This post was written by Judith Wightman, Professional Development Fellow and faculty in the Psychology department.
I have been interested in introversion for some time. When I started reading about the introversion/extroversion continuum, it helped me to understand many experiences I have had, including my general desire to be alone or with one or two other people at a time, my discomfort with large gatherings, and my need for quiet. When I began my role as a PDF, I found it to be an exciting chance to share the study of introversion with others. I had been dismayed about the seeming emphasis on extroversion in the education literature, and had to some extent internalized the notion that it’s not possible to identify as an introvert and to be a good teacher. I knew this couldn’t be right, as I had many good teachers over the years who were very quiet and contemplative, but I didn’t see much valuing of introversion in the teacher training resources I came across. My experience with the introversion series taught me that introversion can be a valuable trait in education, that many of my students are introverts, and that it’s possible for all of us, no matter where we fall on this continuum, to value each other’s contributions and to complement each other’s strengths. We had four participants in the first series, and we structured our discussions around the book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain.
One theme that emerged from the group’s discussions was on class participation. Introverts’ default setting may be to not speak up in class, but most instructors would say that participating is beneficial to the students who are talking, as well as to their classmates. Questions that kept coming to my mind included: (a) What does class participation mean?, and (b) What kind of participation is good for learning, and what kind is either not helpful or detrimental?
In general, I engage all students with content questions rather than with, “How do you feel about…?” Partly because I teach psychology courses, what comes easily for most students is to express opinions or emotions about something we are discussing. What’s harder, but important, is to engage with the source material and try to understand the conclusions of its authors. So participation in my classes is more likely to involve students reading an article and sharing what they learned with one other classmate (and that classmate, typically, has read a different article). In this kind of collaborative activity, students are learning to work with their classmates, but are less likely to feel physiologically overwhelmed or anxious, and can rely on their reading skills more than their ability to wow a crowd with their speaking style or opinions.
I had a number of ideas during the session for things I could do differently in the classroom. Some of these were suggested by the participants in the group, and others occurred to me while I was reading or discussing with my colleagues:
- Peer review of quizzes and exams (a participant suggested this as a way to build camaraderie among classmates and to help everyone learn the material that was most often missed).
- Provide written feedback to students on their exams and papers (I already do this, but am now thinking about it specifically as a way to help introverted students process the feedback in their own time).
- Value the strengths that extroverts bring to the classroom.
Regarding the last point, this is an insight that arose directly from “Quiet” and from the group’s discussion and was something I would not have come up with on my own. Cain shares a story about a retreat for introverts that she attended. She was surprised to find that it was almost too quiet. I began to consciously consider all of the strengths that my extroverted students contribute, including laughing out loud at my jokes, answering questions in front of the group, demonstrating at the front of the room how to use ANGEL or the Kirkwood email system, keeping things lively, helping quieter students to open up and feel more comfortable in class, and participating in fun conversations about difficult topics in class or in my office. Even though the “extrovert ideal” leads me to advocate hard for the needs and strengths of introverts, I would miss the extroverted folks if they weren’t there. As is often the recommendation in education, “mixing it up” is good. I need to ensure that students are interacting with and learning from people who are different from themselves, whether it’s in terms of income, ethnic group, values, or personality traits.
During our time together, I collected a variety of materials to use in future sessions. These include journal articles, video clips, sections of my textbooks, and online questionnaires. Cain includes a chapter near the end of her book on introverted children. I would like to do more with that content during the next iteration of the series, because much of what she writes about with kids at school applies equally well to introverted adult students. Newer editions of “Quiet” also include a reader’s guide at the back of the book which I think would be helpful to the group’s discussions. My hope is that the conversation about introversion and other personality traits will continue from semester to semester and will help faculty to appreciate what they bring to the classroom and how they can capitalize on their strengths in order to help students learn.
Many thanks to Nicky Cline, who co-facilitated the introversion series in fall 2013.
About Judith Wightman
My degree is in industrial/organizational psychology, which is the study of psychology applied to the workplace. KCELT provides many opportunities for organization development and I’m excited to contribute to the work of the Professional Development Fellows team. I teach Introduction to Psychology, Developmental Psychology, Social Psychology, and Human Sexuality in face-to-face and online formats.