How to Help Introverted Students Express Themselves in Class

By Alyson Klein — June 26, 2019 4 min read
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Every teacher has them. The kids who sit quietly in the back of class, who don’t raise their hand. The ones who shudder at the idea of group work. The introverts.

Those kids can have a tough time in a society where being called “outgoing” is usually a compliment, where class participation counts towards your grade, and where schools are pushed to teach students so-called “21st century skills” such as collaboration, said Ashley Overton, an assistant professor at Trine University in Angola, Ind., during a session at the International Society for Technology in Education annual conference here.

But introverts aren’t rare. In fact, they make up about a third to a half of all students, according to data Overton shared.

Luckily, she said, technology can help reach students who might be reluctant to raise their hands in class or volunteer to be the line leader.

First she shot down some common misconceptions about introverts:

  • Introverts don’t like people. Actually they just tend to prefer small groups, or interacting one-on-one.
  • Introverts don’t like social settings. Not true. They just value deep conversation and need time to recharge after, maybe by say, bingeing three hours of The Office on Netflix after a party, Overton suggested.
  • It’s easy to identify introverts. Not always. They can be active in social settings.
  • Extroverts make better leaders than introverts. In fact, some heavy hitters, including former President Barack Obama and Warren Buffet, the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, are introverts. So was Rosa Parks.
  • Introverts are just shy. Actually, many are just afraid of being judged negatively.

In the classroom, it’s important for teachers to remember that introverts like to “work slowly and deliberately,” Overton said. Teachers usually give students about three seconds to respond to a question. That’s just not going to be enough time for most introverts, she said, who are more likely to listen than to talk, and like to think carefully before they speak up.

So how can teachers, many of whom are extroverts, reach these students? After all, they still need to learn how to work with their peers and collaborate in class.

Technology can allow students to participate in a way that gives them time to think and collect their thoughts, said Megan Tolin, a former high school science teacher who is now the director of technology, innovation, and pedagogy at Indiana University School of Education, and presented with Overton at ISTE.

Her suggestions:

  • Set up a backchannel for who might not want to raise their hand to communicate during a lecture. Possibilities include Padlet, which allows students to comment on a lecture or lesson in real time, or the similar backchannelchat.com. Teachers can monitor questions, including from more introverted students, and answer them without anyone in class knowing who the questioner was.
  • Collaborative notetaking. That can be done through something as simple as Google Docs, which allows students to take notes and ask questions right in the document. Microsoft’s Office 365 offers a similar feature, she added. This allows introverted kids to process information and respond in their own time, without having to speak before the whole class. And it allows them to work with others, without as much direct interaction. It’s great for small group instruction, or projects, Tolin said
  • Google Slides. This presentation program allows students to ask questions that only the teacher can see. Again, introverted students can participate without having to speak up.
  • Nearpod/Pear Deck. These presentation programs are typically used in 1-to-1 computing environments, and allow the teacher to showcase a lesson on each student’s device. Students can participate in polls or answer questions, without having to speak up in class.
  • Flipgrid. This video software allows teachers to put up a prompt and students can record their answer to the question. “You are giving them time to process and think,” Tolin said. Any recordings the student doesn’t like can be deleted. Students will still get practice sharing their ideas in an oral presentation, but “it takes away that anxiety of talking in front of everyone,” Tolin said.
  • Make a ‘word cloud.’ Programs like Answer Garden and Answer Pad give students another way to participate without having to speak up in class.

Maria Daull, a pre-engineering teacher at Wadsworth High School in Wadsworth, Ohio, who attended the session, considers herself an extrovert and has trouble relating to some of her more introverted students. She has already tried some of the techniques Overton and Tolin mentioned for general student engagement, but hadn’t realized that they were a way to help her most introverted students feel comfortable in class.

“The connection I have with my students is incredibly important,” she said. “The student I have the hardest time figuring out is the introvert because they are so quiet. They are very hard to read. Knowing they need the time to process, I think that’s really valuable for me.”

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.