We can all acknowledge that the school environment is built for students who have more extroverted tendencies. Even the expectations that we have for students in the classroom lean heavily towards extrovert learning styles – class participation, group activities, seating arrangements. Students who are more introverted tend to thrive when they are able to spend time reflecting, internally, about their own thoughts and ideas. Introverts have nervous systems that react more to everything that is going on around them – which is incredibly exhausting.
Introverted students often prefer solitary activities like reading, writing, and using the computer. Tendency towards introversion is not to be mistaken with shyness…students who prefer to do quiet activities, alone or in a small group, do not necessarily have social anxiety tied to the fear of being judged the way “shy” students do.
I am definitely an introvert (she types as she’s writing a blog post from a quiet office where she’s spent the morning researching, and thinking about this topic….) Thinking back to elementary and middle school, I remember the panic that set in when a teacher would call on me to answer a question in front of the class, or the heat that rose in my face while in the chaotic cafeteria during lunch. I’d always be the first to volunteer to help out in the library or office when my classroom had a substitute teacher; get me out of this unstructured mess! Lucky for me, I guess, I was able to, er, suggest… to teachers back in the day that I would be better suited helping out vs. sitting in class. As an adult this has definitely made me think, how can we support introverted students in an environment clearly not designed with them in mind?
Promote - Think First, Then Answer in your classroom. Introverted students need the opportunity to process their thoughts and ideas before they give a response. Usually they are not the first kiddo to raise a hand to answer your question. This doesn’t mean they’re not paying attention, or not interested in the lesson – it just means they need some time to think it through. Create activities that give your more introverted students time (and breathing room) to do what comes naturally to them...process. Use a timer to allow time for your students thinking time before they respond.
Pose the question
Set timer for 30 seconds
Allow students to raise a quiet hand and answer
One of my 8th grade Social Studies classrooms receives a civics based question at the end of each school day. Students are expected to think about it over the evening, research if they choose to, and come to class the next morning prepared to talk about their response. Their class begins each morning with a 15-minute discussion centered around the previous day’s question.
Diversify class participation points. Students that feel comfortable sharing in front of their peers, and being called on in class will quickly rack up classroom participation points. Social engagement and the anticipation of randomly being picked on to answer a question in the moment can send an introvert into hyper preservation mode – which can look like disengagement, boredom or outright defiance. When really – they’re over stimulated. Now, this is an area where we need to help students create some balance and understanding with their own likes and needs. BUT, we live in an extrovert focused world and giving introverted kiddo’s opportunities to remain in their comfort zone are important…but so is giving them strategies to successfully navigate any and all situations – and this includes undesirable ones.
Even out class participation to include raising a hand in class, helpful activities like running errands to the office, writing activities, one on one discussions etc.
Create and USE a quiet zone. Most of the elementary school classrooms I’ve been in have a reading nook, or quiet activity corner for students. This type of space is so important, and very helpful for all students. Work diligently to keep this a quiet space, used by a couple of students at a time.
Encourage your school to expand the use of a quiet zone into recess time as well. I know that as a society right now we are focused on reducing childhood obesity and recess and running around is part of this plan. Total advocate for this, movement is incredibly important for ALL students. But the chaos of recess can be overwhelming for students who tend to be more introverted. Advocate for the importance of having a space for these kiddos to destress from engaging with a sea of people. A place for them to play with chalk, Play-Doh, build with blocks, jump rope, read etc.
Notice. Most importantly, notice the uniqueness that introverts bring to your classroom and how it effects them functioning in an environment built for more extroverted people. Introverted students enjoy meaningful conversations and close relationships where they are given the opportunity to think things through. Notice how your students respond in your classroom, watch them in the lunch room and as they move between classes. How do they cope? What are their strengths?
In a society where we’re expected to be outgoing and social, it can be difficult and even feel shameful to be an introvert. Introverts are talented, gifted and incredibly resourceful students. Let your classroom reflect your belief in this, met ‘em closer to their comfort level. Oh and, take a listen to one of the most watched Ted Talks, put on by author of The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking – The Power of Introverts by Susan Cain.