It’s parents’ evening, and at every appointment in the carousel, the feedback is the same: “Laura is really quiet and would benefit from sharing more of her answers in class."
Introverted students like Laura make up the silent minority of our classrooms. These learners are not necessarily shy or antisocial; their energy just comes from having time to be quiet and reflect. Often, they are deep thinkers, studious and prone to inspiring levels of passion and diligence.
But in the loud and interpersonally demanding environment of the classroom, these quiet souls are often left floundering. So what can we do to help them flourish? Here are some ideas.
1. Give quiet students thinking time
All students need time to formulate answers and collect their thoughts, but this is especially true for introverts: pouncing on them without leaving scope for the reflection they need will leave them feeling less confident.
Solve this by giving them time to script an answer in writing first or by planning a "pair share" activity before whole-class discussion. Even three seconds of reflection after questioning will have a positive impact.
2. Don’t fear silence
Some teachers seem to have an irrational fear of silence. In their classrooms there is always noise of one kind or another: they buy into the illusion that "loud" equals "learning".
But this robs introverts of the opportunity to concentrate. Sometimes we need to channel our students’ need for quiet, insisting on the silence that will help them to think carefully and make sense of the more interactive part of the lesson.
3. Praise in small ways
As teachers, it is crucial that we make all of our students feel like individuals. Our more introverted students still need us to recognise them and to value their contribution – they just might not want the same degree of public veneration as others.
Instead of praising these students in front of the whole class, have an individual conversation, leave a note in their workbook or a make a phone call home. These small gestures can go a long way in celebrating their contributions.
4. Carefully plan dialogue
We have a responsibility to slowly develop our students’ abilities to engage in group and class dialogue. The key is to find that vital spot between challenge and anxiety.
Group situations can often be overstimulating for introverts, so we need to give careful thought to how they are managed. It may be we start with one-on-one conversations, then gradually build this up to larger groups. The movement to sharing answers in class will then be less demanding.
5, Celebrate introversion
Our more introverted students can provide us with excellent work when they really put their powers of concentration to the test.
We need to find ways of celebrating their strengths, just as we celebrate the efforts of our more extroverted students. This means drawing attention to and validating the work that students do internally: focusing, reflecting and thinking.
And, perhaps most importantly, we can rephrase those parents’ evening conversations. We can encourage parents and students to see that a quiet disposition is something to be championed; a quality that is often missing in modern society.
In doing this, we will empower young introverts to feel that they too can achieve whatever they put their minds to – quietly.
Jamie Thom is an English teacher at Cramlington Learning Village. His book A Quiet Education will be published in November 2019. He tweets @teachgratitude1