As many teachers will be well aware, it can be all too easy to overlook introverts in the classroom. Unlike extroverts, who tend to vie for attention and confidently offer up their own thoughts and opinions on particular topics, introverts are more than happy to fade into the background.
Unfortunately, the natural tendencies of introverts to prefer their own company and to stay relatively quiet in large groups can sometimes be interpreted as arrogant or as evidence that they have nothing to offer. This could not be further from the truth, however.
We live in a society that favors extroverts. We have learned to view confidence as a marker of success and come to believe that introverts are less able to build strong careers, particularly in the business world.
How to support introverts in the classroom
Whilst extroverts may find it easier to ace job interviews or get up on stage, however, there are plenty of areas in which introverts come out on top. A recent study, for example, showed that introverts tend to process information slower and more thoughtfully than extroverts, making them:
- Good listeners
- Careful observers
- Good at developing strong friendships
- Compassionate leaders
With so much to offer, therefore, it is important that teachers nurture the natural talents of introverts. Rather than simply focusing on encouraging them to speak up more often, try to boost their propensity for thoughtfulness and sensitivity.
If you need a little guidance with helping introverts, take note of the following advice:
1. Take time to consider the positive qualities of introverts
Introverts are not only characterized by their sensitivity or shyness. They can also be kind, witty, creative, observant and emotionally intelligent. Taking the time to think about the positive qualities of your more introverted students will remind you to stop focusing so much of your attention on their extroverted peers.
2. Remember that introversion is very common
It is estimated that between one third and 50% of Americans can be classed as introverts. This is a huge number and demonstrates that you need to look out for the needs of introverts in order to serve the whole class.
3. Create special zones for introverts in your classroom
Classrooms tend to be big communal spaces that cater to the needs of extroverts. Introverts, however, often need a few moments of time by themselves throughout the day in order to recharge their batteries. To facilitate this, try designating a few quiet areas in the classroom for introverts to retreat to when they feel a little overwhelmed.
4. Include a few minutes of quiet time into your class’s daily schedule
Including a few minutes of quiet time in your class’s daily routine is a great way to give introverts a break from the buzz of the classroom and to show extroverts the value of taking time to reflect and work quietly. During quiet time, allow the students to take on calming activities such as drawing, meditating, painting or reading. This time will also give you a few minutes to get on with tasks such as marking tests or planning lessons!
5. Demonstrate the power of thinking before speaking
Introverts are great at taking time to think about a question before offering up an answer. In the classroom, however, extroverts often drown out the voices of introverts by answering questions straight away. To give introverts time to speak up, try asking students to wait for a minute or two before answering a question. You may be impressed by the thoughtful answers you receive.
6. Alternate between teaching strategies throughout the day
To cater for both extroverts and introverts, try mixing up your teaching style throughout the day. You could start by organizing group activities, for example, followed by solo reading time, a whole-class discussion and, finally, quiet reflection time.
7. Don’t be afraid to directly address a student’s introverted nature during one-on-one time
Remember that introverted students will be very aware of their tendency to be quieter than other students and will not be hurt if you point this out during one-on-one chats. Asking the child whether they would like help to develop their confidence is a kind way of supporting their personal growth.
It may be the case that they are perfectly happy with their introversion and do not wish to make any significant changes to their personality. This should be respected.