How to teach quiet kids


Credit: Dave Van Patten/NPR

At New York City’s Quiet Summer Institute, teacher are learning how to help “quiet kids” thrive, writes Elissa Nadworny on NPR.

The workshop is based on Susan Cain’s best-seller Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking and her latest book written for middle-schoolers.

Classroom participation doesn’t have to mean talking, says trainer Heidi Kasevich.

Why not try drawing, writing or working in pairs?

Or, Kasevich suggests, have students walk around the room, writing ideas on tacked-up pieces of paper. They can respond to each other’s ideas — like a sort of silent dialogue.

Erica Corbin, who works at a private girls’ school in Manhattan, suggested quieting students who dominate the discussion. “W-A-I-T,” she says, also stands for: “Why Am I Talking?”

I was a talker — but I usually had something worth saying. If I was quiet, that meant I was reading to myself.

Social learning burns out introverted teachers

Teaching’s stress on social learning and collaboration is raising the burnout rate for introverts, writes teacher Michael Godsey in The Atlantic.

After 11 years of teaching English at a public high school, Ken Lovgren quit the profession.

Engaging in a classroom that was “so demanding in terms of social interaction” made it difficult for him to find quiet space to decompress and reflect. “The endless barrage of ‘professional learning community’ meetings left me little energy for meaningful interaction with my kids,” he told me.

Jessica Honard, author of Introversion in the Classroom: How to Avoid Burnout and Encourage Success, left classroom teaching to escape the “constant bombardment of social stimulation.”

“Collaborative overload” is a problem in the workplace, warns Harvard Business Review. “Over the past two decades, the time spent by managers and employees in collaborative activities has ballooned by 50% or more,” leaving little time to get things done.

It’s even harder for teachers, writes Godsey. After meeting with adults, they “go straight to the classroom, where they feel increasing pressure to facilitate social learning activities and promote the current trend of collaborative education.”

There’s no time to think.

Schools overlook introverts’ learning needs

Education trends such as “collaborative learning” and group projects ignore the needs of introverts, writes Michael Godsey, a California English teacher, in The Atlantic. One third to one half of students are introverts, he estimates. They do best working independently and quietly.

Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking was a hit, yet “classroom environments that embrace extroverted behavior — through dynamic and social learning activities — are being promoted now more than ever,” writes Godsey.

The University of Chicago library plans to turn a reading room into a “vibrant labratory of interactive learning.”

“Students must overcome isolation in order to learn to write,” according to Dartmouth’s Institute for Writing and Rhetoric.

Recently, he visited a large public high school where all but four of 26 teachers had arranged students in groups or with partners.

I told two teachers on separate occasions that I’d feel incredibly exhausted at the end of every day if I were a student at that school. . . . One recalled learning best when arranged in rows, while the other concurred, “I know, right? How exhausting it must be to have another student in your business all day long.”

Three of the four classes where students were seated individually in rows were AP or honors courses, Godsey observes.

. . . I’m reminded of Sartre’s famous line, “Hell is other people,” when I see that Georgia College’s webpage dedicated to collaborative learning, which includes the topic sentence: “Together is how we do everything here at Georgia College. Learn. Work. Play. Live. Together.” Everything, that is, except quiet introspection, free of cost and distraction.

Diana Senechal, who teaches philosophy at a New York City high school, wrote about the need for solitary reflection in Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture.

Introverted Kids Need to Learn to Speak Up in School, argued Jessica Lahey in 2013. Two thoughtful responses persuaded her to modify her views. She recommends Katherine Schultz’s Why Introverts Shouldn’t Be Forced to Talk in Class, and Susan Cain’s Help Shy Kids, Don’t Punish Them.

Introverts, speak up!

Introverted Kids Need to Learn to Speak Up at School, writes Jessica Lahey, an English teacher, in the Atlantic. “The parents of introverts complain that I am not meeting their child’s unspoken educational needs, or that I am causing serious emotional trauma by requiring their child to speak up in school.”

Class participation is factored into students’ grades.

. . . we spend a large percentage of our of class time in dialogue. How does Pip change once he receives his Great Expectations? What does Edmund mean when he says, “Thou, nature, art my goddess; to thy law / My services are bound”?

After reading Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, Lahey “made a number of changes to my classroom in order to improve learning opportunities for my introverted students.”  But she’s not dropping the class participation requirement.

As a teacher, it is my job to teach grammar, vocabulary, and literature, but I must also teach my students how to succeed in the world we live in — a world where most people won’t stop talking. If anything, I feel even more strongly that my introverted students must learn how to self-advocate by communicating with parents, educators, and the world at large.

Are these kids introverts — or very, very shy?  Or do they have nothing to say about Pip or Edmund?

Power to the introverts

Our culture is designed for gregarious team players, says Susan Cain, author of Quiet, in this TED talk on The Power of Introverts.  Schools require children to work in groups, “even in  the most solitary of assignments, such as creative writing,” she complains. Students need the chance to think and learn on their own too. “Solitude is the school of the soul.”

Diana Senechal’s Republic of Noise also criticizes the mania for group work, collaboration and “groupthink,” rather than solitary contemplation.