting and advocating for change for “the quiet ones.” If you’re an educator, and you’re looking for ways to transform your classroom and help your introverted students succeed, consider the following:
Arranging your classroom to suit various personalities isn’t always the easiest of tasks, but it can be done. Start by dividing your classroom into two distinct sections — social and quiet. Known as accentuated learning environments, classrooms such as this offer both group and individual seating and support different teaching methods, as well as varying levels of interpersonal interaction.
Social spaces — which will naturally attract your extroverted students — can be created by turning a couple rows of desks into collaborative pods. If you have the room for it, you can even throw a large group table into the mix. Balance social areas with quiet ones where students can zero in on a task. Quiet zones can consist of individual desks for work and study along with couches, chairs, and beanbags for reading. Your introverted students will be incredibly thankful for these places of refuge.
Don’t be afraid to think beyond your own classroom to adjoining areas in the school. Open classrooms, computer labs, libraries, and (weather permitting) the outdoors all provide fresh and exciting spaces for students to take advantage of.
It’s no secret that most extroverts answer questions and engage in class discussions regularly and with ease — hence why “participation” grades are a breeze for these social students. However, participation can be difficult for introverts; they don’t tend to speak out loud or raise their hands much as they’re absorbing information and taking time to turn it over in their minds. Since the majority of classroom activities are social in nature and require rapid-fire responses, extroverted go-getters have an unfair advantage.
As an educator, you have the power to change the definition of “participation” in your classroom. For instance, technology is a great tool for letting your introverted students make their voice heard. There are tons of programs that allow students to post discussion responses online, take class polls, and even collaborate on projects. Not only will extroverted students still excel, introverted students will finally get involved in the conversation!
If you’re looking for a low-tech solution, try having students write their thoughts on a notecard and turn it in at the end of the discussion. They could summarize what was said, write three things they learned, or explain a new idea that the discussion sparked for them. Allow them to earn some participation points based on their written responses.
At some point in life, most of us will find ourselves working in a group. It’s just the nature of our society. This is why it’s so important for students to learn how to interact with each other — yes, even the introverts.
However, if you throw an introvert into a large group of people, you’re unlikely to see them flourish. Introverted students are more responsive in small group discussions — that is, as long as they’re given time to consider the topic and are well acquainted with group-mates. Introverts also do better in groups when they have an assigned task, such as taking notes.
You can also use the think/pair/share technique, which involves asking your students a question, asking them to think about the answer, then pairing them with another student to talk about their reflections. Once they’ve discussed their answers, you ask each pair to share their thoughts with the room. For introverted students, this gives them the time to process their thoughts and ensures they have the experience of expressing their thoughts out loud. Often, once they’ve had a run-through with another student, they’re much more likely to want to share with the whole class.
One way introverts are so fundamentally different from their extroverted counterparts is that they need time alone to recharge. Spending time in large groups of people is incredibly draining for them. One way to support your introverted students is to provide them an alternative to recess. Offer a semi-quiet place — such as an open classroom — in which introverts can escape the chaos of the playground. This will allow them to get the most out of their break by reading, playing board games in smaller groups, or just taking a moment to relax in a safe place.
Although collaborative and project-based learning is appealing to many educators, relying on these techniques alone can undermine the learning of students who are inward-thinking and easily exhausted by nonstop interaction with others. You can make a huge difference in your students’ lives by simply taking some time to gear your classroom toward both temperaments. After all, your introverted students are just waiting to be heard — and they might just have something to say that will shape the future as we know it.
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Learn more: The Secret Lives of Introverts: Inside Our Hidden World, by Jenn Granneman
Image credit: @Jess.xn via Twenty20