Do classrooms provide a safe and nurturing place for both introverts and extroverts? Follow this teacher’s reflection leading to five actionable steps for how to make the classroom a comfortable place for students who are introverts.

I just got back from a weekend at EduCon. The conference created a great space to think and collaborate on pushing progressive ideas and tech integration further. One of the sessions I went to gave me something entirely new to think about: my introverted students. Tony Baldasaro (@baldy7) gave a lot of food for thought on the subject. Here’s what I learned:

  • There is such thing as an introvert. We are all somewhere on the spectrum—between extrovert and introvert—but introverts tend to be people who are shy and don’t like to talk much, especially in large groups.
  • Extroverts are almost always up for talking about something. They talk to think. They come up with many of their best ideas in conversation. When stressed, tired, or upset, they tend to want to hang out with friends, talk about the problem, etc.
  • Introverts’ thought processing is actually neurologically distinct, according to new research (I don’t have a source to cite, but Baldasaro recommended Quiet by Susan Cain). Their problem solving process takes a longer pathway, involving recall of long-term memory. They need time to formulate their thoughts carefully this way and tend not to want to speak up until they have worked through the process.
  • When stressed, tired, upset, etc, introverts tend to want to be alone. However, being alone doesn’t mean something is wrong. They might just be thinking.
  • Introverts are energized by solitude. Extroverts are energized by interactions with others.

How does this play out in school? At the conference we discussed whether school favors the introvert or the extrovert.

I think traditional school doesn’t particularly work for either type. Extroverts are forced to be quiet and work independently most of the time. Introverts are forced to formulate thoughts and answer questions on the spot without the time they need to process their responses.

Progressive education can often favor the extrovert because of the emphasis on cooperative learning and class participation. Do we have a responsibility to help introverts be a part of this kind of work? Probably. Do we also have a responsibility to make adaptations so that it is more comfortable for all students? I’d say so.

I came away with a few good suggestions from Tony and members of my discussion group.

  1. Let introverts know in advance if you want to talk to them about something, or if you will expect them to speak about something in class. This is to give them time to work through their ideas.
  2. Many introverts will speak up when asked to but not always take the initiative themselves. Invite introverted students to share their thoughts. Especially if there’s advanced notice of the discussion, find ways to equalize the airtime time, so that the extroverts don’t dominate the conversation by their ever-willingness to raise their hands.
  3. Many introverts take a while to get started on in-class writing tasks. Don’t rush them, or assume they are being lazy or defiant. They are probably thinking. Fine to check in about it though. And when possible, be generous about allowing extra time.
  4. Many introverts in the session suggested allowing students to opt out of working in a group and complete the project on their own. I don’t think this could always be possible, but it’s certainly something to consider when assigning group work. Ask yourself, “Is it absolutely necessary that my students work in groups on this? Do I have any reason not to allow some students to work alone?”
  5. Finally, research has shown that introverts tend to be much more comfortable participating in discussions online. This is probably because online is not time-based and takes away some of the built up perceptions of social pressure they’ve experienced in face to face groups. They can be alone and part of a conversation or community at the same time. Find ways to allow students to initiate or extend discussions online—and watch the balance of who’s communicating shift.

Thank you, Tony Baldasaro, for bringing this topic to light!


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