Saturday, March 30, 2013

Unwrapping the Gift of the Introvert

One of my sweaty-palmed fears: The moment at a dinner party when I open my mouth to say something, and suddenly all conversation stops, all eyes turn to me, my mind goes blank, and the silence stretches awkwardly. I’m a better writer than speaker because when writing, I have all the time in the world to gather my thoughts, pick just the right word, hit on an illuminating example. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’re not an introvert.

Introverts and extroverts interact with the world in very different ways--and both are valuable. Recently I’ve been wondering what it would look like to design my class so that introvert and extrovert students could learn and contribute to group learning in ways that utilize their strengths.

I just did this in one small way, and the results were rather stunning.

For last week’s pre-spring-break wrap-up discussion of A Doll’s House, I gave the students the option of contributing online if they did not want to in class. Last weekend I raved about how well the in-class discussion had gone. Today I’m going to rave about the online discussion. Two of the posts in particular were so well thought out that I am forever a convert to this form of differentiation.

One student started out bucking the consensus arrived at in class: “Most people agreed that Nora was irresponsible for leaving the children. I think that it wasn't good, but I felt like she had no choice.” He had two reasons and four supporting quotations. Then he closed, “I still agree to most of you that it was not good to leave the children, and that Nora was somehow selfish to just care for herself. But I just wanted to try seeing things in different ways.” 

The other student focused on the complexity of the situation: “Nora, actually, did have choices that had to be considered. It was just that both of them are somehow complicated.” She ended up spending 466 words trying to tease out the complications, also quoting and referring to the text for support. She, too, showed the ability to consider different points of view: “[Nora’s] decision might have been too hasty and selfish...But seeing it from a different perspective, I'd asked questions such as...‘How can Nora change how she treats her children (as dolls) even if her husband would obviously have a very hard time to change and stop patronizing or treating his wife like a doll?’”

Perspective: the ability to see ourselves from the outside and others from the inside, to walk around in someone else’s skin--that’s one of the great gifts nuanced reading gives. It’s a place the quick thinking, fast talking extroverts can begin to drive a discussion, but the learning community also needs the thoughts that only come out of the introverts’ quiet consideration. Supplementing in-class discussion with an online forum is one way to develop and capitalize on all the gifts of the body.

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