Thinking through the Power of Introverts in the Learning Environment

Have you ever considered the power of introverts? In the current context of classroom education where we uphold group discussion, group work, group think, and active engagement and participation; it seems we may have forgotten another important way of knowing. The power of alone time; time for deep thoughts, and the merit of also dedicating time to independent student learning and thinking. This TedTalk video, presented by Susan Cain, gave me pause and re-affirmed to me that teaching techniques must vary, and be individualized to each student. I’ve included the UTube video and my reflection below:

The Power of Introverts

Objective: Susan Cain, a lawyer and self-described introvert, provides much food for thought about the importance and value of introverts in our extraverted world in her 2012 Ted Talk entitled: The Power of Introverts. According to Cain, introverts “bring extraordinary talents to the world” and make excellent leaders. Yet, we live in a society where “group think” is promoted, open workspaces abound, and extraversion and charisma are celebrated, prized, and highly valued. We think of the introvert often as a “geek”, a loner, and less successful in our world today.
According to the Urban Dictionary, an introvert is defined as “an individual who focuses on their inner world of thoughts and ideas; one who gains energy from alone time; one who thinks before they speak” (p. 1, 2005). As the definition suggests, introverts are more concerned with the inner world of the mind and like thinking, reading, and spending time alone (Cain 2012). As I explored this topic further, I learned that they often do not make small talk although may speak at length on topics of their choice, and prefer to maintain just a few close relationships (Zakiyatunnisa, 2014). An extravert is in direct contrast to this description: “a person concerned more with external reality than inner feelings” (Dictionary.com, n.d., p. 1). Extraverts are known to be energized by external sources such as people, activities, and objects; and are typically the predominant contributors to class discussions (Isaacs, 2009). They thrive on socializing and being around people! Introverts, on the other hand, become drained by these experiences and need to recharge on their own.
According to research conducted by the Myers-Briggs organization (1998), about fifty percent of American population are introverts (Myers & Quenk, 1998). Although these two personality types describe two clearly distinct types, we know that every individual is unique and hence, and hence there is a wide range of individual expressions of introversion or extraversion personality preferences among people of all ages. Cain herself discloses that at times she has acted like an introvert, and other times, as an extrovert (2012).
In this TedTalk, Cain shares compelling evidence that introverted leaders deliver better outcomes than extraverts, and are less likely to micro-manage individuals than extraverts (2012). Introverted students are more likely to get better grades, are more knowledgeable, yet are often seen as outliers in the school setting as they prefer to work alone and are more reserved in class discussions. Cain’s call to action for us is to let introverts be themselves (2012). She suggests we need to encourage much more autonomy and privacy in learning environments in order for individuals to engage in deep thought and new ideas. Cain also challenges us to unplug ourselves and “get inside our own heads more often” and for introverts to occasionally let the world see what they are about by sharing their inner thoughts (Cain, 2012).

Reflective: I found Cain’s TedTalk very compelling, and it made me realize that this was the first time I’ve really ever given any thought as to the value of assessing students’ personality traits of introversion or extraversion very early on in the classroom setting. I have of course noticed that some students are quieter and less likely to participate in class discussions, but I hadn’t actually “labelled” them in any way, or deliberately thought that I needed to treat them differently in the learning environment. Listening and watching this video was a huge wake-up call for me!

Interpretive: In my work as a part-time educator, I have not had the luxury of consistently interacting with the same students on a daily basis. My teaching times at both the University of British Columbia and Vancouver Community College are sporadic and the learning environment ever changing with my focus on community health and clinical learning. As such, I feel that I have never really had the exposure of intimately knowing each student’s preferred interaction in the classroom setting. If I had, I believe I would have had this “ahha” moment much sooner, risen to the challenge, and developed a repertoire of strategies to more actively engage introverted students. Most importantly, I would have then been able to then create the type of learning environment that they are comfortable in and able to thrive.
According to research, introverts and extroverts process information differently, and actually draw upon different parts of the brain using different neurotransmitters (Isaac, 2009). An extravert is believed to draw upon short-term memory to assemble his thoughts whereas an introvert uses long-term memory to make more complex associations. These two types of students perform very differently in the learning environment, with the introvert often much more reserved and quiet. Unfortunately, introverts are often mistakably labelled as unmotivated and unengaged students (Zakiyatunnisa, 2014). Truthfully, it’s all about one’s perspective. As an educator, I need to ask critically self-assess my observations of students and ask myself: do I identify the quiet student incorrectly as passive and unresponsive, or as a interested introvert who simply requires time to process information and prepare a response in any group learning environment? How can I support introverts and create the kind of learning environment for this type of learner to thrive? As I pondered this thought and searched for answers, I came across a number of articles that propose helpful strategies to more actively engage the introvert. These include:
1. Assigning material well in advance so that they have time to process the information and formulate questions and thoughts for a class discussion,
2. Follow a question with a pause to give introverts time to prepare a response,
3. Engage in occasional eye contact with the introvert to check on their body language and facial expressions to assess their level of engagement,
4. Build in student time breaks (pauses) at crucial times during a discussion to allow for self-reflection and then select more introverted students to respond before randomly accepting others’ responses,
5. Notice who is dominating the class discussion, and identify strategies to ensure others’ voices are also heard,
6. Notify the introverted student in advance that you will ask for their comment on a specific topic so they have time to prepare, and very importantly
7. Invite the introvert to meet with you on an individual one-on-one basis to get to know their personalities and interests (Isaacs, 2009; Zakiyatunnisa, 2014).
The above-mentioned strategies add an additional important layer onto the valuable strategies shared in Barkley’s book entitled “Student engagement techniques: A handbook for college faculty” (2012). Promoting a learning environment of respect and trust, sharing the power in the classroom, and creating a community of learning will also support all learners, regardless of their personality type.

Decisional: How can I as a teacher apply what I’ve learned about introverts into the learning environment? When I begin teaching a course on my own, I feel that it will be immensely important to take the time to get to know each student’s personality type early on. Beginning immediately, I feel that I will be much more aware and understanding of a students’ level of participation in any discussion I am involved in. I also feel much more prepared to more actively engage introverts in the learning environment using some of the strategies identified above. In order to truly be students’ guide at the side and facilitator of learning, I am committed to incorporate a variety of instructional strategies and activities into any session I teach. Most importantly, I plan to strike a balance between activities that require group participation and those that encourage individual student work that promotes deep thought. I want to empower introverts and extroverts alike to actively participate and be comfortable in their learning environment and experience acceptance and success as they make sense of new information and generate new ideas and knowledge.

References

Barkley, E.F. (2010). Student engagement techniques: A handbook for college faculty. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Extravert. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged. Retrieved February 14, 2015, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/extravert
Introvert. (2005). Urban dictionary. Retrieved from:
http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Introvert
Isaacs, T. (2009). Introverted Students in the Classroom: How to Bring Out Their Best. Retrieved from: http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-and-learning/introverted-students-in-the-classroom-how-to-bring-out-their-best/
Myers, I. B., McCaulley, M. H., Quenk, N. L., & Hammer, A. L. (1998). MBTI manual: A guide to the development and use of the Myers Briggs type indicator. Retrieved from: http://highability.org/the-gifted-introvert/#sthash.WVzbxY8V.dpuf                                                          Zakiyatunnisa, A. Dealing with introverted students. (2014). Retrieved from:http://www.academia.edu/6613880/Dealing_with_Introverted_Students

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s