I am an extrovert. I thrive on interactions with others and have never minded being the center of attention. My oldest daughter, however, is quite the opposite. She is very much an introvert. In her 12-year-old words:
“I’d rather die than (insert undesirable activity in front of people here).”
She is an excellent student, and she has many friends, but she loathes attention. I’ve had several of her teachers contact me over the years concerned about her lack of participation in class. One teacher took her lack of response as defiance. That was a difficult year. Another recognized her quietness for what it was and worked to build a rapport with her and have her participate in ways that worked for her. That year she blossomed. The way a teacher approaches the introverted students in their class can make or break the educational experience for those students.
What is an introvert? (Or an extrovert for that matter?) Simply put, introverts are people who charge their batteries by spending time alone. Extroverts, in contrast, get their energy from being around people. An introvert is happy to be invited to a party and spends most of their time with one or two of the same people; sometimes they don’t stay for long, and when they do they collapse on the couch at home for the rest of the evening, exhausted. Extroverts work the room and go out dancing when the party is over.
The way our education system is set up tends to reward extroverts. Extroverts have the advantage in group activities and whole group instruction. They don’t panic when called on, they raise their hands to answer questions and take charge of group projects. Introverts in the classroom though have a difficult time being put on the spot and rarely volunteer answers.
With my daughter, some of her teachers assumed that she is deficient because she is introverted, yet she isn’t suffering in any way.
Her teachers were having difficulty assessing her learning and jumped to the conclusion that she wasn’t learning when in fact she was. All too often we look at being introverted as a disability. It is not. In fact, in many ways, it is a strength. Introverts tend to be more empathetic and observant than extroverts.
As teachers, we will encounter kids with all types of personalities and we must adapt. We need to differentiate and play to our students’ strengths. This means doing what is best for our introverted students. There are several strategies we can incorporate into the classroom to help our introverted students. As a side benefit, these strategies also help other students who might struggle to participate traditionally, such as students with anxiety or those that have learning disabilities and fear ridicule from their classmates.
Allow Choice: Give students a few different choices of ways to express their ideas (for example if the assignment is to give a presentation they can choose to present to the whole class, just the teacher, a partner, video themselves and turn it in, etc.)
Honor Differences: Remember that being introverted isn’t a disability. Look for the good qualities that students possess as a result of their introverted nature and help students to embrace themselves and their strengths and weaknesses. Teach other students to honor each other’s differences.
Variety: Engage students in a variety of activities. Some whole group sharing activities will push introverts to do things (such as the present) that are hard for them, but that they will need to do in real life. Balance those with activities more tailored to introverted kids such as small group activities or those in which they can let their technology or writing do the talking.
Adapt Communication Tasks: When you do ask students to engage in whole group discussions or presentations modify the tasks a bit. First, give students plenty of time to think. Introverts tend to feel even more anxious when they are called upon with no notice. Second, don’t only praise the loudest, quickest to answer kid. Consider a method of calling on kids so that they know when their turn is coming and they don’t have to be on edge the whole time waiting for the possibility of being called on.
Safe Space: Introverts need a space to recharge. Consider creating a quiet corner or safe area in your classroom where kids can go if they are feeling a little overwhelmed.
Build Rapport: Get to know your introverted students. This is more of a challenge than it is with more extroverted kids because instead of them volunteering information you’ll have to make an effort to get to know them. When students feel safe, they will start to come out of their shells.
By: Amy Curletto
Amy has been teaching for 12 years in grades K-2. She has a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood and Elementary Education and also has endorsements in reading and ESL. Besides education, her other passion is writing and she has always dreamed of being a writer. She lives in Utah with her husband, her 3 daughters, and her miniature schnauzer. She enjoys reading, knitting, and camping.
The child who is ‘left behind’ most is the one who leaves school without transition readiness.