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.She continues, saying that introverts need to learn to speak up and articulate their needs, concerns and thoughts to succeed in life.
I am not challenging Ms. Lahey's decision to keep class participation as a part of her grade. I'm an introvert who is passionate about education and I absolutely support including class participation. I do think there is one aspect that needs to be considered in the introvert vs. extrovert participation debate, though, and one that was not addressed in this article.
Many introverts hate speaking up at all, but I have found that they overwhelmingly hate impromptu or spontaneous speaking up. The difference between these two is vast. I am comfortable articulating my thoughts and I am comfortable with my knowledge of most subjects, but if you suddenly turn to me in the middle of a lecture and ask me a question about what I've just heard, it catches me so off-guard and makes me so uncomfortable that, even if I absolutely know the answer, it takes me a few seconds of awkward filler words until I get back on my footing and can respond intelligently.
As an introvert, I have found that the times where I need to answer something instantly and unexpectedly are actually very seldom. Times when I need to speak up nearly always fit one of the following categories:
- It's at a time when I know I am going to be expected to speak and have some idea of what I'm going to be asked about. (Job interviews, jobs I've had)
- It's a casual enough situation that I can openly say, "That caught me off guard. I didn't know you were going to ask me something. Give me a second, let me think," and then I can get my bearings. (Social interactions with friends)
- I have the time to craft what I want to say and can tackle it in a one-on-one situation. (Questions/answers that are sent via email, concerns or thoughts that don't need to be dealt with immediately. I was the person who approached professors after class to quietly ask them a question I hadn't figured out how to say publicly in class yet)
Introverts being quiet is not always a matter of not being willing to speak up. Sometimes it's a matter of not having anything to say yet. We take time to think things over. We process things slowly. If you tell me I need to find something to say quickly, I can do it, but it won't be interesting or important or, probably, representative of whether I've actually learned or not.
So how do you encourage classroom participation for people like this?
Well, it's simple. You give them an idea of what they'll need to say. I was always grateful for teachers who said things like, "Do the reading and come to class with at least 2 thoughts or questions. If I call on you, you will share one of them with the class." This lets classroom introverts plan ahead. If they are called on, there may be a momentary panic of "they need me to talk," but they have something to fall back on.
Another possibility is to structure classroom participation so that it lets the introverts some control over when that happens. "I expect you to ask at least ten questions this quarter." "You need to offer constructive criticism on at least one student's project throughout the semester." This makes it much more likely that they will speak up when they do have something on their minds, as they know they have to speak up at some point anyway, but they don't have to do it on command.
Learning to articulate your thoughts is absolutely an important skill. Learning to spontaneously reveal your unformed opinions and unprocessed thoughts in front of a crowd of your peers is less vital.
I'd be especially interested to hear from any of my education major friends who disagree with me on this or are much stronger on the "you must speak up in class!" idea than I am. What do you see as the essential value of pushing students to speak up publicly? Do you think any of that is undercut by encouraging speaking up preparedness? Do you agree that the way I'm phrasing these questions is awkward and terrible?