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Introverts and MLEs

Last week, TED published this blog post, How to teach a young introvert based on an interview they did with Susan Cain, a strong proponent of introverts (see her TED talk The power of introverts).

The interview is an interesting read and it really got me thinking more about introverts and how we cater for them at school.

Hi. My name is Nathaniel and I am an introvert.

I really am.

From what I can tell, there are different levels of introvertedness (if that’s a word!)… I for one actually like to have people around me but mostly only if they’re family or close friends. I like to know that someone is around. I find it very difficult in rooms with people I don’t really know. Interestingly, I can get up and talk in front of an audience and I’m very happy sharing online! But I know other introverts who would rather simply be on their own. There must be quite a continuum of types of people from the incredibly introverted (hermits perhaps?) to the incredibly extroverted.

It seems like a negative thing—to be an introvert. Yet there are many introverts in the world and there will be some in your classroom.

Cain talks about being the quiet kid in the class. The ones that are expected to be more social and and outgoing. But that’s not their nature. Teachers need to be more aware of those students and cater to their needs rather than expect them to conform.

The way we do group work now doesn’t work for introverts. It can be too much for them. This for me is quite interesting. I hated group work and I still dislike having to participate at conferences/workshops etc during ‘icebreaker’ type activities. That just isn’t me. Cain suggests that the think-pair-share method works far better with introverts than putting them into slightly larger groups. In groups of two they can often manage better. My experience—I can manage better, but only if I don’t really have to say much. If you ask me a question I’ll answer it, but I’ll probably use as few words as possible (I think I usually write like that too… except maybe in blog posts where I let my thoughts wander a bit more). Cain says “less group work” will help the introverts. This feels like it flies in the face of a lot of what we see is important in current teaching practices. She is not saying “no group work” though, but rather is reminding us to be aware of the differences in the students we teach. Give options/choices so that students have some freedom to work how they feel most comfortable.

Probably the thing that most interested me from Cain’s interview was her discussion about the classroom spaces. She, possibly without realising, describes modern learning environments where there are larger open spaces but with a range of different spaces that students can go and learn so that there are solo spaces as well as group spaces. Cain reminds us that adults move amongst different types of spaces. Children want this opportunity too.

And in regards to technology Cain suggests that having apps which allow for collaboration both openly and anonymously will help our introverts feel more comfortable. She says,

Even if it’s not anonymous, the fact that a student is participating in a class discussion or a class blog online removes some of their own psychological barriers to participation

We need to consider the types of students in our classes. It’s not just about learning styles but about psychological needs. We also need to be open to these needs changing. Even the most outgoing person can have a bad day and just want space—their own space. Traditional single-celled classroom spaces don’t often allow for this, but as you can see from Anne Kenneally’s EDtalk below, you can adapt what you already have.

[vimeo 52111969 width=”500″ height=”281″]

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