More Wilderness – teaching introverted students

In an excellent and entertaining TED talk author Susan Cain gives insights into the world of introverted people. By using her own life as an example she talks about all the typical obstacles and hardships introverts have to overcome. Cain states that about 30%-50% of us count as introverts (other sources seem to confirm this figure) and argues that this large portion of people is neglected and treated unfairly by social systems such as work or school that are largely based on extroverted values. About 9 years ago Jonathan Rauch wrote a wonderful piece in The Atlantic claiming that ”In our extrovertist society, being outgoing is considered normal and therefore desirable”. It’s obvious that this is giving introverted people a hard time.
Susan Cain calls for a mental and organisational shift at the workplace and in education, claiming that we have to give introverted people their times of solitude and inclusion to unlock their full potential and make use of it. She asks companies and schools to come to their senses and ”stop the madness of constant group work”.
Alluding to religious seekers like Buddha or Jesus, who had moments of epiphany in the lonely seclusion of the wild she simply, but powerfully observes: ”No wilderness, no revelations”.

Link to the video

Watching Susan Cain’s TED talk I came to think about introverted students in my English classes. My thoughts ended up centering around three questions:

Do I create enough ”wilderness”? Apart from conversation, that plays an important role in my more Dogme-shaped lessons I tend to use a lot of other
‘communicative’ forms of teaching. However, recently I have deliberately started including more and more solitary activities to complement conversation and I found the results very pleasing – especially with the more quiet students.
Last week I took the opportunity given by the first day of spring after an exceptionally long winter and sent the class outside to the schoolyard and the gardens. I gave them the task to take notice of things they heard, saw and smelled while wandering about. Then they should look for a place to sit and write down all the associations they had with the sounds, sights and scents of which they had taken notice. After some twenty minutes outside the students returned to the classroom and pinned their notes on the pinboard of the classroom where everybody could read them. Afterwards we spent 20 minutes focusing on the language that had emerged from the activity. All my students – extroverts and introverts alike – seem to have enjoyed the lesson very much.

What ways of quiet sharing do my lessons offer? At the very end of her talk Susan Cain is inviting introverts to share their lives and ideas with people around them while using their own natural, soft voices. Many of the typical means of sharing ideas in the classroom seem to be very extrovert-friendly and pose difficulties for introverts. Perhaps the internet could help here providing platforms for sharing language in the form of texts and pictures.

Are introverts treated fairly with regard to oral assessment? This is the questions that troubles me most, as I have to give an honest but unsatisfactory answer – probably not. The very idea of oral marks seems to favour the more extroverted of students. However, I would feel extremely uncomfortable to suggest abandoning the idea of assessing oral skills, because I firmly believe that one of the most obvious goals of language teaching is to enable people to talk to others. Perhaps we could tweak the forms of oral assessment to meet the needs of introverts. Does anybody have an idea how this could be done?

creating spaces of solitude to empower introverted learners (picture by “Mullen”)

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