Does Common Core hurt introverted students?

20th century classroom allowed introverted students to be invisible during lessons but achieve on tests
By: | Issue: December, 2015
November 23, 2015

The standards-driven push for project-based learning and collaboration may inadvertently penalize introverted students who prefer to work quietly on their own, some educators say.

“As the 21st century school moves into an arena where students learn to communicate and work together in addition to working alone, there has to be an accompanying awareness on the part of educators to support students of all personality types,” says Jill Berkowicz, co-author of The STEM Shift and a former curriculum director.

“Everyone has to be valued, because otherwise their contribution is missed.”

Susan Cain’s bestselling 2012 book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, criticizes schools and other institutions for primarily accommodating extroverts, who are more likely to participate in class and to enjoy the stimulation of group work.

Introverts “feel at their most alive and their most switched-on and their most capable when they’re in quieter, more low-key environments,” Cain said in her TED Talk on the subject.

Engaging introverts in class

Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, recommended the following in a TED blog post to aid introverts in the classroom:

Alternate between group and individual work. Increase work in pairs, which are beneficial for both introverts and extroverts.
Rethink class participation to allow students to demonstrate that they are engaged in ways other than speaking aloud.
Build silent reading time into the school day.
Provide alternatives to recess, such as by opening up the classroom for students who would rather play board games or do an activity quietly.

An estimated one-third to one-half of the U.S. population identifies as introverted, the book says.

Cain’s book and the adoption of new learning standards has brought renewed attention to introverted learners, says Ann Myers, a co-author of The STEM Shift and a former New York district superintendent.

Though class participation and group work have long figured into grading, the 20th century classroom more easily allowed introverted students to be invisible during lessons but achieve on tests, Myers says. This is changing with the Common Core’s focus on communication and collaboration skills.

Teachers can use standards to build a curriculum specific to their own group of students, Berkowicz says. And lessons should not connect academic success with extroverte traits (such as quickly answering questions aloud) or introvert traits (such as speaking quietly).

Rather, class work should be varied between group and individual work, Myers says.

“We need to look for environments in which everyone has an opportunity to shine and make their unique contributions,” Myers says.

Modeling inclusion to administrators

The classroom is not the only place where introverts may be overshadowed. District and school administrators should consider the different personality types of faculty and staff during meetings and professional developmentÑand make an effort to include everyone in discussions.

A common example is an administrative team meeting in which the leader raises a topic for discussion. The first person who speaks has an influence over everyone else who participates and on what other ideas are voiced, says Myers.

One way to ensure everyone gets a say is to ask all participants to spend a few minutes writing down their thoughts. Then the leader asks each person to share their ideas, Myers suggests.