When Susan Cain wrote Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking in 2012, it was a big success. The book made the cover of Time magazine, spent weeks on the New York Times best-sellers list and was the subject of one of the most-watched TED Talks, with more than 13 million views.

From that grew The Quiet Revolution, a company Cain co-founded that continues to produce and share content about, and for, introverts. The site offers an online training course for parents and stories submitted by readers about being introverted. There’s even a podcast.

Kids, Cain says, “are at the heart and center of it.”

“Introverts often are really amazing, talented, gifted, loving children, and they feel like there’s something wrong with them,” she says. “And our mission is to make it so that the next generation of kids does not grow up feeling that way.”

In her latest book, Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverts, she’s taking her message about introverts to teenagers. Though the book is written for young adults, it’s also a tool for teachers and parents.

I talked with Cain about her mission of supporting introverts, and asked her advice on how to teach them.

So what does it mean to be an introverted child?

It’s really not different for a child than for an adult. It’s a person who feels at their best and at their most alive when they’re in quieter, more mellow environments. And it stems from a neurobiological difference between introverts and extroverts. Literally, different nervous systems. Introverts have nervous systems that simply react more to everything that’s going on around them, and that means they feel more in their sweet spot when there’s less stuff happening. And extroverts have nervous systems that react less, which means that they don’t get to their sweet spot until there’s more stuff happening. And so this is why you see these different behavioral preferences. An introverted kid would rather draw quietly or would rather play their favorite sport with one or two other kids. A more extroverted child would rather be part of a big gang and a big noisy birthday party, and not only not be fazed by it but seem to really relish all that stimulation.

And it’s different from being shy?

It is different. Shyness is much more about the fear of being judged. It’s a kind of self-consciousness and not wanting people to look at you and feeling easily embarrassed or easily shamed. These are all the feelings that a shy child would have. And in practice, many introverted children are also shy, but many are not, and you can also have children that are quite extroverted but who are shy, and as soon as they overcome their shyness, you see them being in the middle of the big gang. So it’s really important when you’re working with children to understand what is actually happening inside them so that you make sure that you’re responding to the right thing.

So let’s talk about schools. Where do they come in?

You know, lots of schools are really hungry for information on how they can do a better job of working with these kids.

They’re asking good questions: What indeed are the right ways to think about class participation? And are we over-evaluating as an educational culture? We overvalue the person who raises their hand all the time. Why is that important? Do we overvalue in quantity, as opposed to quality, of participation? Are there ways to think about class participation differently? Like we [at Quiet Revolution] have been encouraging schools to think in terms of classroom engagement rather than participation. Take a more holistic way of looking at how a child is engaging with this material or with their classmates.

One of the anecdotes I loved in the book was when the teacher had her students think for a minute before answering. What other kind of good ideas or tips can teachers use like that?

Another idea is the think/pair/share technique, which I think many teachers are familiar with already, but may not realize the power of it within a population of students. This is a technique where the teacher asks the students a question; asks them to think about the answer. They pair up with another student to talk about their reflections. And then, once they’re paired, once they’ve articulated it with that partner, then you ask each pair to share their thoughts with the room as a whole. And this does a lot of great things for introverted kids. No. 1, it gives them the time to process. No. 2, it allows them to get the experience of articulating their thoughts out loud. But in front of only one other student, they don’t have to do it in front of the whole class. And then, often, once they have had that warmup period with one other student, they’re then much more likely to want to share with the whole class.

So this is a technique that works, it works equally well for introverts and extroverts. It’s great for the extroverts, too, but it just happens to work well with the more reticent kids.

What do you think about using social media or technology in the classroom? Helpful for introverts? Harmful?

Helpful. Well, of course social media is such a big thing, so for introverts, there are pros and cons. But my first impulse is to say helpful, and there are teachers now who are starting to incorporate social media into their classrooms and report that the more reticent children are much more likely to participate when their means of expression is through their screens. They can type their answer into a screen, the other students then see what they have written or typed or whatever, and then “real life” dialogue begins based on the initial ideas that were contributed through the screen.

So in general I’m a big fan of social media. I think incorporating it creatively into the class can work. If we’re talking about it as an educational technique, then I am all for it.

This brings me to another school-related trauma: the public speech. Should teachers kind of push introverts along, out of their comfort zone?

Yeah, so I think that it’s important, of course. The key, if we’re talking about public speaking or really anything that kids are fearful of, is to think of anxiety levels on a scale of 1 to 10, and to make sure you’re pushing kids within a zone of 4 to 6.

If you have a kid who is really freaking out, they’re really in that 7-to-10 zone, it’s just too dangerous to push them at that point. They might succeed, they might, you know, do well and feel this is great. But there’s too big a risk of it backfiring and the experience going poorly and the fear being further codified in their brain.

So you’re much better off meeting a fear in small steps. The answer is not: ‘OK, you never have to do … ‘ The Answer is: “OK. You’re afraid of public speaking. Why don’t you prepare your speech and work on it first with your best friend?”

Give the speech to your friend. And then, when you’ve done that, maybe you can give it to another, smaller group. From there, you work up in stages, to finally giving the all out speech. You look for ways to make the experience less anxiety producing.

