Are You Reaching Your Introverted Students?

What is your ideal working environment for teaching and learning?  This post is week 4 of 8 in the 8 Weeks of Summer Blog Challenge for educators.” The first few prompts were a bit challenging for me.  I would read the prompts, step away from the computer, do some cleaning or watch a video, mull it over in the shower, revisit it the next day, and repeat until the end of the week.  This was not one of those prompts.  I have a LOT to say about one very specific sticking point. 

Introverted student in a safe space with a book I can sum up my working style in one word:  Introvert.  The ideal working and learning environment for me is a period of observation followed by isolated time and space to synthesize and create.  I've known I was an introvert since I first heard the word in middle school or high school.  But I never really appreciated how misunderstood we introverts can be until a few years ago.  My principal encouraged LOTS of collaboration between students.  I changed my teaching style to incorporate collaboration pretty much at all times (except of course for tests).  And sure enough, I started to feel like the days were slipping by.  Certain students who I most closely related to were not performing as well.  Under his direction, I was squashing my introverts.  And I felt a little lost in my own classroom.

It started with the desks.  I used to move the desks around often.  Sometimes 3 times per day.  For some activities, I wanted small group work.  Often I'd assign jobs within groups.  Other times we'd be in a circle for a whole class discussion.  And yes, there were times that I had the kids in traditional style rows so they could all quietly focus on their own work.    

He put a stop to that last one.

I knew he was wrong, but at first I went along with it.  Then once I noticed the negative changes in our learning environment I read Quiet:  The Power of Introverts.  I wrote a blog post about this book because it changed some things for me.  I knew that one style isn't better than the other, but I guess I didn't really know how to communicate it to people who didn't understand.  And my principal REALLY did not understand.  I think he saw introversion as something to be remedied.  This book reassured me that both styles are equally important, and that we all need to work together at times and do our own thing at times. 

So I once I remembered to "Shut the Door and Teach" I started looking for work arounds.  Although I don't have all the cute little furniture, I took cues from the "flexible seating" movement to covertly give space to the introverts.  The middle of the room had the groups he insisted on.  During reading, students could sit at a group with a partner to read together and discuss the book.  But around the perimeter we had quiet spaces (under tables, spread out in the library, and tucked into corners) and pillows for independent reading. 

During writer's workshop too, I kept the desks in groups.  Even though it felt like madness to me to have kids talking to each other while trying to write about an experience outside of school, they were physically side by side.  But I circumvented the physical proximity of groups by walking around saying, "Would you like a shield?"  Half the kids said yes.  The kids who still complained about others bothering them were free to choose a table at the side of back of the room.  The kids had freedom to practice and self assess their work in a quiet space, but if he walked in, he saw the groups he wanted and he saw a few kids working together which was important to him. 

Math was the trickiest to circumnavigate.  Once our district ran out of money for workbooks and I had created enough games to cover the standards, it was all group work all the time.  The result was that the stronger students started carrying the lower students, who never had the time and space to think for themselves.  Finding independent activities during math is my next challenge.  Science will be in a year or 2 (since FOSS uses so much hands on group work).    

The group work is great for some kids.  At least half of them, probably more.  However it's so important to make space and time for the introverts too.  We all need to learn to work in less than ideal conditions for ourselves.  But no one should have to do it for 6 hours per day.  Do you find your school embraces the extroverts like mine?  Do you have other ways to help out your introverts? 

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