Education and Schooling #14: How to Teach an Introvert

Remember Susan Cain? You may have seen her fabulous TED talk that I posted a while ago, based on her book, Quiet: the Power of Introverts.

The guru on introverts in an extraverted world, she gives ten tips for parenting introverts on her website, and now she’s got some ideas for how teachers can nurture introverts in their classrooms.

How to teach an introvert - some great tips from Susan Cain |

Susan Cain with her bag of treasures.

Reading her tips – remember she’s American – I’m fairly sure that lots of New Zealand schools and teachers cover these bases pretty well, and she acknowledges that plenty of American teachers do too. So consider this a helpful checklist rather than criticism.

I’d love to hear from teachers, parents, and introverts of all ages: what do you think helps introverts make the most of a classroom learning situation?

Here are some extracts from the article.

First up, the big picture:

[We need t]o raise awareness of what an extroverted act it is in the first place to go to school. All day long, you are in a classroom full of people with constant stimulation. Even for introverted kids who really like school, it’s still a very overstimulating experience.

On stimulation:

There’s a well-known study in psychology by a guy named Russell Geen. He gave learning tasks to kids to solve, with varying levels of background noise. He found that the extroverts did best when the noise was louder, and the introverts did best when the noise was softer. If you take that research and apply it to the classroom, it’s crying out for a solution that is less one-size-fits-all — and that allows students to pick the amount of stimulation that is right for them in that moment.

On group work and class participation:

I’d like to challenge teachers to rethink what they mean by class participation and start thinking of it as classroom engagement instead. Participation ends up rewarding quantity, so you get kids raising their hands for the sake of talking, and that’s not really in anybody’s interest. But engagement recognizes that there are a lot of different ways to engage with the material and with your peers. If you think more broadly about it, a student who’s a good listener or who gives one really great, reflective comment is just as valued as the one who’s always raising their hand.

On school design:

I’m imagining spaces that are more flexible so at any given moment, you can choose: Do I want to be in a solo space? Do I want to be in a small group space? Do I want to be in a more crowded, lively space? A design that really takes into account the fact that all of us toggle back and forth in our days between wanting each of those three kinds of spaces. Right now, our schools are designed with a kind of monolithic sense of space.

Introverts, parents and teachers, what do you think? Do you have ideas to share that have worked well?

If you missed it, Susan Cain’s original TED talk is well worth a watch:

This is part of an occasional, varied series on education and schooling. You can see the series list here.

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4 comments on “Education and Schooling #14: How to Teach an Introvert”

  1. Elke Keeling Reply

    Hi Thalia, I love Susan Cain’s stuff because she is about extroverts AND introverts being valued. I look at this for our church settings in Children’s Ministry where most environments are more geared to extroverted ways of processing. It is encouraging to see a conversation starting about spiritual formation and allowing children SPACE and TIME to respond to God rather than having right answers or being the up front performance

    • not a wild hera Reply

      Hi Elke,

      Great application of this stuff to church life!

      Have you seen particular things in action where introverted spirituality is nurtured in kids? I’d love to hear more!

  2. lisa lock Reply

    Interesting stuff.. I have just been thinking the same sort of questions about my daughter who is a free spirit. Like I was and am. It seems that everyone wants their kids to be free spirits but its quite hard work not conforming!

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