Saturday, April 6, 2013

Introverts in the Classroom

One of my most vivid school memories is my fourth grade teacher standing in the hallway, yelling at me to speak loudly enough for her to hear me in the hallway. All those other fourth grade eyes on me as I mustered up the confidence to make my voice loud. Kids giggled and the teacher tried to play it off as a joke. As everyone laughed I was speechless, slowly deciding that I had nothing to share that was worth this. My voice had no reason to be that loud.

I don't have good memories of school. Some, I suppose, here and there. I don't necessarily have bad memories, but I can't say that school was something I liked. I worked hard because that was what you were suppose to do, but most of my memories are angst-filled days being terrified I'd be called on, or wouldn't be smart enough, or would say something wrong. And even if I knew an answer the minute I was called on the answer would slip through my fingers just beyond my grasp. I find this true even today when I'm in certain stressful situations. In college I'd tell professors that I'd rather accept a B than be forced to participate in whole group discussions- even in seminar-based classes.

A colleague just shared an article with me about Susan Cain's book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. The brief summary of the book hit home, and while it brought back the flood of fourth grade memories, it also explained where my angst came from. Introverts often stop learning when they feel threatened by a classroom environment built around extroverts. 

The article also points out the difference between introverts and shy children. Shy children are likely to watch kids play, wanting to engage but being scared to do so, while introverts are perfectly happy to play by themselves.

With half of our population being classified as introverts it is hard to think that we've designed classrooms specifically for extroverts, but we really have. Things are changing- teaching methods that allow for students to reflect, turn and talk to one another, and to process information in small groups or in different ways help meet the needs of all students. But we still have a ways to go. 

How often are we forcing square pegs into round holes and calling it an education? 


Anonymous said...

Oh, you must, must, must read Susan Cain's book. It has changed so much about how I think about myself and my daughter..."Quiet" isn't just about introverts or people who are "shy", though, it looks at the research on "high reactivity," which is associated with being risk-averse. Apparently in any given population (human or animal) 15-20% of the population are risk-takers and 15-20% prefer to observe carefully, think things through, and then act cautiously. Both are learning strategies-- we can jump right in and approximate what the experts do, or we can watch what is modeled for us. And that is why, after years of teaching writing workshop, I finally understand why some kids are so willing to try invented spelling and why some insist that they simply can't write. For these kids, I think that giving them shared writing experiences is even more important. I could go on and on, but DO read "Quiet." It's full of great stuff.

organized chaos said...

Thanks! I'll put it on my list- it sounds like it will really resonate with me. I've read a lot of Jeremy Kagan's work on highly reactive infants and toddlers and the nature of temperament, it sounds like it goes hand in hand with his research. Can't wait to read it!