Sunday, March 6, 2016

Involving Introverts

I'm never a fan of embracing technology for technology's sake, but I do love a good technological solution to a teaching problem, and I have found some technology is an absolute boon to engaging introverts.

It helps, of course, to understand what the heck an introvert is. Introverts aren't necessarily shy, and don't hate all human contact. But interaction is work. The classic distinguisher for extroverts and introverts-- two people go to a party, where both mingle and talk and have a good time with all the folks in the room, but the extrovert comes out pumped up and ready to go do something else, and the introvert emerges wrung out and ready to settle into his own chair in his own room in his own home by his own self.

Some extroverts really don't get introversion and suffer from the notion that introversion is a problem that needs to be solved. This can be problematic in a classroom; many introverts can tell you a story of some extroverted teacher who decided to force the introvert to come out of her shell, or to get more engaged with the other students in the room.

When I take a test like, say, the Myers-Briggs inventory, I peg the introvert-o-meter. But I've been a performing amateur musician my whole life, and I was a union president. Your introvert students can do everything that your extroverts can; they just may approach it a bit differently.

Years ago I discovered Moodle, an open-source learning platform. One of its features was a discussion board that allowed threaded conversations. It was handy for any number of classroom activities, but its most powerful feature in my class was discussion. Moodle has a discussion board feature that allows for threaded conversations, and for some of my students, this was a dream-- they could say everything they wanted to say without having to navigate the challenges of group social interaction. Students who had previously had little to say in class now had a great deal to say. Moodle also allowed me to turn on a feature that let the students "score" each others' responses. This was helpful for cutting back on. "Yeah, what he said" posts, but it also underlined the fact that some of my students who weren't adept enough to earn social capital by live meatworld interactions were now earning it by the quality of their writing and reasoning.

For introverts, social interaction is work. As teachers, we often imagine that the social interaction piece of an assignment is not really a real factor, like having point on your pencil or knowing how to sit in a chair. But for introverts, removing the work of social interaction can help them focus on the work of developing an idea or solving a problem.

I'm not suggesting that we shuffle all of our students off to isolated cages or walled-in computer stations. That would be stupid. But just as some teachers try to accommodate different learning styles, it's helpful to remember there are different social styles, and that, for example, deciding to do an assignment as group work is not a break for all of our students-- for some it's more work, not less, to navigate that situation.

Introverts don't need to be fixed and we don't need to be coddled. We don't need to be in an introvert-centered classroom. But it helps is we have a teacher who recognizes how we interact with the world and other humans. It's just one more way that students can be different and teachers can help by recognizing that the differences exist as something other than a problem.


  1. My strongly introverted older child & I thank you from the bottom of our hearts. :-)

  2. Thank you for this! I am sharing. As a strong introvert, I am sympathetic to the student who wants to sit, observe, and absorb. She is learning as well as the extroverts. Recently my principal told me that if students don't want to share their work on the board, make them. I smiled and nodded, but I think not. Part of what makes my classroom run well (which he enthusiastically endorses) is giving students choice. If they don't want to share in front of the class, I will not force them. Also, we work in groups, but the student who says to me, "I want to sit and work by myself," will find his choice honored.

  3. I'm an introvert. I tell my children that I am my own best friend and that there is nothing wrong with how I am. I feel more alone in a room full of people than I do with myself and that is a hard concept for others to understand. It certainly worked against me when I was in school. It works against me now as a parent because I'm seen as the non-joiner in the school parent "clubs". I wish more teachers could see the social side of teaching introverts. Thank you for your thoughts.

  4. I do agree with this idea. Just wondering how we introverts survived all these years? In pain partially, much anxiety too. Please don't force your students. Find the best way for any and all to participate in the way that is most comfortable (productive) for each. Can introverts be teachers? I don't think so. I was a lousy teacher.

    1. I think my wife is a pretty great teacher, and I like to think I do okay. We're definitely both introverts, so I think it's possible, and I think we're sensitive to introverted students because of it.

  5. I was an extreme type of introvert - selectively mute. I think my teachers treated me with a lot of compassion, though they had no idea what I had and neither did I. I disagree with turtlelearning. I think the most helpful teachers for me were also introverts. We introverts need at least a few of those teachers.

  6. Being forced to come out of my shell as a kid. Indeed.

    I had a shell for a goddamned reason. I might have invited people in to my shell on a fairly regular basis. Some people even had key, favourite chairs in the library and room in the fridge. But the attempts to drag me kicking and screaming out of it for my own good made me board up the windows and install punji pits.

    The solving of introversion. Gah!

  7. People make great teachers whether they are introverted or extraverted or in between. Thank goodness for all kinds of people. To add to the point, most of my best teachers have been introverts and all my dearest friends (including my husband) are very introverted. They are all teachers...and one librarian. I see librarians as teachers.