Introverted? Or Something Else?

I’ve been reading and thinking about this article from The Atlantic magazine, “Introverted Kids Need to Learn to Speak Up at School” by Jessica Lahey. Specifically, she talks about asking questions and the difference between the “extroverts” and the “introverts.”

This is no problem for the extroverts, who live for the opportunity to talk about their ideas. However, I also teach introverts, who live in fear of being asked these sorts of questions.

Hmmm… back up the truck here for a second. Introverts “liv[ing] in fear of being asked these sorts of questions”?

I knew a lot of classmates who were introverts, and never recall them being terrified of being asked a question that required more than a “yes” or “no” answer. I remember kids (both intro- and extraverts) not being prepared and not wanting the teacher to call on them. I remember kids whose classroom participation drew snickers and giggles from some of their classmates. I remember some kids being bored out of their minds and drifting off, only to be shocked back into reality when the teacher suddenly asks them, “So, what do you think of that?” There were kids who, hearing that good students are quiet and studious (but mostly quiet), took it to heart. And there were the kids that were scared not to write down everything the teacher said, for fear that they would miss something that might be on an exam, and were so busy scrawling notes that they weren’t prepared to be called on. At one time or another, I was the kid in each of these situations, and I would guess that most of you were, too.

Being introverted is not about being a shrinking violet. Where an extrovert is energized by being with people, introverts are energized by time spent alone. That doesn’t mean introverts don’t like people or are intimidated by them. The difference is, where an extrovert relaxes by talking with his or her friends on the phone or participating in after-school activities, the introvert relaxes by reading, doing homework, pursuing a hobby, or watching TV.

The point is, being introverted isn’t the same as being shy or unwilling to participate in class. There are kids that have to be drawn out of their shell, but they aren’t all introverts. There are extroverts who want nothing to do with class discussions. Not every extrovert lives for the opportunity to share their ideas.

There might be a study about this already and I’m just not aware of it (hey, I can’t know everything), but it would be interesting to give students the MBTI and compare the results on the introversion/extroversion facet with the qualitative assessment of the teachers who see the kids every day. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a correlation, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if the correlation was not statistically significant, and that other factors were a better predictor of classroom participation.

That’s my two cents. What do you think? I’d be interested to know.

10 thoughts on “Introverted? Or Something Else?

  1. My kindergarten teacher described me on a report card as “withdrawn” and noted my preference for playing by myself. She expressed hope I would join in with whatever the rest of the class was doing. More than 50 years later, that still describes me!

    However, throughout my schooling, I loved learning and participating in class. I had no trouble speaking up. Being a quiet person and being fearful are definitely two different things.

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    1. Exactly. It’s interesting that a teacher will tell you to be quiet and studious on the one hand, and talkative and responsive on the other. It’s like, “well, what do you want? Quiet or talkative?” I think what they’re looking for is kids who can do both at the right times.

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  2. There are other aspect to being an introvert and/or an extrovert that I think you’re missing. There are fears connected to both. These fears may be associated with other personality quirks that are better known in those categories. You may want to do more research.

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    1. You’re right, both on the “you’re missing something” and on the personality quirks. The Myers-Briggs attempts to look at different dimensions of a person’s personality (I say “attempts” because how effectively it measures introversion or extroversion, as well as its other dimensions, is a question they’re still hashing out), and it’d be interesting to see whether kids that are called “introverts” are actually introverts, or if something else might be in play. It’s definitely worth a deeper dive at some point.

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  3. You hit the nail on the head. Introversion does not equal shyness. That being said, as a shy introvert myself I feel compelled to stand up for those who may, in fact, “live in fear of being asked these sorts of questions.” Our society tends to favor extrovert qualities and often (perhaps indirectly) forces introverts to conform to these. I don’t think that, as Lahey suggests, introverts need to speak up in class. There are plenty of other opportunities for introverts to participate in groups via one-on-one interactions, smaller discussion groups, independent work, etc.

    It’s interesting to note that Lahey mentions Susan Cain’s book. Here is another article referencing Cain’s book and how it affected the classroom: http://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/teacher-blog/2012/may/02/introverts-classrooms-education. Whereas Lahey claimed that “introverts need to speak up in class,” this writer highlights Cain’s mantra that “Everyone shines given the right lighting.” I think it’s notable that Lahey identifies as an extrovert while the second writer, Genevieve White, is an introvert.

    Yes, it’s important for introverts to learn how to communicate, but there are better ways to foster that than forcing shy kids to be a certain way. This just teaches them that they need to be “fixed” and may, in fact, end up doing more harm than good.

    This comment is already wayy too long, and I deeply apologize. But I highly recommend Susan Cain’s TED talks on introversion if you’re interested in the topic. Here’s a link to an interview article with her: http://ideas.ted.com/how-to-teach-a-young-introvert/

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    1. Yeah, WordPress flagged your comment as needing moderation because of its length. đŸ˜‰ The whole subject is one that I’m sure gets debated in university Education classes, and if it doesn’t, it should be. Thanks for the links; I’ll be sure to check them out.

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    1. An ambivert! It’s really a matter of degrees. No one is completely introverted or extroverted. I come from a family of extroverts, and learned to adapt to them, i.e. to act extroverted until I could get away…

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  4. I was always rather an introvert when I was a kid as well as being shy. I had enough friends, but I wasn’t a social gadfly. I participated in activities that interested me, but I also did a lot at home by myself.

    I’d say there are levels of interaction and social behavior where they can all be easily lumped into one or another. When I was unwilling to participate in class it was mostly because I feared embarrassment (being wrong, saying something dumb, having people look at me, or whatever), but I wanted to share my ideas.

    Sounds like another study trying to oversimplify things.

    Arlee Bird
    A to Z Challenge Co-host
    Tossing It Out

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    1. That was what I was thinking. There’s a lot more behind a kid not participating in class than “he’s an introvert,” and in fact that might be the least of the reasons. The problem might be that teachers have decided that “introversion” means “shy and unwilling to participate,” which is not what it means at all, but it’s what they believe it means, ergo it’s what they say it is.

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