Today's guest post is not about an edtech topic (although tech tools can provide some great opportunities for introverts to express themselves!), but I thought it was an interesting piece that was worth sharing. – KW
Good intentions do not always lead to good results. For example, there was a time when adults forced left-handed kids to be right-handed in order to “simplify” their lives. Now we finally know that this reduces kids’ chances to reach their full potential.
We have a similar situation with forced socialization at school. It is a place where children are supposed to gain knowledge in different subjects, as well as to learn how to interact with others. Obviously, teachers would like to prepare kids for adult life, where most things work as if they were designed to favor extroverts. In order to be successful, you need to be assertive and noticeable, have good networking skills and speak up.
Why is it that school teaches kids to adapt to the world instead of educating people who can change it and giving them instruments for developing their innate abilities? Of course, socializing is necessary for introverts and they like it in their own way. However, teachers can choose other approaches for engaging such students. Introverts do not need to be ‘fixed', but they do need to know that their participation is appreciated.
1. Invent other roles for introverts in usual activities
While students in general like contests, quizzes and noisy games, introverted kids feel awkward and uncomfortable when forced to participate in sports contests and intellectual battles where speed is very important.
However, there is no need to divide a class into two groups to create an enabling environment for each one. Instead, create new roles for introverts where they can use their talents. Let them judge a contest, document a discussion, create questions, work in small groups, etc.
This way they will not feel missed and ignored, while extroverts are “monopolizing the airtime”, bewildered and caught off guard when being put on the spot.
It is possible to go even further and add some new extracurricular activities. For instance, Susan Cain, the author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, mentions in her book a high school in Silicon Valley that managed to adjust its activities to suit introverted students.
2. Talk about introversion and extroversion with a class
No matter how old students are, it is useful for them to learn that people are different and there is nothing wrong with it. Sometimes it takes years for students realize that that shy kid who likes to avoid peers is a still a nice person – just because they have not been aware such behavior is normal for introverts.
Ask your students to prepare some information on psychological differences between extroverts and introverts and organize a discussion. It would be a very interesting experience for both groups. Moreover, it may be pretty much a discovery for many students to find out they or their classmates are actually introverts. It becomes much easier to accept someone’s otherness when it is explained.
3. Provide introverts with more space
Introverts feel more comfortable when they have a special place for recharging. If you provide them with it, they will see that you really care about them and will be more willing to open up.
You may argue that there is no room in your school for such recharging stations, but usually we do not pay much attention to the rational use of space. For example, it is possible to make little changes and make room for flowers in the corner. During breaks, introverts can occupy themselves with a plant care instead of sitting alone in the classroom and feeling weird while their peers talk and play with each other.
4. Give them more opportunities to show up
Introverts are good in something that requires concentration, like writing or drawing. Unfortunately, their talents often remain unnoticed by their peers, as only teachers see their work. Help such students to show different sides of themselves, as they also need public recognition.
For instance, you can discuss their writing if they are not against it rather than forcing them to express their ideas verbally. The thing is introverts often struggle with words retrieval, and cannot enter a conversation even if they have much to say. Alternatively, you can give them a task to draw a comic strip, for example, so they could show their most creative side. Allow them to finish some tasks at home, since they need more time to achieve the level of quality they are satisfied with.
5. Ask them what they want
As simple as that. Teachers rarely ask students how they would like to be taught, although it is a win-win approach. Introverts would be grateful for such an opportunity. Give them some time to think it over and let them present themselves in their own way.
You will probably be surprised how inspiring and passionate they can be when given a chance to talk about what they really like.
Teachers need to accept the fact that introverts should not be “fixed” to succeed in life. Do not be afraid that additional efforts and changes made for them will spoil these kids. Like extroverts, they also have a right to shine in their own way and be accepted by their classmates. It’s just we are so used to existing unwritten rules that it is hard to notice their extrovert-centered nature.