An extrovert and an introvert walk into a classroom. One feels invigorated by engaging in group discussions while the other feels overwhelmed by the time the icebreaker activity ends. How can an instructor who strives for an inclusive classroom create an environment that fosters learning and growth for both the extrovert and introvert?
With group work, large discussion circles, and social seating arrangements, the classroom caters to the extrovert. Silberman claims that “placing participants in teams and giving them tasks in which they depend on each other to complete the work is a wonderful way to capitalize on their social needs” (1998, p.7). Silberman fails to recognize that not everyone has the same social needs. The active training he encourages may not meet but rather overwhelm the social needs of some students. In a classroom, one third to one half of the students are introverts (Cain, 2012). Introverts and extroverts have distinct methods of cognitive processing. According to Kline (2008), “extroverts think while they are talking [while] introverts must think carefully before speaking” (p.145). Introversion should not be confused with shyness, anxiety, or worse, unintelligence (Kim, 2002). Extroverts find social experiences energizing while introverts find them draining (Can, 2012). While Silberman (1998) claims that “the social component in the learning environment” is fundamental to adult learning, he neglects to recognize that misuse of social components may be detrimental to introverted learners (p.8).
While it is important to create an engaging classroom, an instructor is responsible for balancing the environment to meet the needs of both the introverted and extroverted students. Kim (2002) argues that introversion inclusion is a matter of cultural competency. European Americans have the tendency to think aloud, whereas East Asian Americans are more likely to process their thoughts silently. While that cultural difference may seem insignificant, Western culture associates talking with good analytical thinking. As a result, lesson plans, curricula, evaluations and social norms are formulated to encourage the cultural assumption that talking is thinking and thus that not talking is not thinking (Kim, 2002). This is a dangerous assumption for instructors to make, either consciously or not, as it can result in dismissing quiet yet bright students as less intelligent.
Discovering the Introverts
Being inclusive of introverts can begin before the class starts if the instructor has the opportunity to gather information about the participants beforehand. By “collect[ing] and reflect[ing] on the individual needs and the collective needs of the students,” an instructor can examine the introvert/extrovert make-up of the class (Estes, 2001, p.1). Questions which would indicate an introverted or extroverted learner should be included in pre-course information gathering. For example, an internet survey may be sent out before the course meets with true or false questions like “ I enjoy work that allows me to ‘dive in’ with few interruptions,” “I prefer not to show or discuss my work with others until it’s finished,” or “I tend to think before I speak” (Quiet Quiz, 2011).
Creating Ground Rules
Ground rules tend to include some version of the “move forward/move back” rule to encourage the talkative to take a moment to respond and allow the quieter to speak up more. An instructor must consider the best means of enforcing or implementing this rule. If the course structure requires a lot of participation, it may be valuable for the instructor to briefly explain introversion and extroversion and how the course will attempt to balance the needs of both.
Breaking the Ice for Introverts
Instructors should choose icebreaker activities that require pairs of people rather than groups (Stanchfield, 2007). Given that icebreakers are intended to increase the level of comfort, it would be in poor practice to always start by pushing introverts into an extroverted activity. Pushing an introvert too far outside of their comfort zone can result in loosing their trust (Stanchfield, 2007).
Participation Versus Engagement
Often a student’s grade is partially determined by participation. If an instructor views participation solely by the number of times a student spoke in class, the instructor is doing a disservice to introverts who may have participated in class differently. It is better to grade on engagement, which may include active listening, rather than just participation (Kim, 2002). While talking is often equated with thinking, this is not the case for the introvert who prefers silent thinking (Kim, 2002). Instructors should not devalue the students who prefer to engage in the classroom by listening.
Active Training and the Introverted Student
Two specific active training strategies balance the needs of introverts and extroverts. ‘Think-Pair-Share’ is a discussion strategy that incorporates individual contemplation, pair discussion, and large group work. Recent studies show that it is effective in improving critical thinking as well as group participation (Kaddoura, 2013; Kothiyal, Majumdar, Murthy, & Iyer, 2013). Bruess and Schroeder (2014) suggest using a fishbowl format for group-work. The fishbowl format uses “an inner group being observed by an outer group” (p. 184). Introverts may feel more comfortable talking in the inner group and more extroverted learners will have the opportunity to listen when placed in the outer group (Bruess & Schroeder, 2014).
Processing Time in a Sexuality Classroom
Being inclusive of introverts is important in all classrooms but should be given additional thought when addressing topics of human sexuality. These topics often require significant processing time due to their intimate nature. By arranging processing time to favor the extroverted, introverts may not feel they have had the time or space to process the material. Introverts need more introspective time to process material than extroverts (Cain, 2012), and instructors should be aware of this. It is the responsibility of instructors to provide the best opportunity for students, regardless of personality types and learning styles, to experience and process the material at hand (Estes, Mintz, & Gunter, 2011).
It is the responsibility of instructors to provide the best opportunities for students to experience and digest the material at hand. By being aware of the introverts in the classroom, instructors can set the classroom dynamics in place to allow all students to shine, not just the extroverts.
Bruess, C.E., & Schroeder, E. (2014). Sexuality education: Theory and practice (6th ed.). Burlington: Jones & Bartlett Learning.
Cain, S. (2012). Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. Crown Publishing Group.
Kaddoura, M. (2013). Think pair share: A teaching learning strategy to enhance students’ critical thinking. Educational Research Quarterly, 36(4), 3-24. Retrieved from http://0-search.ebscohost.com. libcat.widener.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=99990253&site=ehost-live
Kim, H.S. (2002). We talk, therefore we think? A cultural analysis of the effect of talking on thinking. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83(4), 828-842. doi: 10.1037// 0022-3522.214.171.1248
Kline, K. (2008). Learning to think and thinking to learn. Teaching Children Mathematics, 15(3), 144-151. Retrieved from http://0search.ebscohost.com.libcat.widener.edu/ login.aspxdirect=true&db= aph&AN =34599176&site=ehost-live
Kothiyal, A., Majumdar, R., Murthy, S., & Iyer, S. (2013). Effect of think-pair-share in a large CS1 class: 83% sustained engagement. Proceedings of the ninth annual international ACM conference on International computing education research (pp. 137-144). ACM. Retrieved from http://dl.acm.org/ citation.cfm?id=2493408
Quiet quiz: Are you an introvert or an extrovert. (2011). Retrieved from http://www.thepower ofintroverts.com/about-the-book/quiet-quiz-are-you-an-introvert/
Silberman, M. (1998). Active training: A handbook of technique, design, case examples, and tips. (2nd ed.) San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Pfieffer.
Stanchfield, J. (2007). Tips & tools: The art of experiential group facilitation. Oklahoma City: Wood ‘N’ Barnes Publishing.