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What to consider when teaching introverts

What to consider when teaching introverts

Most teachers are aware of multiple intelligences theory and may have an interest in how personality frameworks translate to the classroom. One such personality dimension is the concept of extroversion and introversion. As it turns out, these concepts have a big impact on our students’ capacity for learning and enjoyment in class.

Understanding the difference

It’s important to understand that extroverts are not all outgoing and introverts are not all shy. Rather, these distinctions relate to how we recharge and reenergize. Extroverts seek out the company of others to reenergize and feel drained alone. Introverts, on the other hand, feel drained by prolonged social situations and need alone time to recharge.

In a (very small) nutshell, extroverts:

  • Are “people people” and have a wide circle of friends
  • May be impulsive and easily distracted
  • Do not need alone time to a great extent
  • Learn by doing

While introverts:

  • Have a small group of close friends
  • Can be slow to act, though can concentrate intensely
  • Are fatigued by large crowds of people
  • Learn by observing

What this means in the classroom

At first glance, our classrooms and go-to teaching techniques are mainly geared towards extroverts. We encourage noise, stimulus, quick-changing activities, and open-class discussions. Additionally, because extroverts make their presence more obvious by being talkative and quick to raise their hand, educators might not realize just how many introverts they actually have.

In class, introverts are characterized by requiring time to process new information and requests. They enjoy brainstorming and theorizing. They need to feel emotionally secure and require more space—even literally!—because of their need to reenergize alone. On the other hand, extroverted students are inherently social and easily comfortable in new situations. They are more likely to express themselves and give opinions, they love to bounce ideas around and are comfortable with group work.

Understanding introverts

Society is quick to praise extroverts and perceive them as “better”. However, introversion is not a problem to be solved: They simply process the world differently to extroverts. That’s all. Any given class will have a decent percentage of introverted students whose unique strengths can be cultivated by learning to understand them. Here are some tips for creating a positive learning environment for introverts:

  • Remember that they are not extroverts who need to be “fixed”
  • Let them take in new information before having to reproduce it
  • Don’t embarrass your introverted students publicly or interrupt them when they’re talking
  • Give (constructive!) criticism one-on-one
  • Be mindful of transitions between activities, and give them advance warning to finish a task

Classroom takeaways for introverts and extroverts

It’s not realistic to teach the same class 25 different ways, however, there are strategies teachers can employ to ensure their extroverted and introverted students are catered for. Here are some of our favorites:

  • Refer to the concept of extroversion and introversion in class, especially if teaching young learners. It’s important that students realize others learn and perceive the world differently.
  • Provide choice where possible (e.g., write vs. think, draw vs. share).
  • Rearrange chairs into horseshoes, small groups, or pairs to give students chances to work with others.
  • Let your introverted students find “alone time” in the classroom. Ideally, create a quiet corner. At least, don’t make introverts sit in the center of a group of busy extroverts!
  • Take the concept of “alone time” further by letting students work outside, in the garden, multimedia room, meeting room, or other school room.
  • Use “think-pair-share” activities: Students contemplate a question individually, then share their thoughts with classmates. Introverts will appreciate the time to organize their thoughts, while extroverts can still bounce off other students.
  • Use journal time or noise canceling headphones to give introverts time to dive deeply into their work.
  • Reconsider your definition of “participation”. It doesn’t have to mean spirited, open-class conversation. Other demonstrations of participation could be implementing feedback, asking an excellent question, participating in an online class forum, or a student active seeking advice from their teacher.
  • Implement a rule that once having spoken, students must wait for another classmate to contribute before rejoining the conversation. This can limit domination from more boisterous extroverts.
  • Thank and compliment your students for their participation, be that good group work, enthusiastic question asking, open-class contributions, good writing, or anything else.
  • Balance group activities and individual work time, to let both introverts and extroverts work to their strengths.
  • Reconsider roles in contests, quizzes or noisy games: Introverted students may prefer to judge, document discussions, or create questionnaires.

The concept of introversion and extroversion is just another layer to the complex web of components that make up your students’ personalities. While we can’t teach 25 students in an entirely individualized way, a classroom culture that works to the strengths of both introverts and extroverts, allowing them to thrive as they are, is entirely possible.

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