I confess: I am an introvert.
A mild one, but it is my default inclination. I avoid parties, large crowds, as often as not you will find me reading a book when sitting at a bar (I traveled a lot for the Army).
I definitely need quiet time to recharge after a long day of contact with people. According to Susan Cain I’m in good company. She claims that introverts are roughly 50 percent of the population, meaning our seminars have a lot of introverts. It also makes me sympathetic to a problem I see with my own teaching.
Don’t confuse introversion with shyness. I am reserved and often prefer solitude, but I am not shy. Shyness is a fear of social disapproval or humiliation (Cain, 2013). As both introverts and extroverts can be shy it requires a different strategy altogether.
Shy students worry about appearing wrong in front of me and their peers because they see their success as a result of their intelligence, not effort. As a result, every utterance and interaction puts their intelligence on the line. They become risk averse. For these students we need to inculcate a growth mindset, that intelligence grows with effort and experience. We need them to know that learning requires risk (Lucariello et. al., 2012).
Introverts are likely more overstimulated than afraid. As a rule they (we) are prone to spend long hours contemplating ideas, and much to the consternation of our extrovert friends (who are always out doing something), we enjoy and find relaxation in discussing these ideas in a small circle of friends.
Despite extroverted perceptions, introverts (we) are often confident, and strong willed.
I think Cain over plays the bias against introverts and the “struggle” we each have, but she raises some good points about teaching and learning. We do need to balance our instructional design, seminar management, and grading standards toward both ends of the spectrum.
To be fair, I think we make as many demands of the extrovert as we do the introvert. We want contemplation and a bias toward higher order thinking, a decidedly difficult thing for the action oriented extrovert who is always ready to wrap up projects and move on.
The 21-student seminar seems to me to provide a nice balance. It’s an intimate setting, but it’s not low key. It balances discussion between large and small groups, and provides ample informal writing opportunities for the introvert to work out their ideas.
There are three introvert inhibiting elements of our FYS seminar: whole class discussions, the artificiality of the 50-minute segment (and product production), and the zeal for participation.
When we gather in a circle to discuss anything, by the time many introverts are ready to comment the extroverts have moved on to a new topic. I see this, but often err on the extrovert’s side. Stepping in to control the conversation always strikes me as too faculty centric.
In the main being an introvert helps me teach a student-led seminar as I am quite willing to and comfortable with sharing the spot light, but I wonder sometimes if I am rationalizing introverted behavior at the expense of my introverts.
As faculty we also need to step back from any unfair notions that extroverts resist deep thinking and quiet time. They don’t, but they draw their energy and work out their big ideas through social engagement with people.
While the introverts need to learn how to share, we can help our extroverts learn to improve their emotional intelligence (a measure of how we handle relationships) to pause long enough for the introverts to contribute.
Think about it for a bit. Watch Cain’s Ted Talk https://www.ted.com/talks/susan_cain_the_power_of_introverts (or read her book) and consider whether we’re truly developing a balanced approach to seminar learning.
What if we:
- Didn’t view silence as a negative? We don’t always have to have “energy” in the room.
- Developed hybrid models of FYS that included forums instead of seminar discussion?
- Made sure small groups are focused on contemplation and reflection, not product production or the need to (every time) report out their findings? (This feels horrible to the extroverts…but perhaps it’s a blessing for the introverts…) I know Ivan spends a lot of time in seminar focused on reflection…perhaps he can share in the comments!
- Rewarded evidence of contemplation as “presence” in class – in other words stop grading papers as products but as an extension of discussion?
- Asked the extroverts to self-restrain? Not to get those “non-participants” to finally pitch in, but to recognize that they may always be filling a vacuum of their own making.
- Jumped into discussions to suggest a short pause, and then after a time asking (by name?) a few known introverts to offer a question?
I think these are in line with our ELOs, particularly the one that focuses on communication: read, write, and develop oral communication skills so they can create knowledge cooperatively, and to share knowledge with others.
I ask myself all the time if we’re under-preparing nearly ½ of our students for the post-QU world where they must navigate Cain’s sense of the extroverted workplace. And I worry.
My ideas are clearly limited as the problem persists. What do you think?
Cain, S. (2012). Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking (1st ed.). New York: Crown Publishers.
Lucariello, J. M., Nastasi, B. K., Anderman, E. M., Dwyer, C., Ormiston, H., & Skiba, R. (2016). Science supports education: The behavioral research base for psychology’s top 20 principles for enhancing teaching and learning: Science supports education. Mind, Brain, and Education, , n/a. doi:10.1111/mbe.12099
**This is an edited version of a post from last year’s blog.