In any college classroom, you will get a mix of introverted and extroverted students. The extroverts will be the ones in the front row always happy to answer a question, lend their voice to a discussion, and lead the team of a group project. Introverts may linger in the back of the classroom, remain quiet during discussion, but then submit profound essays. How can you as a college professor cultivate your introverts and extroverts while also challenging them? By understanding the particular needs of extroverts and introverts, you can improve student engagement and ensure that all your students thrive in your classroom.
The challenge of teaching introverts
According to Psychology Today, roughly 16% to 50% of the students in your classroom may sit on the introverted side of the personality spectrum. When Carl Jung conceived of the “introverted” and “extroverted” dichotomy in the 1920s, he described introverts as those who are energized from being alone. Highly introverted people can become easily overwhelmed in environments with a lot of stimuli, like a college classroom.
In recent years, teachers and professors have started to realize that introverted students need to be recognized and supported in the classroom. In her revolutionary book on the topic called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, author Susan Cain makes the point that classroom activities often favor extroverts. They tend to reward students who raise their hands, participate in discussions, and work well in group projects. As a teacher, it may take extra work to recognize and cultivate your more introverted students. (Check out these six great strategies to reach introverted students.)
The challenge of teaching extroverts
This isn’t to say that extroverts have it easy in every classroom. Around 50% to 74% of your students will be extroverts, which Carl Jung described as drawing energy from being around other people. Strong extroverts thrive in group discussions and group projects, but they may struggle with silent reading time, writing essays, or devising solo projects.
If you tend toward introversion, you may inadvertently structure your class in a way that favors introverts. Additionally, as you try to engage introverted students, don’t forget about your energetic and eager extroverts. A strong classroom will provide balance and support to both types of students.
Here are five ways to do that:
Change your perspective on participation
Tanner Higgin of Sense Education, a company that provides digital lesson plans, explains “Participation is often conflated with thinking out loud, and that’s something at which extroverts excel but with which introverts struggle.” Higgin suggests that teachers redefine what they consider participation to include things like “asking a thoughtful question, helping others, volunteering, coming to office hours or staying after class, posting in an online forum, doing revisions of work, and beyond.” Think about how you can give both your extroverted and introverted students ways to engage with the class, especially if participation affects their grade.
Include extroverted and introverted activities into the classroom
Introverted and extroverted students need to be supported in the classroom and also challenged! You can do both by intentionally devising a classroom that incorporates introverted activities, like silent reading, writing essays, and reflective work, as well as extroverted activities, like group projects, class discussions, and presentations.
Students on the far end of either spectrum may struggle with some of these activities, but these are opportunities for them to overcome weaknesses and either come out of their shells or learn to gain comfort with challenging situations.
Think, pair, share
One particular strategy suggested by teacher Christi Wilson on the educator news site, Teach Thought is “Think, Pair, Share.” This activity starts by allowing students to individually reflect on a problem or question and write down their answer. They then partner with another student and share their answer. Giving students time to consider their answers will support the reflective instincts of your introverts while sharing their answer with a partner will engage your extroverted students without overwhelming your introverts. Often, this type of activity will give your introverts the space they need to really shine as they engage with their partner.
Give your students options
You want your students to present on a reading assignment. Your introverts may quake at the thought of working on their presentation in a big group, while your extroverts will shudder if you assign a personal essay.
Give students the choice of how they want to present their newfound knowledge. Your extroverts may naturally gravitate toward a group-style project, while your introverts may surprise you with their creativity by writing a song, making an animated video, or putting together a detailed slide deck.
Offer multiple ways to communicate
Your introverted students may not be comfortable raising their hand in class, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a lot to say. Writing for the education website AMLE, Patricia Clendening Buzzerio explains “Actually, more gifted students are introverted on average and as the IQ scores go up, the percentage of introverted students goes up.” Her words aren’t meant to put down extroverted students, only to make the point that introverted students “are often deep thinkers with deep interests, have exceptional powers of engagement, and are often creative problem solvers.”
Help them share their gifts with the class by creating multiple ways for your students to communicate with each other and with you. Consider creating a student messaging platform, like Slack, where your students can continue discussions after class, share their thoughts, and ask questions. Set up virtual office hours and encourage students to email you if they prefer not to approach you in person.
Many different types of technology and new apps make it easier than ever for you and your students to communicate in a way that can increase student engagement. (See our list of 10 essential apps for the school year.) That includes Poll Everywhere, which allows you to anonymously survey your students in real-time. Ask questions, and they can use a link or code to respond through their phones, tablets, or laptops. The answers will populate as they come in, creating live charts and graphs that can provide insight into student preferences, what topics they need help with, and even how they respond to your teaching style.
Using these tips and more, you can create a classroom that feels welcoming to introverts, extroverts, and everyone in-between.