Education is a constantly swinging pendulum. Phonics vs whole language, traditional multiplication algorithm vs lattice multiplication, recall of facts vs problem solving, independent work vs group work, and the list goes on and on.
One of the current pendulum swings is an emphasis on group work and team problem solving. Gone are the days of students in rows facing the front of the room with the teacher talking at them all day. Now students’ desks are in groups and they’re encouraged to learn together with the teacher facilitating, not lecturing. In an extreme example, my classroom has no desks as all. I went deskless for a myriad of reasons, one of which was to allow for more space for students to move around the room and work together in groups, which they do often.
This swing of the pendulum is proof of the extrovert ideal that our society currently holds. Even though one third of the American population is introverted, we seem to collectively think that extroverts are better, so if you’re introverted you had better start pretending not to be. I wonder if/when the pendulum will swing back…
I’m currently reading a fantastic book: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain.
The book defines introverts as people who re-energize by being alone. Likewise, it defines extroverts as people who re-energize by being around other people. The book discusses many studies done about introverts and how they survive in today’s culture of the extrovert ideal. It give lots of statistics and examples about famous introverts throughout history.
It isn’t a book about teaching, but as I was reading I couldn’t help but think of my third graders.
I am an introvert and it has taken me most of my life to figure that out. It has taken just as long to then figure out how being an introvert changes the choices I make and how I feel every day in every situation.
It’s best teaching practice to consider our students’ differences: how they learn, their interests, their individual struggles. So why had I never before considered if they were introverted or extroverted?
I had always thought that working in groups was good for my students, teaching them social skills and conflict resolution that many adolescents lack nowadays. And to an extent, it is good for them. But it had never occurred to me that I was often forcing students to work together in a manner that I, as an introvert, always hated.
Cain has an excellent quote in her book: “At school you might have been prodded to come ‘out of your shell’- that noxious expression which fails to appreciate that some animals naturally carry shelter everywhere they go, and that some humans are just the same.”
There has to be a balance between “push students outside their comfort zone, it’s good for them to learn to work together” and “let them do whatever they want in a way that’s comfortable for them.”
Here are a few tips for teachers that I’ve gathered from various places:
- Balance your teaching methods to serve all the kids in your class. This is just best practice, but now you will hopefully remember to include introvert and extrovert into this consideration. Extroverts tend to like movement, stimulation, and collaborative work. introverts prefer lectures, down time, and independent projects. Mix it up!
- Give students choices. They do need to be pushed outside their comfort zones, but sometimes it’s perfectly fine for them to choose to work alone instead of in a group. Maybe they can choose to sit at an island desk off by itself, or in a corner on the floor. Allow choice in topics too! Let them to gravitate to what inspires them so that they can do their best work.
- Try some technology. Giving students an online place to post thoughts or questions is a great way for introverts to participate. And using technology is a great 21st Century skill that students will need later in their life. Today’s Meet, Edmodo, and Google Classroom are all great places to start.
- Encourage students to honor who they are. We are all different and we all learn in different ways, none better than the other. We need to specifically teach students how to respect those differences.
Here is some more information about Introverts and Extroverts: I love infographics! 😉
While bearing all this in mind is an excellent start, I’m also planning on talking to my third graders about it. Even having them reflect on which they might be, introvert or extrovert. I will definitely emphasize that there is no right or wrong way to be. This year in my class we are really focusing on how we are all different with different strengths and weaknesses, (see my lesson on the Marble Theory for more info.) I couldn’t find a really good questionaire for kids determining Introvert or Extrovert, so I adapted the one from Cain’s book Quiet and also using information from the Quiet Revolution website. You can download it here: introvert vs extrovert quiz for school
Ferdinand the Bull is an excellent short video to show them about being introverted.
I may also include some self reflection about learning styles. Here is an inventory I found: LearningStyleInventory
More resources for further reading: