Tips for Teaching Introverts

Students study in the Science and Engineering Complex on Tufts’ Medford Campus (Anna Miller/Tufts University)

by Ryan Rideau, Associate Director for Teaching, Learning, and Inclusion and and Carie Cardamone, Associate Director for STEM & Professional Schools, at the Center for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching (CELT)

In her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, author Susan Cain argues that western society undervalues introverts. Because introverts often prefer learning on their own to working in large boisterous groups, Cain proposes that can feel overwhelmed in many of today’s group-oriented educational settings. Truly meeting the needs of all learners requires considering the place for active learning through opportunities for independent thought and work.  Most importantly, by privileging extroverts, we can miss opportunities to leverage the strength and power of introverts to deepen the learning of all the students in our classes.

Tips for Teaching Introverts:

  • Use multiple modalities in your instruction: Balance class time between lecture, ‘circled discussions’, group work, and independent work and thought.  This will allow all students to thrive and push them beyond their comfort zones.
  • Allow time for reflection: To learn, each student needs time to integrate new ideas and concepts into what they already know.  Whether it’s a pause moment in a lecture, or a minute to ‘think’ before sharing with a partner, build in time for students to write out or think about their own ideas.
  • Create multiple avenues for participation: While many courses contain significant discussion components, beginning larger class discussions with smaller pair conversations provides an opportunity for more students to articulate their thoughts. Faculty can also consider how to provide credit for listening and responding in non-verbal ways, including the use of classroom-response-systems (clickers or poll everywhere) and allowing students time to write responses to questions.
  • Examine your assumptions about students:  Some settings may prompt students from minoritized groups to act introverted out of fear of being judged on their identity.  Social factors, such as a student’s sense of belonging, may contribute to how introverted or extroverted a student may act in the classroom. While selecting pedagogical practices, it is critical to foster an inclusive environment that allows all students to build upon their strengths.

Additional Resources:

See Teaching@Tuft’s Approaches to Teaching for more ideas to help all your students