Since watching Susan Cain’s thought-provoking TED talk (below), I have been meaning to buy her book. I’m so glad that I finally did. The book (click left image) is not solely aimed at teachers, but the the psychology and research that is explained raises many questions for teachers, mainly ‘are we failing our introverts?’
The book discusses the Extrovert Ideal – our world where extroverts thrive due to their desired attributes and introverts, who generally lack these qualities, are made to feel like failures. Like the rest of society, the education system usually reflects the Extrovert Ideal. This raises many concerns, since a third to a half of our students are introverts (Cain suggests that this fraction might be even larger in Asian cultures). Since I have been so fascinated by the book, I would like to take this time to make the connections to education explicit. As I write, I hope to generate practical strategies for supporting our introverted students.
“The truth is that many schools are designed for extroverts. Introverts need different kinds of instruction.”
Extroverted students do hold desired characteristics, such as confidence, social skills and the willingness to take risks. However, introversion is not inferior and it is not something to be cured. We should also acknowledge the qualities that introverts generally hold (according to research). These include empathy, creativity and thinking skills. Connecting to the PYP, it seems like the IB Learner Profile is made up of both extrovert and introvert qualities, and rightly so. Our first step is to think positively about introversion as a unique and desirable character type, no less or more so than extroversion. After we have acknowledged our students’ strengths, we can appreciate them and support them as learners.
“Stop the madness for constant group work. Just stop it! We need much more privacy and much more freedom and much more autonomy at work. School, same thing. We need to teach kids to work together, for sure, but we also need to be teaching them how to work on their own. This is especially important for extrovert children too.”
Naturally, extroverts will share their ideas confidently in group situations. However, there is no evidence to suggest that extroverts are more intelligent or that they have better ideas. As teachers, we sometimes make this mistake. Sometimes the best ideas and the best thoughts are the ones that are never shared.
“Groups famously follow the opinions of the most dominant or charismatic person in the room.”
Introverts are dominated during group work and generally go along with the ideas from their talkative peers, even if these ideas are not as good as their own. Introverts need time to process an assignment and a safer platform for putting forward their ideas. Cain explains the important role of technology in collaborative work. Many adult introverts are enjoying their new-found voice through tools such as social media and blogging (yes, myself included). We can also use technology to give our students a voice (use tools such as Padlet and collaborative Google Docs). When structured thoughtfully, mixing extroverts and introverts can be beneficial for both groups due to the mix of attributes. Simply throwing students together mindlessly does not work. Occasionally, allow students a choice of who to work with, or a choice to work on their own.
“Experts believe that negative public speaking experiences in childhood can leave children with a lifelong terror or the podium.”
There’s a place for public speaking in classrooms. Like it or not, it’s a skill that our students are likely to need later in life. However, we can provide more support and make the situations as comfortable as possible for our apprehensive students. As with any uncomfortable task, we can support our students through scaffolding. By taking baby steps, we can keep our students out of their panic zone and within their stretch zone.
It is unlikely that introverted students will be the most popular in class. It is more likely that these students will have just one or two solid friendships. This is ok too. We should be aware of these friendship groups so that we can group strategically. During daunting tasks, introverts can be made to feel more at ease by working with these close friends.
Preferred teaching style
Whenever I go to training workshops, it is clear that the presenters feel pressure to make them interactive and hands-on. This might be the preferred style of learning for most, but I actually prefer the lecture style. Am I alone in this? As teachers, we are also discouraged from the ‘chalk and talk’ teaching style but, according to Cain, introverted students actually prefer to learn in this way. Perhaps we could target our shy students with less-threatening tasks in smaller groups (especially if we are trying the #NoTalkWC challenge) or even individually. Studies also show that downtime and independent projects are preferred by introverts. Allow your students to work on their own occasionally, and reassure them that this preference is normal.
Zone of stimulation
We must allow students to work in the environment that suits them at any particular time. This is true for all students. We can make this possible by introducing elements of choice whenever possible; a choice of group (or no group), a choice of stimulus, resources, etc. Making it possible for students to work within their preferred zone will, according to Cain, maximise learning.
“The more freedom we give introverts to be themselves, the more likely that they are to come up with their own unique solutions.”
In conclusion, I have compiled this list of ten practical strategies for supporting introverted students:
- Create a quiet area for independent work, and keep it available.
- Use tech tools as a platform for students to share ideas prior to class.
- During collaborative work, ensure that each student has a clear role.
- Try adopting the #NoTalkWC approach and speak only to small groups.
- Vary the style of teaching instruction to suit all learners.
- Show empathy and understanding towards all students and act gently towards introverts. Reassure them that their behaviour is totally natural.
- Provide scaffolding towards daunting tasks, such as public speaking.
- Introduce elements of choice.
- Praise all behavioural traits, not only those associated with extroversion.
- Consider the pros and cons of different groupings for different tasks (independent, friendship groups, etc.).