Meeting the Need of Introverts in the Collaborative Classroom @ The Global Math Department

I just watched this week’s presentation on “Meeting the Needs of Introverts in the Collaborative Classroom” by The Global Math Department.  Megan Dubee was enlightening on the challenges our introverted students are facing as our schools move towards providing a more active collaborative classroom. She offers solid strategies for extending the active classroom to also be a place for retreat, for deliberate practice.

Megan’s discussion was based on the book “Quiet” by Susan Cain. Susan has published a second book, Quiet Power, written for the teenager reader but it doesn’t seem to be garnering the same praise. Susan has a Ted Talk.

Wired also has an interesting article on the subject, “Are you Raising an Introvert?” where it is offered, “Quite simply, introversion is an explanation of where an individual draws their energy; from solitude or from the company of others.”

The Etiology of the Introvert

Estimates run anywhere from 20% to 50% of students as being introverts and Susan makes it plain that introversion has biological factors. Introverts have a sensitivity in the nervous system and show a smaller response to dopamine. Implications are that they notice more in general, are more reactive to novelty, more inhibited and perform worse when the volume is higher.

But introverts work well in solitude, and this quality is an important ingredient to creativity and innovation. Per Wired, introverts are deep thinkers, excellent communicators and excel at one on one connections with people. They make excellent artists, scientists, psychologists, writers, historians, and mathematicians, the latter making it all the more important that we math teachers get this right. Introverts can take the spotlight even when every bone in their body tells them not to. That is where we the teacher comes in, helping our learners understand this character trait that they have, its implications and how they can best work with both worlds.

Teacher Strategies for Working With Introverts

Use social media in the classroom as bridge to participation. Communicate via email to share that you appreciate something the student shared today.  Use Polling apps where everyone answers at the same time and apps where students can develop a project and communicate and engage with others (e.g. Desmos.)

Recognize the anxiety about raising a hand. The introvert may feel strong disappointment when not selected, especially as they work hard on preparing their answers before sharing.

Provide opportunities to share prepared thoughts at the beginning of class.

Wait before calling on children. Pose a question. Take two minutes and think about what you have just heard and how you would describe it.  I don’t want you to do anything (e.g. don’t raise hands, I will tell you when to.) Pair share, table share, class share.

Manage classroom volume. Introverts choose a volume less than others. They perform worse when the volume is higher.

Do not accept silence. Create groups for students who are anxious about public speaking.  Construct social scavenger hunts for children that require them to approach students and teachers, look them in the eye, and ask for directions, information, or signatures.

Recognize that being around people all school day make introverts tired.

Use journals and written communication.  e.g. You have 3 minutes.  Tell me everything you know about this.  Anything you found important from the day.  Use of Harkness discussions with Equity Maps.

Grade for mastery separate from character. Character grades could celebrate meaningful class discussion, empathy, courage, persistence, listening skills, and respect. Mastery should be just that, representative of the student’s mastery of the subject.

Establish time for Deliberate Practice. It’s only when you’re alone that you can engage in something called “deliberate practice” as you identify the tasks or knowledge that are just out of your reach, strive to upgrade your performance, monitor your progress, and revise accordingly. Deliberate practice is best conducted on one’s own because it involves working on the task that’s most challenging to you personally. Imagine a group class — you’re the one generating the move only a small percentage of the time.”

Out of the Classroom and Into the Cafeteria

While Megan’s presentation addresses the collaborative math classroom, an interesting perspective from Susan is regarding the school cafeteria. Think about its layout of tens of bench tables that seat 12 children each. Except at social, noisy, occasions, when would adults choose to eat lunch in such a situation? Perhaps a layout with 5 children at a round table, with an adult present for the younger children, would remove the anxiety that some feel at lunch time and help to build connections and social and communication skills.