A Comfort's Food for Thought

Quiet Appreciation


This summer I read a book titled Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain. As an introvert myself, but, ironically, one who can’t stop talking, I found the title intriguing. A trend in education today is toCapture4 use collaborative learning in the classroom. Advocates contend that it prepares students for the workplace (making me wonder how today’s employees adapted to working in groups without the use of this technique during their years of education). Other claimed benefits are better retention of knowledge and the production of more creative ideas.

Group learning is designed for extroverts, people who like to talk and who are energized by being with other people. Introverts, on the other hand, are more sensitive to sights and sounds, and tend to withdraw when over-stimulated by being with groups of people. They are energized by being alone with their thoughts. Extroverts are spontaneous, speaking out immediately, while introverts are more thoughtful and deliberate. Introverts don’t share their ideas with just anyone. Thus, even without the explicit use of group learning, classroom education is designed for extroverts. The classroom itself is a large space with many students. Class participation is highly valued. Students who do not raise their hands to answer questions are encouraged to do so to get a good class participation grade. It is difficult to give time for quiet reflection. After all, how can one think deeply about a problem or a new idea with so many people all around?

Susan Cain says both experience and research demonstrate that group work does not necessarily lead to better learning and more creativity. In fact, observation of group dynamics reveals that the first to speak (the extrovert) usually gets his way, whether his idea is the best or not. Group brainstorming actually leads to conformity. Better students often dislike group projects because either they end up doing all the work (with everyone else sharing the credit) or they cave in to group-think and settle for mediocrity.

So what is the answer?  Should we stop using group learning techniques?  I don’t think so.   Educators need to meet the needs of all students, both the extro-  and introverted ones. However, at a time when extroversion is so valued and promoted, parents and teachers need to be sensitive to the needs of quieter students. We need to understand, accept, and value them. We need to recognize, for example, that class participation doesn’t consist only of speaking up and answering questions. An introvert’s quiet, focused attention on the subject being taught may be more productive than the extrovert’s facile but somewhat off-topic comments during class discussion. Certainly introverts need to learn to cope in a society that values extroversion. They need to know when and how to speak up and be assertive. But we need to affirm and nurture the positive side of their quiet nature—their sensitivity, loyalty, and thoughtfulness.

posted under Books, School

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I am a Christian, a mother and grandmother, a sister, a daughter, a teacher, a widow, a friend. . .  My life is first of all defined by relationships–to God, to my family, to my students, to my friends. Of course, I am many other things: a reader, an e-mail writer, a piano player, and a somewhat reluctant traveler, for example.  And now I am a blogger.  I’m not sure why, except it seems to be a logical next step for someone addicted to e-mail.