Quiet Appreciation: Encouraging the Talents of Introverts

In the move away from the teacher-centered classroom towards a student-centered one, a classroom is often set up in “pods” of desks rather than in rows.  Most tasks are done in cooperative learning groups rather than the teacher lecturing to the class.  Many educators and parents consider the student-centered classroom the ideal.  But in the move towards the learner-centered classroom, ironically, a third to half of learning styles may not be addressed if teachers rely heavily on cooperative and collaborative learning.

In Susan Cain’s Ted Talks video, “The Power of Introverts,” she expresses concern regarding the over-emphasis on group learning in the classroom and the challenges it presents for the introvert.  She recognizes that extroversion has become the ideal in the United States and that introversion tends to be looked down upon.  History shows us though that many of our most revered thinkers were introverts who did their best work with quiet strength and often in isolation: Ghandi, Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, Rosa Parks, and Steve Wozniak, to name but a few.
The student-centered classroomhas its roots in the educational philosophy of John Dewey and Lev Vygotsky.  Both of these philosophers asserted that learning is a social process.  Consequently, “student centered” tends to mean “group work.”  

Introverts generally do their best thinking alone.  They tend to prefer listening over talking.  Introverts are energized when they are by themselves or in small, well chosen, groups of people.  It is a basic personality trait with which people are born.  The classroom that requires introverts to think and work constantly in groups does not play to the strengths of students with introverted personalities.   That’s why personalized learning platforms offer so much promise – they allow all students access to individualized instruction at their own level.

Taken at face value “student-centered” should be about playing to our students strengths as well as encouraging them to overcome challenges.  For the introvert, working in groups and actively asserting themselves in an unfamiliar situation tends to be the challenge.  For extroverts, focusing, thinking, and working by themselves is.  Both sets of qualities are equally important in an ever changing world.  As teachers enacting the student-centered classroom, we serve our students by helping them move outside of their comfort zone but equally, if not more important, is identifying and encouraging their strengths.

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