Honoring and Learning from the Quiet Students in Our Classroom

Yesterday I had the opportunity to learn with other teachers.   This is what I noticed: I’m the kind of learner who needs quiet and time to process well.

I’ve always fought against defining myself as an introvert, I’ve tried to be social and connected and I do like interacting with people. But in my heart of hearts I need quiet. When it is quiet I can focus and recharge, figure things out and make my next move. After many years of pushing myself to be social and berating myself when I’m anti-social,  I’m ok with preferring quiet. In fact I have given myself the gift of quiet on Saturday morning. That is why I was a bit irritated to be thrust into a conference with hundreds of voices. I got over it once I sat in on Jennifer Serravallo’s session on conferring with readers. Loved her thinking and strategies. The trouble I had was when I had to turn and talk.  I was note taking, thinking about what her lessons and ideas meant for me and then I had to give my thoughts to another person. My student self wasn’t ready to go there, I needed some time to process. So I apologize to my neighbor, I wasn’t the best partner, I was still processing.

This makes me think of my students, who they are and how I teach. What about those students who like me need to take time to process or need quiet, not the noise of talk to sort things out?  I believe that talk can be powerful and is often the precursor or jumpstart for students to think and write, but what about those quiet folks who aren’t ready to talk? How do I balance for this?

The book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain really has given me personal validation, but more importantly made me look at my students through this lens. You may not think you have them in your classroom, but per Cain, “Depending on which study you consult, one third to one half of Americans are introverts–in other words, one out of every two or three people you know.” Now think about your classroom, one third to one half are introverts. Shocked?

A few more gems from Cain’s book:

“.. introverts and extroverts differ in the level of outside stimulation they need to function well.”

“Introverts often work more slowly and deliberately. They like to focus on one task at at time and can have mighty powers of concentration.”

“they listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing that in conversation.”

Do you see these traits in any of your students?

Looking over my class lists, 7 pop out as fits in one class and 8 in the other. And I may be missing some other people.

Based on Cain’s twenty questions to measure introversion, here are ten modified “kid” friendly questions:

1. I like to play with one person at a time.

2. In class, I would rather write my answer than talk about it.

3. I like being alone.

4. I’m a good listener.

5. I don’t like talking or showing my work until it’s finished.

6. I avoid conflict.

7. I do my best work alone.

8. I usually think before I speak.

9. I like weekends just relaxing, with nothing planned.

10. I can focus easily.

The more true answers the more introverted. You know the answers for some of your students, but I bet there are some hidden introverts or “ambiverts” a mixture of both, that are lurking in your midst.

Educators and industry honor the extrovert. They win student body president elections, they are leaders in group projects, they thrive in the talking environment we have created in our classrooms.

So how do we honor those quiet folk? There is  huge value in the quiet thoughtful work of the introvert. Their personalities are comfortable in the world of focused deliberate work. Sounds like traits our more extroverted souls could benefit from.

Some other interesting ideas that should inform our teaching:

Extroverts are more goal oriented, introverts spend a lot of their thinking on how the process is going.  Extroverts tend to charge ahead in tasks while the introvert is thinking about on their results.  Extroverts react,  introverts reflect. Think of your teaching style, your opportunities for independent work,  and ask which type of learner does it allow for?

Here are my next steps to support both introvert and extrovert types of learners:

1. Study my students  through the lens of quiet: survey, observation.

2. Discuss the qualities and powers of introversion and extroversion.

3. Teach students who tend toward extroversion the power of quiet with specific strategies to develop reflection and monitoring of how their thinking is going.

4. Teach talking strategies that build to deeper thinking.

5. Give thinking questions up front and allow for processing time in lessons.

6. Analyze lessons and the course of our day through the lens of quiet, thinking time vs. collaborative working time.

7. Build in time and space for quiet work.

Enjoy this video from the Bedley Brothers interview with author Cain and her take on education and the power of our quiet learners.

2 thoughts on “Honoring and Learning from the Quiet Students in Our Classroom

  1. Great post, Julieanne!

    Like you, I need time to process in my head. When I became a workshop teacher, I had to learn how to Turn & Talk. I had to get good at turning and talking so I could model it and help kids who weren’t. It took awhile, but eventually I got good at it and have come to use it as a way to process my thinking. But it took time…

    • Thank you, Stacey. Excellent idea — Explicitly modeling how to turn and talk during instruction or read aloud as a step by step process. Thanks so much for your input!

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