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5 Ways Schools Can Better Accommodate Introverts

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In high school, I would always choose to work alone rather than in a group when it came to projects and activities. I was always the first one to raise my hand and ask, “Can we work by ourselves?” Sometimes the answer from the teacher was yes, but often I was disappointed to learn that I was going to be forced to work in a group. While I’m not a complete introvert, I do have introverted qualities, especially when it comes to learning. Time and time again, I witnessed the education system fail to accommodate my introverted style of learning. It’s hard to explain why exactly I wanted to work alone rather than in a group. It wasn’t that I was asocial or antisocial whatever you wan to call it- I enjoyed spending time with friends as much as the next student. Neither was I concerned about being put in a group with less intelligent students – my classmates were all extremely high-achieving in their academic studies. I suppose the simplest answer to why I wanted to work alone was that it was just easier for me. And it was probably easier because it was less stressful.

Talk to any student who went through the same thing I did and they will tell you that the current education system is outdated – even archaic.  We’ve advanced our knowledge in the areas of psychology by leaps and bounds during the last century, but the mainstream education system seems to be stuck in the 19th century for the most part. Rows of desks facing the teacher, and students listening intently to a lecture, always wary of the fact that they might be called upon to answer a question in front of the class. It’s been like this for over a hundred years. We’ve learned so much about extroverts and introverts thanks to brilliant psychologists such as Carl Jung. So why hasn’t the education system caught up? We have the opportunity to completely revolutionize education to better serve the varied minds of young people, but no one seems to be willing to take the first step.

There are many simple changes we can make right now that will help introverts learn comfortably and at an accelerated rate. Young children are our future. Investing in updating the way we educate them will benefit our society immensely. The problem is that in many first world countries, we seem to be cutting funding from schools more and more every day. The most frustrating thing about this is how easy it would be to implement these changes. Will they listen?

Don’t Force Students To Work In Groups

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The number one thing that introverted students have trouble with is working in groups. You wouldn’t notice how common this is in the average classroom unless you’re introverted yourself. If you’re an extrovert, it would seem normal to be put in groups to do a project or a lab, because that’s your natural state of being. But for introverts, being put in a group can seem totally counter-intuitive. When put in groups, Introverts have to deal with the added mental pressure of interacting with people and applying themselves to their schoolwork at the same time. Extroverts don’t have any problems with working in groups and doing schoolwork at the same time – in fact it’s easier for them. But for introverts, it can feel like you’ve just been asked to ride a bike and balance a ball on your head at the same time. They’ve essentially been given two difficult tasks (being in a group and working on classwork) instead of just one.

This can easily be solved by allowing students to work alone. Not just sometimes, all the time. There really needs to be more freedom in the classroom, and this is one way to do it. A lot of teachers will probably argue that there are some projects that are impossible to do alone. Examples would be certain experiments and performance-based projects like plays or movies. While this is true, it’s the teacher’s responsibility to provide a range of options for each student, and not lock them down to one particular type of project. Some of my best high school teachers would write on the blackboard a whole range of project ideas. We could choose one or even make up our own if we wanted. This freedom, combined with the option to work alone, could make introverted students’ lives much easier at school.

Suggested readings:

Why Schools Are Rethinking How to Teach Introverted Students

http://www.learningliftoff.com/why-schools-are-rethinking-how-to-teach-introverted-students/

Allow Students To Be Alone If They Want

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One of the biggest struggles introverts face is their need to be alone from time to time. Introverts really value their solitude, and sometimes this can be nearly impossible to find at school. Crowded hallways, loud cheering, people rushing from one classroom to the next… That’s pretty much an introvert’s worst nightmare. This is one of the main reasons schools can be so mentally exhausting for introverts. When they finally get home, it can be very hard for them to unwind and de-stress after such a long day with so many people. Although it might seem like a lame excuse, this can also cause introverts to shy away from doing homework. They’re just completely mentally, emotionally and physically drained. There’s not many places you can go at schools to be alone. There’s the library – quiet in theory but almost always just as crowded as the corridors. So what can we do to help introverts get their alone time at school?

What I loved about some of my favorite teachers was that they allowed us to go outside on sunny days to learn. Granted, those days were few and far between (my school was in rainy Vancouver), but they really helped me unwind. I would find a quiet, secluded spot outside and read my textbook or work on whatever the teacher had assigned that day. The benefits were wonderful for me, and I think a similar tactic could really help other introverted students. A student could also be allowed to simply put up their hand and go for a walk to clear their mind if needed. Other, more elaborate methods could also work. There could even be scheduled “alone time” where students could be be given the option to meditate quietly. It’s unfeasible to think that each student could be given their own area to be alone, but the school could also create “nap pods” to give students alone time if needed.

Stop Grading Students Based On Participation

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This might not be the same in all schools, but in high school I used to get a grade for academic progress, and then a separate grade for “participation.” This always seemed like a ridiculous idea to me. Participating in the class is a good thing, but should there really be a grade associated with it? What about the students who are less inclined to participate because of their natural personality? The problem is that introverted people can’t control the fact that they might not be putting up their hand as much as other more extroverted students. It’s just the way they are. So when you grade students based on participation, you are essentially giving extroverts a automatic good grade that they don’t really have to work that hard to achieve. On the other hand, that same grade will be extremely hard for introverts to attain, or even impossible in some cases. It’s a clear example of the school system favoring one type of student and their learning method over another. Some would even call it discriminatory.

