Most people understand the basic difference between introverts and extroverts. Extroverts tend to be outwardly focused and are energized being around large groups of people, while introverts tend to be inwardly focused and gain energy being alone.
It’s natural for extroverts to be comfortable in a classroom setting, leading groups and joining in on discussions with abandon. But what about introverts—the students that don’t volunteer to speak, the ones who rarely join classroom conversations? Some might assume these students have less to contribute or that they don’t understand the assignment. But introverts simply process information differently.
Susan Cain, the author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking and Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverts, says introverts often get “steamrolled” when there is a classroom with lots of extroverts. Many teachers understand this and know how to encourage introverts to develop their voice. But for parents with introverted students who are having trouble speaking up, here are some ideas you might discuss with their teachers. Even one or two of these ideas might help turn the tide for quiet students and give them the confidence to find their voice.
1. The Two-Minute Rule
Ask the teacher to consider providing opportunities for students to think before launching discussions. One way to do this might be to institute a “Two-minute rule” that requires kids to think before speaking. A rule like this allows both introverts and extroverts time to get their thoughts together.
2. Advance Discussion Questions
Discuss with your student’s teacher the possibility of handing out discussion questions in advance of class time. Explain that this would give your introverted student time to process and formulate his or her response.
3. Everyone Gets a Turn
Ask if each student has an opportunity to speak in class. If your student is uncomfortable talking over anyone, you might need to explain that. You could ask: Would it be possible to ask students to wait for everyone to respond before speaking a second time? This can help develop sensitivity in a group setting.
4. Small Group Discussions
In graded discussions, extroverts often speak at the same time out of exuberance and a genuine desire to be heard and participate. You could ask your student’s teacher if he or she might break the classroom into different sections, grouping the quieter students together. This could encourage participation as introverted students tend to naturally give deference to each other.
5. Start with One-on-One Public Speaking
Public speaking can be a challenge for anyone. But some introverts can have a particularly difficult time with it. You could suggest that the teacher first pair up your student with one other person, having them share their speeches with each other before facing the classroom at large. This can help give confidence to a quieter student.
Most teachers are eager to find ways to support their students, so don’t be defensive with them. They may have tried these ideas or others. It’s possible the student may not understand the material or refuses to participate for some other reason. If you have introverted children, encourage them to see teachers as people who are in their corner and who want them to succeed. It takes effort on both sides. Communicating with teachers to help provide opportunities for introverts who want to engage will benefit not only the individual student, but the entire class.