In our classrooms, often our energy gets focused on the extroverts who demand our attention. However, we need to find strategies to nurture our introverts and help them succeed as well.
Taking a Closer Look at Your Classroom
Imagine your classroom for a moment. Morning chaos reigns in your room with students putting away backpacks in cubbies, sharpening pencils, and catching up with friends from the weekend. In the back next to the windows sits a female student. Instead of engaging in the chaos, she sits quietly at her desk drawing in a notebook. In dealing with your morning routine, you may never even notice her. However, as a teacher, we need to make the extra effort to identify these students and help them succeed.
Who are the Introverts in Your Class?
If you are going to help the introverts in your class succeed, then first you need to be able to recognize them. We often stereotype introverts as shy and antisocial. While some introverts may share these characteristics, there are as many others that won't. Sometimes we have to pay attention to more subtle details to recognize the introverts in our classrooms.
Take for instance a day when most of your lesson revolves around a class discussion. There are several students sitting along the perimeter of the discussion. Pause for a moment and look at everyone's eyes. The introverts will probably be following the discussion with their eyes. They periodically join in but then may retreat into silence. While you may initially think that they are not participating, it is just that their brains are wired differently. Instead of feeding off the energy in the room like an extrovert, they can create energy from within their minds. As a result, in the classroom, they may find whole class discussions exhausting. So they find appropriate points to join in, but retreat periodically to recharge and reflect within their mind on what has been said. Your introverts may also be the student sitting in a group for a collaborative assignment and not joining in, or choosing to spend recess alone.
Use Groups Strategically
When we have introverts in our classroom, sometimes as teachers we adopt one of two philosophies. Either we leave the introverts be, or we look at them as having a problem that requires fixing. Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, offers a wise warning: 'Don't think of introversion as something that needs to be cured.' As teachers, we shouldn't try to change our introverts. Rather, we should change how we teach to help them be successful in the classroom.
Just because you have introverts in the classroom, doesn't mean that group work becomes a thing of the past. Introverts can thrive on group projects if you carefully structure it. The key is remembering the introverts need quiet time to recharge. For example, having students work in groups for an entire block can be mentally draining for them. So you have to be strategic and build in 'breaks' to the project. You can do this by setting outside small blocks of time for group members to work independently and then come back together to share/edit. Another option would be to incorporate smaller chunks of group work time into your direct instruction in class.
Build in Time for Introverts to Recharge
If we want our introverted students to be successful, we have to build activities for them to have quiet and reenergize during the school day. Whether you are a middle or high school teacher, or even an elementary school teacher, that time is critical for these students success. If you teach a self-contained class, making this happen on a daily basis is a bit easier. For example, you can structure in time during the day for independent reading or some other quiet 'break' activity, so the introverts in your classroom can recharge.
When we teach middle or high school, creating those quiet spaces of time requires a bit more creativity and thought on our part. One strategy is to make your students begin each day with a few minutes of quiet time, so your introverts can recharge and get ready for your lesson. Another strategy is to design quiet 'brain breaks' as part of your lesson. It could be a quick puzzle or brain teaser students can do independently. It could even be a quick, quiet stretch break, or even just a few minutes of relaxing free time where you play music in the classroom. These breaks, even if they are just a few minutes, can help the introvert be more successful in your classroom.
Encourage Alternative Ways to Participate
How we measure participation is often unfair to the introverted students in our classroom and sets them up for failure. If we want to help these students be successful, we have to rethink how we define participation in our classrooms. Perhaps class discussions are an essential part of your teaching strategy. You may be accustomed to traditional class discussions, which are more fluid in nature. For an introvert, this can be an uncomfortable situation. They may struggle to have a voice in the conversation when other students are throwing ideas out randomly and rapidly. An introvert's mind prefers to process and reboot with each new tidbit of information.
Fortunately, there are some modifications easily made to help the introvert be successful. For example, as part of the discussion, allow wait time to any question/comment made by you or your students. If necessary, you can even set a timer for ten seconds in between each response to allow the introverts in the room time to process and form a response themselves. You can also give each student a certain number of sticks, so each time they participate in the discussion they give one up. Once they are out of sticks, they cannot talk anymore during the conversation. This technique prevents the extraverts from monopolizing the conversation and gives the introverts a reasonable expectation of participation. You may also consider using online chats or Twitter to host the classroom discussions during a lesson.