There has been a lot of talk recently around the topic of introversion vs. extroversion and how it impacts people’s experiences and expectations of others. In education, we see this when extroverts act as group leaders and are the first to raise their hands, while introverts struggle with labels like “shy” or “quiet.” In this blog, we will review how you can identify, support, and engage your introverted students.
Introverts vs. Extroverts
The fundamental difference between these personality types is that introverts expend energy in social situations while extroverts gain energy through social interaction. For example, a typical 7-hour school day might leave an introvert feeling drained and an extrovert feeling energized.
Introvert ≠ Shy
American society often conflates “shy” and “introvert,” and unfortunately assigns a negative connotation to both. While there can be overlap, it’s important to note that the two traits are distinct. Introverts may need more time to find their entry point in a discussion, but once they’re talking, they often contribute just as much as their extroverted peers.
Education and Introversion
Just as left-handed students were trained to become right-handed in the past, introverted students today are being trained to be more like their extroverted peers (e.g., speak up in class, be active contributors to collaborative work, and engage socially with their peers) without proper scaffolding and support. Introversion doesn’t just go away, so students should be taught from a young age to embrace their introversion and that there are many ways to be successful in school and life.
Accommodating and supporting introverts doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be encouraged to take risks or step outside their comfort zone, but teachers should create a classroom environment and instruction that makes them feel comfortable in a system that is typically geared toward extroverts.
Here are five strategies for supporting your introverts:
1. Think Before You Speak
You can motivate introverts to join class discussions by posing a question, and giving students extended time to think about their answers. This approach will give you the opportunity to call on introverted students, as they will be more likely to volunteer answers when given time to think and frame their answers.
2. Pair Work
Introverts’ voices and ideas often get swallowed up by group work, which is classically dominated by extroverts. Partnering students first ensures that introverts have a time to formulate and share ideas, before taking on a larger group.
3. Reward Introverted Traits
Reward students for introverted traits, like listening. For public speaking assignments, ask students to take notes while other students present, and reward conscientious listeners.
4. Create a Quiet Time and Space
To allow introverts to disengage and recharge, counterbalance group work and class discussions with quiet time. One way to support introverts is to create a regular quiet period, such as sustained silent reading. Let your introverted students retreat to a literal niche or corner in your classroom where they can settle down with a book. If it’s not possible to rearrange your classroom, headphones provide an alternative for students seeking peace and quiet.
5. Alternative to Recess
Since the school day is often filled with nonstop activity, introverted students might want to opt out of recess to replenish their energy. Susan Cain, the author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, suggests offering introverts an alternative to playground recess, in which they can read or play board games in small groups.
Introverts are thought to make up almost half of the population, so what you learn from articles, books, and blogs about introversion will most likely not just apply in the classroom, but in your own life as well.