Speak Up, Already!

So, I’m having my cup of coffee, eating a cinnamon roll, and reading the news feed on my vacation day (yes, I admit it, fear of driving home during Nemo made me use a day off), when I see a tweet from Jenny Luca
Which led me to this article in The Atlantic: Introverted Kids Need to Learn to Speak Up at School.

Needless to say, this introvert (and also occasionally shy and sometimes socially awkward and/or anxious) person was not pleased and, well, decided to Speak Up on Twitter. A lot bothered me about this article, from a self-identified extrovert deciding what is best for introverts is to be more like extroverts to a non-nuanced discussion about what, exactly, “class participation” is and is not. As just one short example of the bias in the article, this sentence: “Or I can ask them to open their mouths, turn on their brains, and share their ideas with the rest of the class.”

Generally, the way I process information is first I turn on my brain; then I share. What I’ve had to learn over decades is how to handle the “open mouth, then think” people in classrooms and offices and meetings and discussions. That is not about participation, but about communicating and working with different personality types. But I digress.

This isn’t a world of extroverts or introverts; it’s a world of both. I particularly liked Kristin’s response at Children’s Literature Crossroads on Introverts and Class Discussion, because it mentions both types of learners learning how to work with the other, as well as the varying levels of “class participation” and what that means.

Monica Edinger at Educating Alice mentions another point to keep in mind when discussing class participation: cultural norms.

Kelly at Stacked also had a few thoughts, in Doing Disservice to Introversion.

Any other thoughts or reactions? Let me know!

Edited to add:

Teri Lesesne weighs in at Introvert, Extrovert, Ambivert.

Ordinary Mer at Quit Fixing Introverts.

Charlotte’s Library and My Introverted Take On Being Called On In Class.

and more

Read, Write, Reflect on Speaking Up In The Classroom

BalancEdTech on And Extrovert Kids Need to Learn to Listen in School

and more from Monica Edinger: In the Classroom: A Few Classroom Teaching Suggestions From an Introverted Teacher

and The In Librarian and Striking a Chord




32 thoughts on “Speak Up, Already!

  1. My high school Psychology class included a participation aspect as part of the grade. You had to raise your hand and be called upon 3 times a semester (so over 4 months or so).

    Here are all the things I self-identify as (having just read Susan Cain’s book Quiet to influence my thinking): Extrovert, Highly-Sensitive, somewhat Shy
    Add one more point: I was in mostly AP and advanced track classes in high school. Psychology was not offered that way – it was open to everyone.

    Here’s the effect this had for me – when my parents went for whatever passed for parent-teacher conferences in high school what they heard from my Psych teacher is that he wished I would talk more – it wasn’t a problem, I was going to get an A easily, but he knew I could be contributing more. I am a natural hand raiser. I was good at high school and often knew the “right” answer. And more often than not, I waited to raise my hand in that class until it became clear no one else was going to answer a particular question because I understood that not just my grade, but my classmate’s grades depended, at least partially, on that participation aspect. I KNEW I was going to fulfill that with no problem, so I felt strongly that I needed to give other people a chance to get their participation marks. I remember feeling completely baffled that this was what my Psych teacher told my parents, because I felt he should understand what I was doing because that was how he set up his classroom.

    I have mixed feelings on participation as part of a grade. I work at a public library so I don’t give grades, but I do run a 3rd-5th grade book discussion group and I know I have some very smart introverts who I do wish would share more. Some of the extroverts can just go on and on and on never even saying anything relevant. (Which, side note – boy is there a wide range of comprehension at this age!) My job as discussion leader is just as much to try and quash/redirect those extroverted diversions as it is to give introverts the opportunity to speak (not make them speak, but not always call on the first person to raise their hand and when one of my rare talkers does raise their hand to make sure I pick them!).


    1. Jen –
      Your reflection about NOT raising your hand in class to allow others to share is spot on! You are experiencing with your 3-5 graders – I also experience it with undergraduate preservice teachers in my children’s literature courses. I wish that I had more students who know when NOT to talk for meaningful, informed reasons.
      One of the things that concerns me about preservice teachers that don’t stop talking and allow their more quiet classmates to talk is that they will someday be in classrooms with a similar situation.
      Thanks so much for sharing your personal experiences from your psychology class. I’m constantly asking my more introverted friends to share stories like you do here, because it helps me to be more aware of how I can be flexible as the teacher of a course.
      Good luck with that book group!


