Monday, 26 March 2012

In Praise of Introverts

I’ve been reading with interest reviews of Susan Cain’s book Quiet – The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.

  Cain’s book looks at the ways in which our society is geared up to celebrate and encourage extrovert personality traits.  Placed in opposition to the extrovert ideal, introverts are undervalued and overlooked.  Cain goes on to argue that our celebration of extrovert culture begins at an early age, where pupils are grouped facing each others in pods, and praised by teachers for giving quick (rather than thoughtful or original) answers. 

As a child I was an introvert.  Painfully shy and bookish, I would never have willingly volunteered an answer. “Very quiet pupil” was a frequent refrain on my report cards.  Well over thirty years later, I have learned to quell my introvert tendencies, at least at work. I am vocal at meetings, gregarious at social events and never slow to put myself forward for exciting sounding opportunities. However, deep down I know I’m still an introvert. How can I not be, when the typical workshop phrase “Now I want you to get into your groups and discuss…” sends a shiver down my spine?

Thinking about Quiet prompted me to examine my own classroom practice. So much of what we do in the classroom is based on collaborative learning through group work and pair work.  Learners are asked to peer check answers, work together on information gap activities and take part in mingle activities. Heck, my learners even worked in pairs to write poetry!

It can be argued that there are sound reasons for all this collaborative work. I am, after all, a language teacher and oral communication is a key goal in language learning. I also work with a class of sociable and outgoing learners who frequently end up conferring in small groups even when they have been asked to work alone on a task. But how would a more introvert newcomer to my class fare? In encouraging the extrovert learners in my class am I perpetuating “groupthink” at the expense of reflection, sensitivity and creativity?
I look forward to reading Quiet.  In the meantime I will keep a log of the types of activities I do in my classes and monitor the learners not just for their linguistic performance, but also for their reactions. Perhaps in doing so, I will discover that I teach more introverts (or ambiverts) than I had thought.