Addressing the Needs of Introverts in our Classrooms

A while back I picked up a book at Barnes and Noble called Introvert Power by Laurie Helgoe, PhD.  I am always looking for books and information that will help me better understand both myself and others.  One reason for this is simply because it has always been a natural interest for myself.  (I remember writing a paper about the psychology of why people commit crimes in middle school and a paper about emotional intelligence in high school).   Another reason why I think it is advantageous to gain knowlege on human nature is because I work with kids and adults every day.  No matter what career you are in, understanding human nature can equip you with understanding of why you react the way you do and why others react the way they do.

One of my Christmas presents this year was The Introvert Advantage by Marti Olsen Laney, Psy.D. So far, this book is very similar to Introvert Power. After reading Introvert Power, I contemplated doing a blog post describing applications to the classroom. I never got around to it.  After starting this newest introvert book, I figured it was time to get to that blog post!

Let us start with some core misperceptions about introverts. Being shy or outgoing are not necessarily accurate  words to describe introverts and extroverts. Prior to reading Introvert Power, I remember the feeling of frustration when people would perceive me as shy.  I hated that description and I wasn’t quite sure why.  I think it’s because the perception that shy people do not like people and prefer to spend their life in the solitude of their own home.  I, on the other hand, LOVE people–their strengths, their experiences, their values and view points.  It interests me more than I can say.  In fact, most introverts do like people and are interested in deep meaningful conversations.

So, what’s the difference between introverts and extroverts?  One of the main differences is where we get our energy.  Extroverts get energy from socializing and being around people.  Each new conversation propels them to continue talking throughout the night.  Introverts, on the other hand, get their energy from within–through reflection and deep conversations that cause them to contemplate about life.   The application to the classrom in relation to this difference is to respect the need of the introverts in your classroom when it comes to providing time for them to be “within themselves” for a while.  Every since I was in my bachelor’s program, cooperative learning was a big push. Let me first say, I am a big proponent of cooperative learning. I think the speaking and listening skills kids learn via cooperative learning is a must for success in the workforce and in life.  However, so is reflection time.  I myself am guilty of getting too caught up in students always having to work together and talk through problems in a group, with no time to allow individuals to reflect.   The cooperative learning is fine and must continue, but teachers may need to build some quiet time in prior to or after cooperative learning to allow reflection time.  As a student myself, in some of my masters classes, I was the same way.  There were always groups projects and I hated (with a passion) how we had to immediately get into groups after the assignment was described so we could brainstorm with our group.  If only I would be given the time to think through things myself first, I felt like I could have offered so much more to the group.

The other thing to keep in mind in regards to cooperative learning is how draining this situation can be for your introverted students. This does not mean that they struggle with cooperative learning.  In fact, if you give them time to contemplate prior to or after cooperative learning, the understanding and knowledge they gain can be amazing.  However, it does mean that instruction throughout the day should allow for down time for your introverted students.  They need that time to “re-charge.”  If they do not get that “re-charging” time, it may affect learning the rest of the day.

Another key difference between many extroverts and introverts is depth vs breadth of information learned.  Extroverts tend to want to know a lot about several topics and introverts would prefer to hone in on a few topics and know them in depth.  What comes to mind for me is the amount of curriculum we’re expected to teach kids. We are faced with the pressure of teaching a mile-long curriculum only an inch deep.   In addition to the fact that this is not always sound classroom practice, it also is a dis-service to our introverts.  I am thinking of the students in my classroom that tend to always have more and more questions on topics that peak their interest and sometimes I am guilty of saying “I’m sorry; we have to move on.”  While this is sometime just the practicality of the situation, I think I could sometimes handle it differently.  Why am I stopping that love of learning?  What might that student be able to accomplish if I simply facilitate an environment where they can continue to investigate “x” subject in depth?

I’m only 37 pages into The Introvert Advantage so I will likely have more thoughts to share. I just needed a little reflection time before I went on to the rest of the reading. Yes, I am an introvert, too!

2 thoughts on “Addressing the Needs of Introverts in our Classrooms

  1. Did you ever hit the nail on the head with this post. I have to read that book myself. I fall between the two and wonder where that puts me? Team work remains something difficult for me. I usually let the assertive one take control and yet I am comfortable taking the lead if necessary. As the manager of an editing department for a trade publication, I needed this insight. How is it going for you?

  2. I have never really thought about it like that. I suppose I am a extrovert, because I could not wait for group projects. The conversation bouncing around from peer to peer always had me intrigued. Certainly, there does need to be a sense of balance between the two. You defiantly have my head thinking about this.

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