Introverts Part II: Classroom Discussions and Technology

Working on problems in a math class

Last week’s post about Susan Cain’s talk on introverts resonated with many from our community. In addition to the great comments on the post itself, I received several emails and have had quite a few conversations about the topic with both introverts and extroverts (and the parents of introverts and extroverts).

One theme that has come up is the use of discussion in the classroom. Years ago I worked with a colleague who kept a stack of index cards with him at all times. Each card had the name of a student, and he would “cold-call” members of the class from the cards, whether they had something to contribute or not. He said this method ensured that everyone kept up with the reading and the homework, and as you can imagine, this was a nightmare for a lot of introverts (and some extroverts).

Watching an improv performance in the courtyard

In an independent school environment with smaller classes, it’s not necessary to use a system like this to ensure homework completion or participation—because of our diverse course offerings, our students are often very interested in class materials and self-motivated to do their work. Even without index cards, classroom discussions can be stressful. When I was an English teacher, most of our courses revolved around discussion. Like many teachers at MA, I was in the habit of posing a question and then asking students to take notes quietly for a few minutes and prepare for the discussion. This strategy was beneficial for both introverts and extroverts: introverts had a moment to independently collect their thoughts, while extroverts were also forced to take some time to themselves. (For some extroverted ninth graders, you can imagine how three minutes of silence can feel like a lifetime—it’s good practice for the real world!)

Growing potatoes in the garden

Communication and discussion are even more critical in a world where we seem to be connected all the time—in the classroom or the workplace, on our smartphone and computers, on Facebook or Twitter or blogs like this. Communication is one of the 21st-century skills we often mention in the context of independent schools. In addition to the in-person, our students must learn how to navigate virtual conversations and situations when their tone (or humor or sarcasm) cannot be detected. As NAIS President Pat Bassett wrote in his blog, “While many believe we shouldn’t worry so much about kids, the ‘digital natives,’ regarding technological skills, in fact this form of communication needs more attention than many other issues, since it’s so relatively new, so hard to monitor, and so difficult to fix if there’s a misstep.”

Managed correctly, developments in technology can address differences in personalities and learning styles. Andrew Zucker highlights six key education goals in his book Transforming Schools with Technology:

  1. Increasing student achievement
  2. Making schools more engaging and relevant
  3. Providing a high-quality education for all students (including learners using English as a second language and students with disabilities)
  4. Attracting, preparing, and retaining high-quality teachers
  5. Increasing parental and community support for children
  6. Requiring accountability for results (including providing more information about schools to parents, policymakers, and the public)

Writing for The Voice newspaper in the computer lab

As he points out, computers can enlarge fonts, translate languages, convert text to speech (and vice-versa), correct mistakes, and help teachers individualize instruction. Salman Khan’s work with Khan Academy is all about flipping the classroom:  teachers can record lectures, exercises, or materials that students can review at home so classroom time can be spent on one-on-one instruction or other collaborative, active exercises.

Collaborating in the hallway

In August, Marin Academy will launch a new website that goes beyond a “new coat of paint” and instead is more akin to a new ecosystem: students will be able to manage all parts of their school life (courses, clubs, sports teams, contact information, etc.) through one password-protected place: My MA. Teachers will be able to utilize the website to post homework and additional learning materials, supplement class time with videos, and engage students in an online message board—another great option for introverts who like to collect their thoughts ahead of time. Our new website is one of several tools that we will use to enhance teaching and learning and to improve families’ experiences at MA. I look forward to writing more about the project this summer.


About Travis

Head of School, Marin Academy.
This entry was posted in diversity, experiential education, place-based education, technology and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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