The average classroom houses a multitude of students, all of whom possess different talents and personalities. The majority of classroom spaces are designed to support individuals who are outgoing and outspoken, but where does this leave the rest? Introverted students are equally capable learners but can be hampered by common classroom practices such as group projects, presentations, and participation marks. While there is no need to abolish these procedures altogether, educators should make an effort to understand and support their introverted students, their needs, and their strengths.
Shyness vs. introversion
One misconception to clear first and foremost is the notion that shyness and introversion are one and the same. Shyness is based in the fear of social disapproval and negative judgment. On the other hand, introversion is the tendency to be energized by quietude and spending time alone, in the same vein that extroversion is the tendency to gain energy from being around others. Neither extroversion or introversion is better than the other but in an education system where extroverted tendencies are normally prized, it is crucial to understand introversion as anything but a weakness but rather simply as a state of being.
Think first, talk later
One of the most outstanding strengths of introverted students is their inclination to carefully consider their thoughts and concepts taught in class before jumping to conclusions (in fact, research has shown that information takes longer to be processed in the brain on an introvert in comparison to an extrovert’s). This quiet reflection may result in a deeper understanding of the course content and should a reserved student choose to speak, they could contribute surprisingly thoughtful and original ideas to the class discussion.
Introverts are famously known for being good listeners and being observant of their environment. Teachers should bear in mind that the introvert hanging in the back of the room usually hasn’t disconnected with the class — they are likely to be just as attentive as the rest of their peers or maybe even more so. Taking in their surroundings forces a student to contemplate more and the insight of an introverted student can also come across in their work, especially in writing, where more introverts tend to excel. Consequently, teachers should not dismiss a student’s silence in class as a lack of interest but instead, turn to their work to gauge the true extent of their engagement.
Teachers can accommodate their introverted students without sacrificing the needs of their extroverted ones by allowing students to work in smaller groups or in pairs (occasionally letting students choose their own groups and partners) and redefining class participation. Participating in class does not necessarily mean having to raise one’s hand and speak up; in a technological age, online platforms such as blog posts or discussion forums allow introverts to communicate their thoughts more effectively in a way that suits them, giving them more flexibility and extra time to think. In addition, less emphasis should be placed on the quantity of hands raised but the quality of the ideas presented in a class discussion, placing value on creative and challenging concepts rather than sheer numbers and talk that means little — if there even is talk at all.