In the book, you mention that loving the topic can help kids get into their speech.

Making sure that the child is speaking about a subject that they’re truly passionate about and excited to speak about is important. Because again, this is … biochemical. If you tap into your body’s behavioral activation system by speaking about something you’re excited about, then that overcomes the body’s behavioral inhibition system. Which is the system in your body telling you, stop. Slow down. Get the heck off the stage. So it does require extra work on the part of the teacher and an extra degree of thought and care, which I recognize is not always easy, you know, for overburdened teachers. But it goes a long way.

What about group work? Is that good for introverts?

In my experience, it depends a lot on how the group is structured. How carefully it’s structured. Because I’ve seen group work where it works really well, you’ve got kids who work well together, everybody knows their role. That can be a really positive experience. And then I’ve seen big free-for-all groups where it’s Lord of The Flies and you’ve got the most dominant kids taking over. Everyone else is checked out. So it can really go both ways.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
Strategies to Ensure Introverted Students Feel Valued at School 19 February,2016MindShift

  • Karissa187

    This can be useful for future reference, as a teacher. I’ve always considered those as introverted as also being shy, but I guess that is not necessarily true, after reading this article. It’s important to recognize that each student has certain learning preferences and levels of comfortability, which can affect how he or she engages in group discussion and activities.

  • ritika sharma

    I also believe that introverts are those who take more time to interact. There is nothing like they are lacking, but only an adjustment with peers which they feel discomfort in.

  • Frank Russell

    Looking to the future, I can see how this is an important and relevant article to use. I’m really excited to talk and work with introverts because I have a sister who is introverted and she and i collaborate well. I want to be a teacher who can help every type of person, introverted or extroverted, reach their fullest potential in the classroom. Thanks for the share!

  • S THOMSON

    I used an exercise with some visiting Chinese scholars who were new here. They were given a task: to introduce themselves and say something about their selves. In order to minimize their fear of speaking in English to Americans, I had them give their speech in a group of three, all at once, facing the audience. No one could really hear what they were saying, it was a din, but they did well, each presenting themselves effectively and with focus to the audience. Their English came out articulately. They felt successful and we all had a good time.

  • AMM

    I think valuing the introverted child is a great start. So often society encourages the extroverted child and promotes the extroverted behaviours: you are smart if you are constantly raising your hand in class, only “cool” if you go to the loud birthday party, etc… Seeing the value in reading, painting, inventing or participating in a quiet puzzle is just as valuable as the other. We need to value both introverts and extroverts as they both benefit society. There are many great strategies mentioned in this article. Thank you for sharing.

  • Social media…for improving skills of introverts in the social sciences – in the same classroom setting? Am sorry but strongly disagree…once again technology consumption in education seems to have become the drug of choice to “Cure anything”. Why not (since you happen to be in the same room) “Improve practices” for the quiet students to have conversations with eyes, ears, and vocal chords…? some sound inquiry, prior knowledge/experiences, small group learning, meaningful connections, in a safe, nurturing environment…rather than digitizing the “Quiet” students (Could possibly just make matters worse by teaching them how not to use their voice…outside the classroom). Those screens: Just LCD’s at 72 dpi into 1’s and 0’s that represent alpha numeric expressions on a wavelength of blue light(1PM); pulsing on and off at 60 Hz…On/Off (1/0) information all day/night long..and now studies connect to sleeping disorders (Blue light)…..as an engineer/educator these tools are handy to have for storing/processing data/conveying factual information…but not the best at contemplative/critical thinking exercises in the social sciences….with the lesson being; whenever possible: “Why not just have a conversation?”

  • Jenn

    When I first read Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, I had one of those “Oh my god!” moments where you realize that the book/song/movie was written about you or just for you. It made me feel better about all the quiet nights I spend at home, even though I say no a lot to friends and colleagues. After a long day of working with kids, quiet for me is a necessity.

    Cain also helped me really think about other introverts, mainly the kids I work with every day. When schools value collaboration and verbal discussions so much, we tend to find fault with the kids that aren’t talking. That’s not good enough.

    I loved the ideas presented by Cain in this interview, and I think there are more out there just waiting. Going back to Howard Gardner and his Theory of Multiple Intelligences, teachers seem to agree that there are myriad ways to show what you know. So let’s bring more of those ideas back into the classroom! When questions and projects are on the table, try allowing for drawing, building, writing, dancing, drumming, and talking and more! I think kids will amaze us with their thoughtful responses and we’ll feel better knowing that everyone is participating, and doing so with their greatest strengths.

    Jenn Drake
    3-4 Classroom Teacher
    UCDS
    Seattle, WA

  • Tim Tetrault

    I join my colleague and fellow commenter Jenn Drake in gratitude for Cain’s work. At my school, UCDS in Seattle, WA, I’ve seen teachers really stretching themselves to consider the physical spaces of their classrooms and their impact on introverted students. I’ve seen creative use of semi-opaque curtains, “cozy”corners, and lower-stimuli spaces. As an introvert myself, this warms my heart as I think back to my schooling, especially when a teacher saw me, my needs, and my self for who I was.

    Tim Tetrault
    Executive Assistant
    UCDS
    Seattle, WA

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