Introverts in the Classroom

“Modern schools seem to be designed for extraverts. From the beginning of the day (especially if they have to ride the bus), the day is full of large groups and large areas, large classes, lunch in a common area, physical education in a large group and in a large gym, locker rooms, assemblies, homeroom, etc. (from The College of William and Mary)”

Susan Cain’s Piece in Time has got me thinking again about introverted children in my classroom. Often times capable students simply don’t feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and ideas in group settings. This is a problem for teachers who need learning demonstrated in order to assess it. How can I evaluate Johnny or Suzie’s oral skills when she is painfully shy and can’t seem to speak in a group situation?

James McCroskey’s research into quiet children in the classroom is very helpful here. McCroskey identifies many different reasons why children may be quiet in the classroom. In some cases it’s introversion but the reasons can range from ethnic and cultural differences to self esteem issues and in some cases low capability in class.

The reasons why probably aren’t that important, but a sensitivity to the fact that there are students in our classes who don’t feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and ideas is. The needs of those students are just as important and we need to be aware that we live in a society and teach a curriculum which values extroversion above all else. Quiet students are seen to have a problem which we need to help them ‘get over’. Not always so, and in the case of introversion there is very little we can do change things.

McCroskey suggests the following strategies for supporting quiet students:

  1. Develop a Communication Permissive Classroom-Allow students to communicate openly and freely.
  2. Encourage but don’t require oral performance
  3. Provide alternatives to oral performance– In other words, differentiate for introverts
  4. Allow flexible seating-Allow students who needs a break from group to go to a space which is quiet and with less social pressure
  5. Don’t grade on participation– This penalizes students who can’t and unfairly rewards the most extroverted students