Aug 21, 2012 by Sherrelle Walker, M.A.

student introversion

When it comes to dynamic, busy environments, today’s school classroom is one of the busiest. Most teachers must manage upwards of 25 learners, sometimes 30 or more, and help them all move together towards specific learning goals. In such environments, academic ability is only one part of the equation determining a student’s ability to function and succeed.  The rest depends to a significant degree upon aspects of temperament, such as whether the learner is an introvert or extrovert.  

Extroverts – simply because they are outgoing, social, and talkative – tend to be more visible to their teachers and classmates. They shine brightly. They are often natural leaders and may be the first ones to raise their hands and speak up with quick answers. While such a desire to interact is an excellent asset, it can also result in responses that are not fully thought through. The extrovert might be the first one to enthusiastically jump into a project, but may do so before gaining clarity on direction and goals. But when it comes to staying energized to learn, interacting with others gives them a real, palpable boost.

But what about introverts?  Because they can be quiet in a bustling group setting, they may not be as visible to their teachers and classmates.  However, they bring much to the table. In fact, the introverts’ perspective has the potential to bring quiet leadership and methodical perspective to the classroom dynamic that – if we’re not tuned in to it – can go untapped. The more we can understand their outlook on the world, the more effectively we can implement strategies to nurture their strengths.

Often described as having sensitive temperaments, introverts need to find comfortable ways into stimulating social situations. In classrooms, such students take their time to get acclimated to new settings or new people. They might not speak up in large discussions, but they work well on their own and often excel in small groups. Unlike extroverted individuals, introverts recharge by taking quiet time to process their experience away from the group.   Their reflectiveness can be a significant strength, taking learning deeper.

According to neuroscience researcher and psychoanalyst Marti Olsen Lany, Psy.D., there is a biological basis for the differences between introversion and extroversion. She explains that the dopamine that our brains produce in situations like parties tends to give extroverted people a pleasurable feeling. In introverted people, on the other hand, the same stimulation can create a sensory overload. 

Is one type more common than the other? Education Weekreports that 50 percent of us are extroverts and 50 percent are introverts – an even split. Thus, the essential question for educators to consider is how can we help harness the hidden strengths of both kinds of students in the same learning environments?

So, how can we best support all students – introverted as well as extroverted – in the classroom?

  • At the beginning of the year, make it a goal to get to know each student individually to develop a feel for where they land on the introvert-extrovert spectrum.
  • Plan for a flexible classroom environment that allows introverted students the space they need to get acclimated to the group.
  • Without singling anyone out, explain to students the differences between introversion and extroversion to help foster self-awareness and allow each individual to take better charge of their own learning. 
  • Balance classroom time between large groups, small groups and independent work to create multiple environments where both kinds of students can think, learn and express themselves effectively.
  • Place an equal value on interactive discussion and thoughtful independent work.

Although our culture values extroversion, introverted students cannot simply change the way they experience and interact with the world. As educators, we need to learn to recognize them and to focus our energies on seeing their strengths, so that we can teach them to harness and cultivate their abilities. In doing so, we will help our introverted learners develop the self-confidence and self-knowledge they need to successfully pursue their dreams.  And that’s a benefit for all of us. 



For further reading:                      

Raising an Introvert in an Extrovert World

Studies Illustrate Plight of Introverted Students

Don’t Call Introverted Children ‘Shy’

Related reading

Creating Safe Learning Environments: How Classroom Management Influences Student Performance

Building Your Child’s Self-Confidence

Categories: Reading & Learning