May 23, 2012
Studies Illustrate Plight of Introverted Students
By Sarah D. Sparks
Educators often look for ways to bring quiet children out of their shells, but emerging research suggests schools can improve academic outcomes for introverted students by reducing the pressure to be outgoing and giving all students a little more time to reflect.
"Whoever designed the context of the modern classroom was certainly not thinking of the shy or quiet kids," said Robert J. Coplan, a psychology professor and shyness expert at Carleton University, in Ottawa, Canada. With often-crowded, high-stimulation rooms and a focus on oral performance for class participation, he said, "in many ways, the modern classroom is the quiet kid's worst nightmare."
Susan Cain, the author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, published by Random House this year, argues that such children often stop learning when they feel emotionally threatened in a class environment in which being an extrovert is considered the norm.
"There is too often a tendency to see it as inferior or even pathological," Ms. Cain said, "so teachers feel they have to turn the introvert into an extrovert."
Quiet as Stupid?
Take a typical class review session, in which a teacher asks rapid-fire questions and calls on students in turn.
"So if a teacher asks a question and the person doesn't answer right away," Mr. Coplan said, "the most common thing is the teacher doesn't have time to sit and wait, but has to go on to someone else—and in the back of their head might think that child is not as intelligent or didn't do his homework."
That slowness to speak can dramatically affect a student's success in classrooms where vocal participation and group activities are critical.
A 2011 study found teachers from across K-12 rated hypothetical quiet children as having the lowest academic abilities and the least intelligence, compared with hypothetical children who were talkative or typical in behavior.
Interestingly, teachers who were identified as and who rated themselves as shy agreed that quiet students would do less well academically, but did not rate them as less intelligent.
As many as half of Americans are introverts, according to the Center for Applications of Psychological Type, located in Gainesville, Fla.
There's a distinction between shyness—generally associated with fear or anxiety around social contact—and introversion, which is related to a person's comfort with various levels of stimulation.