I have been reading again Susan Cain’s book, Quiet. It is a tremendous book bringing to light the often unexamined role of the 50% that fall within the introvert side of the population. Many salient points are raised for me.
In many ways schools are designed for the extrovert. Being able to function in a collaborative group is a highly sought objective. A popular seating arrangement is learning groups of four. Posters on the wall promote group skills. Projects begin with group brainstorming. Participation points are given for talking in class and small groups. Cooperative groups debrief discussing how well all members shared. Outgoing, gregarious students gain easier access to teacher favor.
I grew up with a strong dislike for the conformities of school. I suspect a significant part of that may have been due to not fitting the ideal extroverted model of student. I think part of why I ended up an elementary classroom teacher was a deep-seated psychological desire to revisit my elementary years and seek a more satisfactory resolution. I have always found a keen desire to seek out my quiet students and find means to connect with them. It is of great importance to me to help them find comfort in participating in class in a way that works for them.
In my preservice teacher methods class, I ask for and expect my students to actively participate. We talk about what participation might look like. It might be active engagement in a whole class dialog. It might be contributions to small group conversations. It might be sharing and supporting one another outside of class. It might be a commitment to the assigned reading and papers. It is not up to me to pass judgment on their level of participation. It is sufficient for me to look to the work they produce. If they are active participants, they are able to successfully complete this work.
In Cain’s book, she speaks to the popularity of groupthink – that is the thought that when you put people together in groups, their work improves. An effective counter is suggested by research that points to when people are allowed to find places of solitude, work and ideation improves. Businesses have shifted to open-plan spaces for their offices with the thought this would promote collaboration and improve performance. Multiple studies have shown the opposite. Allocating spaces where people might find themselves removed from the interference of others around them improves performance.
Cain tells the story of the ubiquitous strategy of brainstorming and cites research that points to flaws in the prominence of this strategy.
After all these years of evidence that conventional brainstorming groups don’t work, they remain popular as ever. Participants in brainstorming sessions usually believe that their group performed much better than it actually did, which points to a valuable reason for their continued popularity – group brainstorming makes people feel attached. A worthy goal, so long as we understand that social glue, as opposed to creativity, is the principal benefit. (89)
Perhaps we need to rethink how we structure our schools. Differentiation is a hot topic. Perhaps we also need to differentiate for those 50% of the students in our classrooms that do their most creative, most productive work, removed from the distractions and pressures of group. I would have benefited from this kind of classroom. I continue to find myself patiently waiting in groups attempting to conduct work until we disband and I can find private space to get to work.
Cain, S. (2012). Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. New York: Crown Publishers.