My introverted take on being called on in class

So there's this article about introverted kids needing to learn to speak up in school.   Basically, the teacher wants to compel introverted kids to speak up in class, even though, quoting her, they "live in fear of being asked these sorts of questions."

That makes me very cross. That sounds more like a kid who hasn't done the reading, or who has a full-fledged social anxiety disorder.  Being introverted doesn't mean you live in fear of speaking in public (although it might be something that requires considerable effort).  It doesn't mean that being asked a question that requires thought makes you feel ill!!!   (though it may be distasteful).

Here's a comment I got from a professor in grad. school--"When Charlotte chooses to participate, her comments are very insightful."  If Charlotte had been forced to participate, she could probably have come up with lots of fairly articulate b.s.  Which would you rather have, if you were a teacher?  (the answer is probably Charlotte choosing to participate more, but you can't have everything.)

I'm just an introvert who's taken lots of classes, not a teacher, but here are what I see as the three main problems introverts face in classroom discussion:

1.  The introvert sits quietly, listening and thinking.  Then the introvert wants to share her idea, one that she may well have been practicing in her head--and she can't cut through the extroverted babble of the conversation so as to be heard.  She gives up.

2.   If she does get a chance to speak, it might seem like there's no meaningful listening, and it might seem that her words weren't worth saying because they're just being brushed aside while other people's words go galloping on. 

3.  If the teacher does call on the introverted student, who seems to have something to share, but asks a specific question instead of issuing an open invitation to talk,  the kid might give only a cursory, reluctant answer, because it wasn't what she wanted to share.

So the idea of a teacher pushing and prodding at introverts to get them to talk seems rather repugnant to me, and the wrong way to go about encouraging them to participate.   I think it would make much more sense to

1.  pay as much attention to them as possible--the introverted kid might not be jumping up with her hand in the air, but may simply be sitting up a little more eagerly and trying to make eye contact when she wants to be called on.

2.  make sure to validate their thoughts when they do share, which will encourage them to keep talking.   As in--"Thank you.  That was an excellent point.  Here's what I think in response..."  perhaps even encouragingly asking for more elaboration.

3.  when calling on the introvert, often just saying "Charlotte?" (or any other appropriate name) is enough.  Not: Charlotte, what do you think of Specific Thing X?

4. perhaps to break the class into smaller discussion groups, so there is more chance to choose to take part.

End of my thoughts on introverts in class discussion circumstances.

Postscript:  My own 9 year old son is an introvert.  When asked by his teacher to identify an area in which he was weak, and wanted to improve, he chose "working in groups." But afterwards he confessed to me that it was a bad answer--"I don't really want to work better in groups; what I'd really like is not to have to work in groups at all."   However, at the same school last year, his teacher let him leave circle time occasionally when he needed a break from togetherness--I love that teacher. 


  1. Huh. I am both introverted and at times awkwardly shy (veering toward that full-blown social anxiety disorder) and I was a teacher. That being said, I agree very much indeed that the article extolling the virtues of teachers pushing introverts into participating reads like a primer on "fixing" these types of people, to make them more like everyone else.

    And I am NOT having that.

    I'll be pleased to read her follow-up article, Extroverted Kids Need To Learn To Thoughtfully Listen and not Speak in School.

    Now that I am done with my pique, I can also say, well done to you for actually coming up with the support for teachers the author SHOULD HAVE offered.

    1. I would like to read that follow-up article too!

    2. and I think I was unclear viz my expressing what annoyed me, and so mis-spoke myself viz social anxiety--the kids aren't described as not wanting to be called on because of not wanting to be called on, but because they are afriad of being asked particular types of questions, which frames it as not at all a social anxiety issue, but as an inherent lack of intellectual engagement issue.

    3. Hah, that (the follow-up suggestion) was what I was thinking too! When I was a teacher, my problems were much less with students (introverts?) not speaking up in class discussions and much MORE with students (much more likely extroverts!) who wouldn't shut their own social conversations up while I was trying to teach/lead an actual class discussion!

      And Charlotte, I appreciate you bringing up (heh heh, speaking up) the introvert =/= afraid to speak up in class thing. I was like you, too. Or possibly worse, since you just say you didn't have a PROBLEM speaking up in class, whereas I was an outright insufferable know-it-all. I'm not only an introvert, I've also had serious difficulties with shyness, but that shyness is socially-related. ACADEMICALLY I was confident (overconfident even), so there was nothing to be shy ABOUT in a class discussion. Well, perhaps because I could think about it as strictly a conversation between the teacher and me. I was actually far MORE nervous and afraid of asserting myself in small groups, like your son-- the teacher wasn't there constantly to MEDIATE THOSE interactions!

  2. I am an introvert and a school librarian. To this day I still sometimes struggle with participating in discussions, especially with adults. I don't have as much trouble with children. I was definitely one of those children who dreaded being called on, not because I didn't have anything to say, but because I hated being the center of attention. I have plenty of these kind of students myself and I appreciate there willingness to listen, but I also appreciate having students who are willing to talk. I think it's good to have a variety.

    I agree completely with your ideas about how to encourage children with introverted tendencies to participate in their classrooms. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I would have hated being forced to participate and I still do.

    1. And thank you for sharing yours--I never minded attention so much myself, so it's good to be reminded that introverts, like any other group, are not a homogenous mass!

  3. I must admit to being generally bored by group discussion in college. As far as I was concerned, I was paying (quite a lot of money) for the professor's expertise and information, not for the random comments of a bunch of students. Massed ignorance does not somehow magically become intelligence. I did have one professor who was capable of creating and fostering intelligent, worthwhile group discussions, (this was in honors classes) but mostly the professors would say "and what do you all think" and there would be long pauses punctuated by vague, pointless comments. I am very glad I never had to suffer through grade school. Undergrad and graduate school was bad enough!

  4. As far as grade school...if you've got 25 squirrelly 3rd graders, I don't see how you can really tailor the learning experience to each one, but maybe teachers have more super powers than I had hitherto expected!

  5. So often this goes back to actually identifying the "problem" to begin with. There's a huge difference between not speaking because of shyness and not speaking because of any of the other reasons mentioned above. Teaching that it can often serve you well to speak up reaches introverts, too. "Fixing" people by force so rarely works, anyway.... Teachers don't have superpowers, of course, and I suspect the woman who wrote this article does many things we'd all suggest (small groups, not grade just based on talking, etc.). But if a problem is mis-perceived or mis-identified, it's not gonna matter anyway.

  6. Charlotte, I *love* what you say about your son's teacher! Now that's a teacher who's learned how to deal with an introvert! Give him a break from the group now and then! That's so much better, and will be *so* much more conducive to learning than forcing him to say more, for the sake of saying more.

    Also, I totally *love* what your son himself said! I'm with him on that!

  7. I think the author of that article totally missed what Susan Cain was saying about introverts in classrooms in her book. Yes, she talks about the power of introverts speaking up... because introverts only speak up when they really, really care about something, and won't just fill the air like an extrovert. Cain talked about making things easier for introverts in the classroom, but also about the need to teach extroverts introverted skills, like listening and focus. That article feels like she's using "Quiet" to go on trying to make introverts more extroverted, and that just makes me mad.


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