by Dr. Margo Turner
I have been reading Cain’s (2013), Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking because my son is an introvert. As an educator and a trainer for educators I realize the power of talk – I do it for a living for goodness’ sake. But as a mom to a little guy of few words, I can find myself worrying about his lack of talking and his performance potential in school, especially when the Common Core Standards have at least 37 listed for K-6th grade that relate to talk (corestandards.org), such as “engage effectively in a range of collaborative conversations… ask questions to clear up any confusion… paraphrase portions of a text read aloud” – anything but “common” for my son.
There’s a flip side to the plight of introverts that is explored in Tough’s (2012) How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character and Jensen’s (2013) Engaging Students with Poverty in Mind: Strategies for Raising Achievement, and it is what stressful situations can do to the brain development and academic potential of learners.
To summarize, when the body has to manage stressful situations often and the stress chemicals are released in the brain over and over again, this puts strain on the body and brain. This strain disrupts the allostatic balance and can keep the learner from reaching potential. If speaking in public or in front of others, for example the widely utilized and expected small group assignments in a classroom, produces stress, and it can for introverts especially, then what can teachers do to help these students succeed?
Let’s focus on 3 specific strategies that can help lower the stress and increase the learning through meaningful classroom talk but also benefit all learning and learners:
- Create a Positive Environment (Jensen, 2013). Building relationships with students requires intentionality and sensitivity, and teachers of introverts can create a positive environment by allowing them processing time, reflection, and multiple ways to respond (which is great for all learners). As teachers are supportive of introverts they gain their trust and can positively and appropriately challenge them to take risks, such as reading a prepared and practiced (with the teacher) summary of a favorite book or report to the class. The critical component is that the student feels valued and supported by the teacher. Allowing students who are more introverted with time to prepare responses or questions before sharing them aloud or with others can lead to talking success. I have seen my own son shine while talking in front of his class about a project he completed with his best friend, who was standing right there beside him along with their supportive teacher, after they had time to prepare and practice what they would say.
- Master Interactive Modeling (Wilson, 2014). The Responsive Classroom materials offer many practical suggestions for teachers and the latest The Language of Learning is right on target , full of practical suggestions on how to develop effective listeners and speakers. Interactive Modeling in one such strategy offered in which teachers give learners a mental picture of the skill that is being focused on, with clarity and details, and plenty of opportunities to practice with precise feedback. An example would be the teacher modeling how to talk as the main character of the book while sharing the main idea of the book. The teacher shares her thinking out loud about what the main idea is and how the character would speak about this information and then has the students practice first by writing down what they will say and then practicing it as partners and then aloud in front of the class. The teacher gives feedback and allows for reteaching or additional practice as needed. This technique allows for teachers to support introverts with the invaluable keys to success of processing time and practice.
- Allow Choice: Talk about what matters (Cain, 2013). In Quiet, Cain allows the reader to understand more of what an introvert may be experiencing in various situations, including public speaking. She suggests self-talk as a great way to allow introverts to prepare and succeed at speaking in front of others. The book offers important neurological insights into the introvert’s brain that helped Cain, an introvert herself, understand why when she is speaking about a topic that she cares deeply about or that matters to her she feels much more comfortable and successful. The description of the roles the amygdala and pre-frontal cortex play in increasing or decreasing stress is valuable information for teachers to consider. Practically speaking, providing choices and incorporating interests are two key strategies for engaging all learners, especially those who may be stressed out by an assignment or classroom activity.
Stress can be costly for learners in many ways, physiologically, emotionally and academically (Jensen, 2013). Couple that with a less than ideal (for typical classrooms) temperament or preference of being introverted (Cain, 2013) and its easy to understand why kids like my son quietly ask as we load into the car some mornings, “do I have to go to school?” Teachers who “talk the talk and walk the walk” of brain-based learning (for example, using the strategies discussed in this article) can know that they are addressing Common Core Standards, but more importantly, they can know that they are teaching so that all students value school and experience success.
Cain, S. (2103). Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. NY: Broadway Books.
Common Core Standards, corestandards.org
Jensen, E. (2013). Engaging students with poverty in mind: Practical strategies for raising achievement. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Tough, P. (2012). How children succeed: Grit, curiosity, and the hidden power of character. NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
Wilson, M.B. (2014). The language of learning: Teaching students core thinking, listening, and speaking skills. Turners Falls, MA: Northeast Foundation for Children, INC.