Illustration by Edpuzzle Staff
For a group of people who do their best to avoid the spotlight, introverts are getting a lot of attention lately.
Maybe when you were in school, you took the famous Myers-Briggs test to give you a little insight into your personality, coming up with a four-letter solution that could clue your teachers in to your learning style or give a career counselor some direction as to recommending potential career paths and college degrees.
One of the initials in the Myers-Briggs assessment is either “I” for introvert or “E” for extrovert, but we’ve come a long way since then in terms of how we understand introverts.
Susan Cain, author of the revolutionary 2012 book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking,” makes the important distinction between being shy and being an introvert.
According to Cain, “introverts have a preference for a quiet, more minimally stimulating environment.” Shy students, on the other hand, fear judgment from their peers.
If you’ve never considered this definition of an introvert before, take a moment to think about who it applies to in your classroom.
Once you’re aware of the introverts in your class, you can start to dig in to the best ways to teach and nurture them, so that all your students (the introverts and the extroverts) are getting a meaningful, tailor-made education.
Here are 5 great ways to reach introverted students:
1. Create Introvert Awareness
Knowledge is power, and creating awareness is the first step. In schools and in western society in general, extroversion is widely considered the default model for success.
We encourage our students to be leaders, reward the students who speak up the most in class and praise students with wide circles of friends as the most socially well-adjusted. These standards for introverts, however, are the equivalent of trying to force a square peg into a round hole – it just doesn’t fit!
To broach the topic with your students, try starting with a personality test followed by a discussion. The Myers-Briggs is old school but still does the trick, or you can try this short personality test on Susan Cain’s website.
Once your students are better able to self-identify, you can start to work on the idea of “different but not less than” when it comes to introversion versus extroversion. There are some great TED Talks on the topic to get the conversation flowing:
After finally experiencing the sensation of feeling understood, you’ll see your introverts breathe a sigh of relief!
2. Redefine Class Participation With Technology
One of the ways the educational system favors extroverts is through how we evaluate class participation. Students who speak up more often are rewarded, while introverted students simply need more time to develop their answers before raising a hand.
Enter technology. There are a whole host of apps out there that level the playing field in terms of student participation and give everyone a voice.
The flipped classroom model can be especially helpful as it allows your students to absorb new concepts at home and then come into class prepared to ask questions and engage in discussion.
Try an app like Edpuzzle to have your students watch videos for homework on the topic of your choice, and embed open-ended questions and discussion topics to get your students thinking.
When they come into class the next day, you’ll already have access to their brilliant answers so you can call on specific students to elaborate on their responses, giving the introverts time to shine, too.
3. Introduce Quiet Time in Your Classroom
Think about your average teaching day, then think about how much quiet time it involves. Chances are, not that much!
Giving introverted students a little respite from the dull roar of the day will help them recharge their batteries and be better equipped to learn. You can do this in any number of ways.
One easy way is to incorporate some reading time into your class. Whether it’s 10 minutes of quiet time to read from a book, work on Edpuzzle, draw or free write, you and your students will be more refreshed after you do it!
You can also work to create designated quiet spaces in the classroom where your students can take a breather when they need to. Set up a corner reading nook with beanbag chairs and a bookshelf, or create a listening station where students can plug in their headphones and drown out the classroom noise with some soothing music while they read or work on an assignment.
Two other times of the day when introverts need some extra special TLC: lunch and recess. These are two critical times when introverts are bombarded with sensory overload in the form of too much noise, too many people and nowhere to hide.
Talk to your admins about introducing various table sizes into the cafeteria so students who want to sit in small groups rather than at the long banquet-style tables can do so.
For kids that dread recess, see if you and the other teachers can rotate and offer an indoor recess option with reading or drawing time or quiet board games they can play in small groups.
You’ll notice the payoff when these students come back to life rather than wilt when recess or lunch time is over!
4. Let Them Do Leadership Their Way
Not every student needs to be the president of a club (even though college applications may make you feel otherwise). Leadership takes many forms, and it doesn’t necessarily equal being the captain of a sports team.
Encourage your introverted students to pursue their passions in whatever form they take. If your student is particularly interested in a certain topic, have them do an Edpuzzle student project so they can make their own video with questions to share with the class. That way, they won’t need to stand up and present in front of everyone, but rather have their fellow students work on their video at home.
If your student is an active reader, you could ask them to suggest a book for the class to read next. If they have a cause they’re passionate about, share it with the class and see if you can find some more volunteers.
The gist is, find ways to encourage your introverted students to share their talents without forcing them into the traditional leadership roles.
5. Make Group Work “Work” for Everyone
Group work is a hard pill to swallow for a lot of introverts. They may feel inhibited about sharing their ideas without having enough time to process them, meaning that the very first ideas the group bats around will likely not take your introverts’ input into account.
First, consider the size of the groups. Try to go as small as possible, so rather than teams of five, try for three.
Then, you can give some alternatives to brainstorming in the traditional format (shouting out ideas and writing them down as quickly as possible). Try “brainwriting,” where students individually write down all their ideas for a few minutes, then pass them on for their teammates to add to, and finally share the collected ideas with the group as a whole.
To wrap up, keep in mind that not every project has to be a group project! Per Susan Cain’s recommendation: “Teachers should really mix it up fairly between individual work, group work, and have students do more work in pairs, which is a way that both introverts and extroverts can thrive.”
And everyone thriving equals a win for you!
Introverts, Extroverts and Everyone In Between
The bottom line is to make your classroom a comfortable, safe space for introverts, extroverts and all the students in between. By making some basic adjustments and an effort to understand your students’ personality, you’ll create an inclusive environment where all your students can learn in the way that’s best for them.