    2. Jen & Kristin, I think it depends on the participation, the ages of the kids, what exactly is going on. If parents are saying it’s creating a problem for their children? That’s something I think needs to be taken into consideration; as well as it’s a two way street, and reading just about what introverts have to do, with the implication that it’s an extroverts world, bothers me.
      And when/how/why kids participate, so important! Feeling I have nothing to add to a conversation, or allowing another to have a chance to participate, is not something to be dismissed out of hand.


  2. “this introvert (and also occasionally shy and sometimes socially awkward and/or anxious) person was not pleased”

    This introvert agrees 100% with your statement. That article drove me crazy because I feel like I’m constantly addressing other people’s misconceptions about what it means to be an introvert.


    1. the misconception part — I know! Introverts are bosses, actors, speakers, etc — it’s not someone quaking in their books, unable to ask needed questions, paralyzed into nonaccomplishment.

      to be fair, there are also misconceptions out there about extroverts. Ideally, it’s about mutual understanding of different ways of interacting with each other and the world.


      1. Exactly! I think it is a huge misconception. From the time I was quite young, I was quiet. I was an observer. I listened. I watched. If I hadn’t I don’t think that today I would be a writer. But because I was quiet, I was labeled “shy.” I came to believe that label. It wasn’t until I was older and teaching in front of classes and speaking to large audiences that I realized I wasn’t shy. I simply was a quiet person and there is nothing wrong with that. It is not something that needs to be cured. When I go and speak to kids in schools now, I always mention that I was a quiet kid, watching and observing, and it’s okay to be like that. I prefer the description of “quiet” over the term “shy” which seems to imply a lack of social skills.


      2. Mary, terrific point — quiet isn’t shy. In reading some of the comments at other places, there also seems to be a “if you don’t say something, you aren’t thinking” — which is both about other ways of communication (Monica Edinger has plenty at her second post) as well as the bias of some (just some!) extroverts that quiet truly means something other than, well, quiet: it’s not being confident, it’s not having an idea, it’s manipulative (I’ve had that one said to my face, that introverts being quiet is just to manipulate others), etc. The original Atlantic piece seems to conflate many ideas and terms — if the issue is lack of social skills (and the examples there seem to be the issue), then is mandatory participation in an English class by really the answer?


  3. What frustrates me about this article is that the idea of helping students learn about themselves and how they communicate and how to gain skills around that (on their terms) really has nothing to do with class participation. In fact, it’s a great goal. Yet as someone I’m rather fond of says “Oh, I know the so-called right thing to do in these situation, but I’ve got to be sure it’s really worth the effort and cost.” That’s very different than the assumption that kids don’t know how/can’t do something. (And yeah, the shy vs. introversion thang is relevant, too).


    1. Greg, agreed — perhaps the best way for someone to ask about the difference between verb and adverb isn’t during class, for a bunch of reasons.


  4. I saw that same tweet and reacted the same way. On the one hand, I was glad the author of the article HAD read Susan Cain’s book. But I’m really glad she wasn’t my teacher or either of my sons’ teacher. And thank heaven I never had a parent who forced me to do a “scavenger hunt” like the one she described!

    Though I did get to thinking… I do remember a time in early high school, when my Mom was out shopping with me and gently told me I should look people in the eye when I talk to them. It doesn’t hurt to give introverts *some* training.

    And I did have teachers who had a class participation component. In general, I’m against it. A lot depends on how *much* of the grade depends on it. 10% offends me a lot less than, say 50%. I *did* appreciate what this teacher was trying to do, and that she tried to modify her instruction to better help introverts.

    But I still don’t like it.


    1. Sondy, this gets into nuance for individual student’s needs, their strengths, and what needs work — heck, we all need work about certain things. A one size fit all “participation grade” with a side of implying the parents are unduly worrying about their children — a sort of “suck it up and become an extrovert”? No. As for participation, I think it really depends on what that means. As Kristin and others mention, starting with smaller groups that encourage discussion versus, say, counting who raises their hand when, matters.


      1. Yeah, the fact that she has parents who are upset about her participation component is a huge red flag.

        She does give lip service to adjusting to the needs of introverts. She doesn’t give specifics of how she is working to accommodate them. But you’re right that the overall flavor of the article implies that introverts need to be “fixed” somehow.

