Do You Have a Quiet Kid?

A thoughtful article in Crosscut about children who are introverts and the "Quiet Revolution."

Recently, my fourteen-year-old daughter Melanie came home dejected from a volunteer activity. “I was criticized for not sharing enough of my ideas,” she told me. “The problem is that I like to listen. By the time I’m ready to share, everybody else is busy talking and I can’t get a word in edgewise.”

To reassure Melanie, we watched a TED Talk given by Susan Cain, author of the 2012 best-selling book "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking." This record-breaking speech has been viewed over four million times. Bill Gates says it’s one of his favorites.

What does this look like at school?

A key distinction between the two is how they respond to stimulation: Introverts prefer quieter, less stimulating environments, preferring to concentrate in solitude, spend more time problem-solving and think before they speak. In contrast, extroverts draw their energy from more stimulating environments and from other people. They are often assertive, quicker to act and can be multi-taskers.  

In the middle of the introvert-extrovert spectrum are “ambiverts,” whom Cain says may enjoy the best of both worlds. Shyness differs from introversion, explains Cain, and stems from a fear of social judgment.

“It’s not that I’m so smart,“ Einstein famously remarked, ”It’s just that I stay with problems longer.”


Watching said…
I highly recommend reading "The Hidden Gifts of the Introverted Child". This book was a life changer.

Unknown said…
In her book, Quiet, Susan Cain has a hilarious section in which she talks about her visit to Harvard Business School where over-the-top extroversion is the dominant ethos, and where being an introvert is simply not an option.

She has some very interesting things to say, and some research to back it up, about how group decision making can be biased toward going with what the kewl kids want, not necessarily what is most effective. You get better results if you have a group process where everyone gets to spend time alone thinking about something, and then comes together in a process where everyone is expected to share his or her ideas. Too often the process is otherwise dominated by the people with the most social capital, who are not necessarily the people with the best ideas, ideas which more often than not come from the quiet, thoughtful people, but who don't banter well, don't know how to get a word in edgewise, or are reluctant to speak up, and so don't get heard.

Cain pushes back against the overuse of groups in the classroom precisely because it suits the learning styles of extroverts more than it does introverts. My own view is that introverts need to learn to be more extroverted and extroverts need to learn to be more introverted.

I teach mostly extroverted business-school students at the UW, and they are naturally good public speakers, but they often don't have anything interesting to say because they haven't thought enough about it--alone, in a quiet place, where they might, if they go there, discover that they think something other than the received conventional wisdom.

And introverts need to assert themselves in groups moe than they are comfortable to do. Like it or not they will be going into a workplace that is dominated by teams and groups. So group work is a big part of what happens in my class, but I spend time talking about the introvert/extrovert difference, if for no other reason than to educate the extroverts who tend to assume that there is no other valid possibility except to be as they are.

And I think it was Cain, or maybe Dan Pink, who points out that it's one thing to be extroverted, and it's another to be empathic. Extroverts are good in groups; introverts good one on one. Extroverts are good at picking up on social cues; introverts on emotional cues. Each need to learn from the other.
word said…
With all due respect Jack - I think you have missed a key point of Susan Cain's book. It is misguided and potentially damaging to state that "introverts need to learn to be more extroverted and extroverts need to learn to be more introverted."
These styles of thinking and behavior are a product of our respective physiologies - right down to the genes that code for our neuroreceptors. The better approach is for society and employers to find ways in which each type can work most effectively. It is a supreme waste of time and energy to try to become what you are not. And, more importantly, by emphasizing one style over the other we are destroying US competitiveness. This was an important take-home message of the book. If the business school students at UW are "mostly extroverted" then that is a significant problem to start with - especially if introverts are being driven away because only the extrovert skill set is being reinforced. This is similar to the problems that the SPSs face in encouraging all students to work to their full potential. As I see it - it is a cop-out on the part of educators to simply insist that each group "change" to become more like the other. The gifts and capabilities of introverts and extroverts are already there - don't make each group uncomfortable by wasting their time trying to change them.
Michael Rice said…
I think long and hard about the quiet kids I have in my class. I teach in a very loud, outgoing, (and I like to think) engaging style. Most of my students seem to enjoy the way I teach and will interact with me without much proding. I always have a few quiet kids, who won't get invovled during class. I am not saying they do not engage in the math, they almost always do, it's that they don't speak up or participate much. I make a very strong effort to try to at least talk to each kid in class every day, even if it just a "how are you doing, what questions do you have" statement. But at the end of every year, I wonder if I reached those kids, if they feel liked they really learned anything and if they had a chance, would they take another class from me.
Anonymous said…
Don't worry - those quiet kids are getting a huge amount from your class. Quiet kids also learn a lot from those kids that do participate. You should be applauded for checking up on them and caring. And it is a good idea to at least give them a chance as you have done. The group classroom just isn't their preferred venue for contribution.

Anonymous said…
Michael, as a former "quiet kid" I can assure you that your introverted students are learning. They may not be comfortable, however. Loud, "engaging" people scared me when I was that age. And I swear it made my ears hurt to have to listen to it. I lived in fear that I would be expected to "perform" in the same way, though I did fine doing problems on the board if called upon.

I'm glad you do check in with such students, but personally, I would have avoided ever signing up for a class like yours again if I could avoid it.

Of course, as an adult I've come out of my shell somewhat and in some situations can actually lead a group. But not in high school. It just wasn't possible for me.

Anonymous said…
My daughter had difficulty with Socratic seminars because of this. She never could get a word in edgewise so she quit talking and it affected her grade. The format favors extroverts.


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