Tuesday, February 12, 2013

How to teach introverts

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/alamosbasement/4051861874/
I swear - if I had the time and energy, I'd write a book with the title of this post. (Although I suspect that my colleague Chuck might beat me to it, given his post last year about being an introvert.) It took me a long time to realize that I was one, and having two introverted daughters has made me really think about the best way to raise and teach them.

So I was really bothered - angered, bewildered, irritated, pissed - when I read this article Introverted Kids Need to Learn to Speak Up at School in The Atlantic. The author, Jessica Fahey, is a middle-school teacher who has apparently spent a lot of time recently learning about introverts, but still believes that students should be graded on class participation. What stuns me about this is that she apparently believes that verbal class participation and class participation are the same thing. Wow. In 2013? There are so many ways to measure how students are participating in class that don't involve speaking aloud in class - paying attention, participating in activities, collaborating in groups, writing short responses, etc. (I'm also guessing my colleague Rob would ask why she was grading on participation instead of what they know.)

And for goodness sakes - why not take advantage of digital ways to participate? Have the students create a blog and have other students comment on the blog. Create an online forum and have students create original posts and reply to others' posts. Use an online discussion board (like my favorite, TodaysMeet.com) and have the students discuss (via keyboard) the videos we were watching or the current events topics we were learning about. Have students make a Pinterest board compilation of images and videos on what you are learning. Tweet about what you are learning, or collect tweets from others who are talking about that topic. Create an online review quiz and have students electronically enter their answers to the review questions in teams around them room (using sites like Socrative.com) And on and on ...

I was heartened to read this afternoon that Susan Cain (author of Quiet) wrote a reply to Fahey's article ("Help Shy Kids, Don't Punish Them") and I was even more pleased when I saw that one of Cain's suggestions was to use social media. Her article also has several other great practical suggestions for teachers. I also just spotted another reply by professor Katherine Schultz in the Washington Post ("Why introverts shouldn’t be forced to talk in class") which focuses on the importance of silence in the classroom.

The final thing I'd say is this: high school is one of the last times students are given so few options to do what they love and avoid what they hate. Once they graduate, they can choose to attend college, go into the military or go straight to work. When they enter the work force, they can choose the kinds of jobs they do. They can choose paths that allow them to maximize what works for them and minimize what doesn't work. If they don't want to work with large numbers of people or speak in large groups, they don't have to - and, as the image at the top suggests, they don't need to feel bad about it either.

Middle school is hard enough. Do we as teachers have to make introverted kids feel like crap *inside* the classroom because they don't meet our imposed standards? I would love to know how you feel about teaching introverts - what works for you? Where do you struggle? And if you think I'm completely loony about this, let me know that too!

--posted by Steve


Jill said...

I wish I could post my 8th blocks visual personality on an introversion/extroversion and preferred environment stable/flexible scale. I pulled it out early because they were shockingly quiet. I have an entire class of bright eyed introverts. Digital moodle forums rock. Love the article.

Rob McEntarffer said...

GREAT post, Steve! As dad to an introvert (not sure about my 7 year old yet, but the 11 year old is definitely on that side of the fence, I think) I'm glad to hear your thoughts, and they will help me as I think about my future teaching.

Chuck Schallhorn said...

Not loony, that's for sure. Let's write the book together :) via computer--using emails and dropbox and other methods. Some great ideas. One thing I've done in class is tried to create partner conversations--much easier than group and class for the introvert. As an introvert, I am much more comfortable with one-on-one conversations rather than group settings (and I hate small talk). Plus, introverts take the time to consider and think about what is being said, which is why I like your ideas about using a blog or twitter as a tool. Another thoughtful post by Steve! Thank you!

Jim Harris said...

I have not read any of the articles to which you refer, so I apologize if my following comment doesn't work. How would you define introversion? Is it the kind of introversion that the MBTI is designed to "discover," or the kind that many would define as quiet and reserved? I think there is a big difference and might be what we should be talking about. The person who gets their energy from others, like myself, an extrovert, didn't always feel comfortable talking in class. I can't really shut up now! Some of my friends who would be labeled as introverts (they don't get their energy from others)wouldn't let other students speak as often as they would want. Granted, this anecdote is based on a biased look backwards after gaining knowledge, but does hold true in my own classroom. I think we have to be careful. In the end, though, I agree with our need as teachers to be creative and thoughtful in what we do. What works for one person (or type of person) is likely to work for many others.

Anonymous said...

I like all of your ideas for teaching introverts! My comment has more to do with getting to know my students...I really feel like class discussion is when I get to know the personalities of the students. When kids never raise their hand to share, I feel as if the school year can pass by and I am no closer to that student than I was in September. And maybe that's ok; perhaps it doesn't matter for these kids a bit whether I know their personalities or not, lol. But I really enjoy getting to know my students on a personal level; relationships are as gratifying to me as presenting the content. After 22 years, I really feel the personal relationships are what keep me in this business.