        You know when I took a class and I really loved it when the teachers required participation? Online classes. Because the participation was just posting a comment once a week. It was great to hear from every single person in the class (whom you never met in person), and the comments were well-thought-out. I loved that I could edit my words! And the loud people never dominated the discussion. And they could edit their thoughts, too!

        But that’s a far cry from what this teacher’s talking about, and no one was implying that I was becoming a better, more successful person by commenting.


      2. Oh, this made me try to figure out what I graded to come up with a “class participation” grade when I taught, because now that you mention it, we DID have to grade “class participation.” But my classes were so plagued with misbehavior* that basically you got yourself a good class participation score by just FOLLOWING DIRECTIONS. For example, you didn’t get your projects done? You obviously weren’t participating, then, so you lose credit. You show up with a pencil? Good, you get participation points. It really wasn’t much about speaking up at all– it was, are you trying to learn about the library, or are you kicking back and making this your free period? In many cases, the ones who weren’t ACTUALLY participating in my lessons/projects were also the NOISIEST ones….

        *I was a horrible, horrible teacher, and this is why I am a teacher in the past tense. On the subject, you can’t blame my complete-inability-to-manage-a-classroom on my being an introvert– well, maybe you can, if you consider daydreaming to be a symptom of introversion (it’s the world inside my head!)– the term we heard in education school was “With-it-ness.” I had a complete LACK of With-it-ness. But it was completely unrelated to my feelings about being in front of a group of people or speaking up, because I actually don’t have problems with public speaking.


      3. sondy, it’s really hard to know what exactly she does, or has changed, etc. but, from some of the phrases, whether intentional or not, it sounds too much like “learn to be an extrovert”

        rockinlibrarian, thank you for sharing this!


  5. I hated participation required as a grade component in school. I LOVED school, still do, but I clearly remember the classes where my grade was contingent on some dumb throwaway remark because I can never think of great things to say when put on the spot. Those classes definitely left me with a sour impression. And sadly, they happened at all levels, elementary, high school, college and grad school.


    1. sarah, this is where I think the type of participation matters. Even for what you describe (thinking of what to say on the spot) — how much notice are students given about what will be talked about? For example, law school helped me a lot in terms of this type of thing in part because it was always clear what the topic/discussion/area was going to be about. A person could (and was expected to) prepare ahead of time. (As an aside, I was in my 20s, and shudder at my ten year old self being expected to be/do what my 23 year old self did).


  6. The fact that she thinks that their brains aren’t “turned on” if their mouths aren’t open is beyond insulting. I was just grading my first set of papers yesterday (about Grandpa Green) and one of the most insightful submissions was from a student who has rarely spoken up in class. This is partly because english is not her first language, but I also know (from the survey I use at the beginning of the semester) that she is shy.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and also for the mention of my post.


    1. Kristin, I think its one of the small throwaway sentences that is more revealing than intended. And loved your post!


  7. I’m saw Susan Cain speak at a conference last week and am reading the book now. She makes me feel understood, and, as an introvert who works with a lot of introverts, her observations and ideas are useful.


  8. I HATE ICEBREAKERS. They’re such a contrived way of getting people to talk to others at workshops. They’re painful for people who aren’t extroverts.

    Good that Monica pointed out cultural norms.


    1. For the record, ice breakers can be painful for extroverts, too. Just because we process our thoughts as we’re speaking doesn’t mean we like those goofy, contrived scenarios any better than you introverts. And I won’t even talk about role playing…


  9. Debbie, icebreakers; I usually think, let’s get on with this, already!

    And Sharon, thank you for the reminder that “extrovert” doesn’t mean “anything goes” and that extroverts may also dislike ice breakers (or, for that matter, other things that people think of as “extroverts”)


  10. The Atlantic article came just as I was finishing Quiet and starting to think through the implications for my classroom and the PD work I do. I think this article along with the TED video I embedded on the Thinking Space – Quiet page would result in an excellent “conversation” at a staff meeting. How would you run that so that the introverted staff members would be comfortable and their ideas would be expressed? http://balancedtech.wikispaces.com/Thinking+Space+-+Quiet

    I started with my own questions and questions I thought I’d ask other educators, next up is to quietly discuss this with a range of my students to see what they think, probably one on one with some and through online forums with others. Maybe then I’ll have a more reasoned approach to any changes I make.


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