In introducing herself to her students, Lauren Peña sometimes tells them that she can relate to Star Trek’s Dr. Spock.
If the fictional character took the popular Myers-Briggs personality test, he would probably be an ISTJ, just like Peña, a director of instructional technology and a Spanish teacher at Bishop McGuinness Catholic High School in Oklahoma City.
For those not steeped in Myers-Briggs terminology, the “I” in that acronym stands for Introvert, or a person who “recharges their battery” with some solid alone time, Peña said during a virtual presentation at the International Society for Technology in Education’s annual conference June 26-29.
Introverts are often the quiet kids in the class, overshadowed by exuberant extroverts who recharge by spending time with others. To be effective, teachers need to understand that both types of students—and the “ambiverts” somewhere in the middle—have their own special strengths, Peña said.
“We have our extroverted students, who we love, who we cannot get to shut up sometimes during our class discussion,” she said. “And then we have our introverted students who it’s like pulling teeth to get them to say anything. So how do we go from both ends of the spectrum?”
Finding the right balance is tricky, Peña acknowledged.
But teachers can look to technology—as well as some decidedly low-tech strategies—for help, she said.
Here are some of Peña’s favorite ways to ensure she’s reaching the different personalities in her classroom, informed by author and lecturer Susan Cain’s best-selling book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.
Use technology to help kids who would rather show engagement in a different way
Sure, teachers need to get a sense of their students’ progress. But sharing something aloud in class can be tough for introverts.
“Think of technology as a bridge rather than a crutch,” Peña said. “We tend to say, ‘well, these kids now, they’re so anxious’” and reliant on technology that they “can’t even have a conversation with somebody, so I’m going to force them to. That doesn’t seem like the best way to get over a traumatic situation. It seems like another traumatic situation.”
Instead, teachers should “embrace the fact that these students live online and know to how discuss things online,” Peña said, giving teachers a chance to find out what introverted students have learned “without necessarily putting them at the center of attention.”
Google Slides, for instance, has a “cool” feature called Q&A, Peña said, which allows a teacher to pose a question kids can answer in writing. And two tools that allow students or entire classes to create a digital bulletin board—Padlet and Jamboard—“are really good for our introverted students because it gives them an opportunity to speak up, sometimes anonymously,” Peña said.
The technology doesn’t have to be particularly complex, either. Teachers can look for opportunities for kids to live chat online during class. Lecture time is probably not the most appropriate moment for that since students could get distracted. But if kids are watching a movie based on a book they’ve read in class, they can share their reactions on something as simple as a Google Doc.
“Maybe they’re asking questions,” Peña said. “They’re saying, ‘that’s not how it was in the book!’”
Give introverts time to process and remind extroverts when to let someone else share
There’s a lot of research describing introverted people as “extremely sensitive,” Peña said. Sometimes, just the noise in the classroom “is enough to turn them off completely. We help with the sensitivity by allowing some time to think, by allowing some quiet in our day,” she explained.
Since introverts like extra processing time, give students a heads up about what topics they’ll be learning about in class the next day, or even provide discussion questions in advance. This strategy can benefit extroverts too, since they can “get their excitement out and then come to class prepared to say the things that need to be said, instead of just all the things.”
Extroverts may need help structuring time in another way. When kids talk in pairs or small groups, set a timer so that extroverts realize, “I’m only allowed this much time to talk and then I need to ask my friends what they think,” Peña said.
If a student says they have anxiety, assume they are telling the truth
Anxiety, which has been on the rise during the pandemic, can present as introversion, Peña said.
It’s true that some students may say they’re anxious in order to get more time on an assignment, or take a test another day, Peña said. “We know that our high schoolers [have] learned that anxiety is a word they can use to get out of doing schoolwork sometimes,” she said. But “we also have our students who are legitimately anxious and legitimately cannot get a doctor’s note saying so. So I would rather err on the side of being kind to kids.”
Remember, introversion isn’t a problem to be dealt with
Peña once taught at a school that encouraged teachers to use “Socratic seminars,” a style of deep classroom discussion that requires spoken participation from each student.
One of her colleague’s shy son found those discussions very difficult. She shared this with his teacher, who told her “’that’s okay, we will fix that,’” Peña recalled. The mother was taken aback, she said.
“It just made her kind of sad,” Peña said. “She felt like the teacher thought it was his job to fix her son. He’s not broken, just quiet. And that is a totally acceptable way to be.”