The concepts of extroversion and introversion were first put forward by psychologist Carl Jung in his 1921 book Psychological Types. In a nutshell, an extrovert is someone who thrives on external stimulation (e.g. social interaction), while an introvert gets most of his or her energy from solitary reflection. Most people aren't complete introverts or extroverts, but fall somewhere on a spectrum between the two extremes. Therefore, you can say that you tend to be more introverted, or more extroverted.
While most Westerners have been aware of these personality differences for decades, we are only recently beginning to seriously consider their impact on modern education. In a society made up of both introverts and extroverts, wouldn't it make sense to have an education system that catered to both personality types? How successful have we been at this?
In a 2012 book entitled Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, American writer Susan Cain argues that while the average modern classroom gives opportunities for both extroverts and introverts to shine, most classroom structures are overwhelmingly in favour of extroverts. She says that "nowadays, your typical classroom has pods of desks, and kids are working on countless group assignments." Furthermore, many teachers institute a policy of graded class participation, so that many naturally quiet students may come to regard their personality type as an obstacle to be overcome. While this might make more sense in a world where introverts really were anomalies, Cain argues that one third to one half of the US population identifies as introverts. All these lonely people. Where do they come from?
Many introverts, Cain believes, end up turning themselves into 'pseudo-extroverts' in order to deal with their immediate environments. These are environments in which extroverted traits - such as social confidence, outspokenness, and quick decision making - tend to be idealized. Following the late 19th century rise of industrial America, classrooms were effectively tasked with preparing kids for the world of business, predominated by a 'culture of personality.'
In contrast, pre-20th century classrooms tended to be more heavily in favour of the introvert. Legacies of this bias still exist in the form of 'no-talking policies,' essays, and long, solitary examinations. For extroverts, such environments may have been oppressive, denying them opportunities to express themselves in the classroom and otherwise apply their talents. Many 20th and 21st century innovations in teaching structures, including attempts to make classroom work more interactive and energetic, were largely a reaction to this rigid and unidirectional style of learning.
But could it be that we've gone too far? In her book, Cain emphasizes the importance of balance in the classroom structure. Society needs both extroverts and introverts, each taking on roles that the other personality type is less suited to. How can a teacher arrange his/her classroom so that it nourishes introverts and extroverts equally? Here are some suggestions:
1) Build Quiet Time Into The School Day
Classroom activity can be highly stimulating, involving frequent verbal exchange between participants. While this may be beneficial for extroverts, introverts may need an opportunity to 'recharge' after so much interaction. A 15-minute quiet reading break during classroom time may do the trick.
2) More Pair Work
While large group discussions can cause introverts to hold back, and while solitary activity can repress the potential of extroverts, pair work can appeal to both personality types. This gives extroverts the opportunity to express themselves, while allowing introverts to engage in deeper, more meaningful conversations with one other person. You could even use pair work as a 'primer' for larger group discussions, since it may embolden introverts to share their thoughts.
3) Rethink 'Class Participation'
In assessing a student's class participation, teachers may end up favouring quantity over quality. Is a student who raises his or her hand at every opportunity really contributing more to the classroom than a student who makes one very thoughtful comment? There are also other, behind-the-scenes ways of participating in the classroom, such as helping another classmate during work sessions.
4) Choice, Choice, Choice
If there is one thing that this discussion has been emphasizing time and again, it's that there is no 'one-size-fits-all' solution to classroom learning. Give students opportunities to choose the environment they'd like to work or learn in. Chances are, they understand their own natures better than anyone else. So provide learning areas containing more of an 'open-plan' and higher levels of stimulation, but also ones that are more secluded and quiet. Let the students decide for themselves where and how they'd like to work.