In 2012, Susan Cain published the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. In Quiet, Susan delves into what makes someone an introvert, the strengths of introverts (many times overlooked), and how introverts can exist in a world that idealizes the extrovert. The book struck a chord with people and has become a bestseller. In a world of group activities, think-tanks and open offices, Quiet speaks for a large portion of the population that may produce their best work through reflection and privacy.
Cain devotes a section of her book to children and school, which we will explore in greater detail here, but a definition of terms would be helpful before we begin. Though Cain does not explicitly define introvert or extrovert, her basic premise rests on these definitions. An introvert is someone who derives their energy through reflection, alone-time and interactions with a close circle of friends and family. Their energy dwindles and they can be overstimulated in large social gatherings. An extrovert, on the other hand, is someone who derives their energy through being around other people and thrives on social stimulation.
SO, WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR THE CLASSSROOM?
In a typical classroom, ⅓ of the students are introverts. These students exist in settings that have been shaped by a culture that glorifies the “extrovert ideal”. Introverted students prefer lectures, downtime, independent projects, and structured small group collaboration of 2-3 students where each child knows their role (255). Does this sound like today’s average classroom?
In a typical classroom, 1/3 of the students are introverts.
Lectures vs. Group Work
Lecture based teaching is out-of-vogue at the moment. While some amount of lecture will always be necessary, the trend in education seems to be toward making learning social. Think-pair-share, turn-and-talk and other cooperative learning structures are implemented heavily in most elementary and middle school classrooms. In fact, in about half of elementary and middle school classes classes, 25% of class time is spent in groups (77). Today’s classroom revolves around cooperative learning; a style of teaching that reflects the values and atmosphere of the business community.
Physical Layout of Classroom
The move away from lecture is also evident in the physical layout of the classroom. Rarely will you see an elementary classroom with desks all in a row facing the teacher. Instead, you will see desks in groups, facing one another, to facilitate cooperative learning and group work.
Downtime and Independent Projects
Unfortunately, in the public education world, time for these two has generally vanished due to Common Core and high stakes testing.
HOW CAN TECHNOLOGY HELP CREATE A BETTER LEARNING ENVIRONMENT FOR INTROVERTS … AND, REALLY, ALL STUDENTS?
Technology can help to bridge the gap between the collaborative classroom and the needs of an introvert.
Not all group work needs to be done in person. When the Internet is the mode by which collaboration occurs, both introverts and extroverts can shine. Interestingly, studies done on brainstorming have shown that individuals actually produce better quality ideas when working independently than in groups. The only time the study found group collaborations to be more effective was when they were done online (88-89). Participating in a group online provides introverts with the necessary solitude and time for reflection that in-person collaborations lack. Being flexible and sometimes allowing for online group work, a teacher can help introverts thrive in class.
Physical Layout of Classroom
Laptops and iPads allow for students to be mobile. Let them crawl under a desk or curl up in a corner to work on their project. Working on an iPad or computer allows them to be productive as well as be alone. The screen, in a sense, becomes a privacy shield which can help a student experience a moment of an alone-time oasis in an otherwise social school setting.
Another trend in education is the flipped learning model. This allows students to listen to lectures or learn content individually outside of the class. Flipped learning allows students to learn and reflect on material before class. For introverts this time for information processing and reflection is crucial and will allow them to more fully participate in class discussions. Additionally, the flipped classroom model allows for more time in class for projects (independent, please).
Technology can help bridge the gap between the collaborative classroom and the needs of an introvert.