I think we need to redefine what “participation” means in order to include more students. Does participation mean simply that a student puts up their hand and contributes more to the class discussion? Or can that definition be expanded to include other types of people as well? What if students were allowed to write down their thoughts instead of speaking out loud? Or what if they just waited till the class was over and discussed their opinions with the teacher one-on-one? Many introverts have no problem interacting with small groups, such as pairs, but speaking out in a large classroom setting can be stressful. So why not grade students based on how they interact and help other students outside of class discussion and activity? The problem is that these micro-interactions often go unnoticed by teachers. The trouble with grading students based on participation is that participation doesn’t just happen in group discussion or activity. And that’s why I think teachers should stop the practice altogether.

Don’t Single Students Out

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Teachers often single students out and force them to answer a question in front of the whole class. Extroverts will loudly and confidently speak their mind with ease, but introverted people often find this difficult and in some cases emotionally distressing. I understand what teachers are trying to do in these cases – by singling kids out they’re making sure that they’re listening and forcing them to participate. But while it may make sense to them logically, it doesn’t make sense from a psychological standpoint. Introverts might know the answer like the back of their hand, but will prefer to say “I don’t know” rather than spend minutes discussing their answer in front of the class. This gives the impression that the student is less intelligent than they actually are, all because they don’t want the entire classroom’s attention on them for longer than a few seconds. Another problem with singling students out is that introverts often take a much slower, more introspective method when thinking about problems. It may take them many minutes to ponder and meditate on a subject before they think they have the answer. Springing a question suddenly on them, like so many teachers do, can make them feel rushed and it doesn’t make sense considering their style of thinking.

So how can we fix this problem? The answer is simple. Don’t single students out! Allow the extroverted students to put up their hand and answer a question, but don’t call upon a student who obviously does not want to be put in a stressful situation. It doesn’t matter how much teachers think it will “help their confidence” or “bring them out of their shell,” it’s just not a good idea. If teachers really want to encourage class discussion, there are in fact some interesting alternatives that could engage both introverts and extroverts. One method that has been getting a lot of attention in the educational community is the “think-share-pair” approach. This technique involves a teacher posing a question to the class, and then the students turning to the person beside them and discussing the answer with each other in a one-on-one setting. Usually this is comfortable for both introverts and extroverts, and the teacher gets the sense that people are participating in their class. Everyone wins.

Suggested readings:

Why Schools Are Rethinking How to Teach Introverted Students

http://www.learningliftoff.com/why-schools-are-rethinking-how-to-teach-introverted-students/

Let Students Choose How They Learn

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I think the main thing we need to bring into today’s classroom is freedom. Students should be able to choose how they learn. Imagine an education system where students were given a broad subject and students were able to learn about whatever they wanted within that subject, in whatever way they wanted. For example, a class might be learning about space. A student could approach the teacher and say, “I’m really interested in how stars are born. Can I research that create an animated movie about how that process works?” Then the student would be free to do his own research and find out what they wanted to learn about. The great thing about this is that introverts could learn in an introverted way, and then present their work to the class in a way that they were comfortable with. Everyone would be free to learn in a way that best suited their own style. As we know, there are people that learn best by listening, writing, reading, talking, and many other styles. Why should we limit everyone to one type of learning?

I know what you’re thinking: What about the curriculum? What about standards and criteria and all of those wonderful things? These are ideas that are stuck in the past. There are a few subjects where it’s necessary that students learn the same skills as others, such as math, science, and grammar. These subjects contain certain skills that everyone must learn. But students could choose to learn these skills in their own way rather than listen to a teacher talk about it in class, for example. Other subjects, such as history, art and languages could easily allow deviations from the curriculum. Imagine a classroom where every student learned about what they wanted, in their own way, and then came back with their new knowledge and shared it with the entire class. Students could even test each other based on what they had learned. Wouldn’t that be a more efficient way of learning? Wouldn’t a whole group teaching each other be more efficient than one teacher trying to teach everyone? One thing’s for sure, the education system needs to wake up and catch up to the 21st century.

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Written by Sosa Manuel

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Elliot Figueira has had a passion for writing since he was extremely young. He's also very interested in psychology, and is an admirer of Carl Jung. He enjoys writing about all kinds of subjects, because every day he learns something new.

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  1. Learning is a complex individual, social and cultural process. It should concentrate more on the development of social skills and, of course, work skills, rather than provoking competition among students, but fails epically.

    The feeling of being obligatory and limiting becomes tedious to education, more like a meaningless accumulation of useless data than an action with purpose.

    Added to that, and as you expose, forcing yourself to extreme your stress levels when doing certain things is very contradictory and counterproductive. The competency model is very pleasing to me, but I hate to see shy or anxious colleagues exposing a topic in class and feeling visibly uncomfortable being there, far from promoting an interest in learning, they are generating an aversion to them. Sad.

    Your suggestions are quite good and quite friendly. I will apply them in the next class with teenagers. I’ll give you an update on that 🙂

  2. As an introvert who was educated in a schol system in which (at the time) 60% of your grade were determined by how often you raised your hand during a lesson, I could relate to this article in so many ways. I think every teacher I ever had has said at least once to me:”Your grades could be so good, if you just raised your hand once in a while!”
    But speakig in front of the whole class was just too nerve-racking.
    This is the reason why I would like argue in favor of group work, because I actually benefited form this type of learning. It gave me a chance to voice my thoughts in a smaller setting and ultimately tought me how to deal with the uncomfortable situation of talking to people I did not know that well (because let’s face it, this will happen sooner or later in your everyday life).
    All in all: it took some of the pressure away.
    I absolutely think that most school systems work in favor of extroverts and that we need more diversity in the teaching methods and more options to chose from, because different types people thrive in different types of environments.

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5 Ways Schools Can Better Accommodate Introverts