Strategies for reaching out to introverted students in the language classroom #ELTchat Summary 28/06/2012
On Wednesday night I took part in my first ever #elt chat on Twitter. Here is my summary of what we discussed:
Reaching Out to “The Quiet Ones” in the Class
This ELT chat took place on the 28th of June at 9pm GMT. Its full title was “Strategies for reaching out to introverted students in the language classroom.”
I suggested this as an ELT chat topic after reading Susan Cain’s book Quiet – The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, in which the author looks at the ways in which our society is geared up to celebrate and encourage extrovert personality traits. Placed in opposition to the extrovert ideal, introverts are undervalued and overlooked. Since reading this book I have become increasingly aware of how the ELT classroom is geared towards extrovert learners, while introvert learners are in danger of being neglected.
Our chat was lively and engaging, and left us all with food for thought. Marisa_C did a wonderful job of welcoming and including all participants, keeping the conversation moving and posing some thought provoking questions. The discussion was wide ranging in scope: I hope this summary goes some way towards clarifying its main threads.
Marisa_C began by warmly welcoming everyone to the chat, and the hour proceeded to fly by!
Central to our discussion was this question: who exactly are our introvert learners? Opinions varied here, with some contributors seeing introversion as a “handicap” which they wanted to cure learners of. Others regarded introverts more favourably: as personality types which contribute just as much to society as their more extrovert counterparts.
@Marisa_C began by asking what we mean by the term introvert- is it someone who simply doesn’t say much?
@gorse75 thought that introverts are people who are, by nature, more reflective, whereas extroverts tend to “think with their mouths open”
@theteacherjames suggested that “introverts are people whose energy tends to expand through reflection and dwindle during interaction”
@chiasuan suggested finding out the reason for learners’ quietness. “Are they quiet in their L1 too? Are they frightened of something? Or is it just their personality?
@chiasuan and AnthonyGaughan went on to discuss reasons for learners’ fear, but this was challenged by @eannegrenoble who argued that introversion did not necessarily equate with fear. She felt it was perfectly possibly to be a happy introvert.
@louisealix68 wondered what we should do if the learner in question is also introverted in L1.
@DinaDobrou suggested that learners should learn to be less shy, but @theteacherjames said he didn’t like the idea of “bringing learners out”, and that we should recognise introversion as a personality type.
Strategies for Working With Introverts
We considered how we could address our classroom management strategies to cater to our introvert learners, and discussed areas such as grouping and teacher/learner interaction. Vickyloras suggested that we take care not to single out introvert learners in class. This led to a discussion of the optimum group size for introvert learners.
@AnthonyGaughan asked if shy students are better off in large or small classes/groups.
@Harrisonmike felt that sometimes a pair is a group too small, and found students intimidated to talk with ‘better’ other students.
@PlanELT replied that class size isn’t always important as long as you create a safe, secure environment for shy learners.
@purple_steph suggested a peer support strategy which would work in the VLE: asking a student to help a new one create an account on the VLE
@KerrCarolyn tries to catch shy students before they come in to class to let them know what the topic is for the day in order to eliminate surprises. Carolyn also suggested writing activities with exchanges (email, Facebook or passing notes) rather then a spoken summary, as preparation time means that nerves are less of an issue.
@gorse75 recommended the strategy of “Think, pair, share” where learners have time to reflect individually before moving on to discuss answer with a partner. By the time they reach the group discussion they have had the chance to reflect and “get their voice on the table” and may feel more confident as a result.
@Marisa_C followed this up by suggesting an alternative ‘pyramid discussion’ which builds up from individual learners to the whole class, and allows time for processing & rehearsal
@chiasuan advocated NLP approaches such as mirroring: when you consciously mirror some else’s body language, without being too obvious.
@Marisa_C had heard very good reports from teachers who use drama activities. Some participants agreed with this: @Naomishema commented that being someone else allows learners to avoid exposing what they perceive as “embarrassing personal stuff”! @Planelt described how using an alter ego activity with a quiet class had been very successful.
However, others cautioned that not all learners enjoy these kinds of activities.
@Planelt also suggested assigning particular roles in group work: e.g. note taker, time keeper, or asking quieter learners to be the discussion leader so that they could take a more active role.
@Marisa_C thought that designing lessons with a focus on this issue may be a good idea – interviews or texts which might open up the discussion.
@gorse75 suggested using the quiz from Cain’s website “Are you an Introvert?” which leads nicely into a discussion of personality types, preferred classroom activities etc.
@vickyloras suggested looking at annemusielak’s guest blogs for some useful drama activities.
Finally, @Mkofab suggested moving away from conversation based lessons all the time
Creating a safe and secure learning environment
@PlanELT thought that creating a safe environment for shy students was the most important factor. As someone who used to teach very shy Koreans, he always felt that 50% of his class was teaching English and 50% was building confidence.
@Marisa_C felt that group dynamics were key, and compared the ELT classroom with the #elt chat community, where people are allowed to lurk quietly, until they have built sufficient confidence to contribute.
@chiasuan suggested drilling as a potential way of putting introverted learners at ease. She referred to her experience at the Callan school, where less vocal learners seemed to prefer drilling, and find it more comfortable. She added that it was useful for learners who are not used to being asked their opinions on certain subjects.
However, dissenting voices worried that drilling might lead to quieter learners getting lost in the crowd.
We also discussed the pace of the lesson as being important – @Marisa_C noticed that some teachers can be rather hurried (for a range of different reasons). This results in overly “pacey” lessons which discourage reflective and introverted learners.
Introversion and the Communicative Approach
@AnthonyGaughan wondered if neglecting introverted learners was a negative function of the communicative approach.
@chiasuan countered that the communicative approach favours certain cultures.
@theteacherjames commented on the fact that we are so focused on getting our learners to interact that we neglect reflection. He also suggested that classrooms are set up to cater for extrovert learners because this suits most teachers’ personalities.
@Carolyn Kerr said she thinks sometimes we the Ts feel uncomfortable with a ‘quiet’ class. “It’s as if decibels = success”.
Do we place too much emphasis on speaking in class?
@Marisa_C wondered if introverted learners’ quietness could affect their acquisition.
@eannegrenoble asked if we need to speak in class in order to learn?
@gorse75 commented on the fact that course books were geared up towards speaking activities.
@chiasuan thought that learners do need to speak in order to learn to speak English.
The session ended with thanks and goodbyes all round, and a final (heartfelt) thanks from @theteacherjames to the Spanish and Portuguese football teams for not distracting him too much during the chat! Thanks everyone –this was the first time I participated in eltchat and I really enjoyed it.
“Are you an introvert? quiz” http://t.co/22CMEhi4
Definitions of introvert (and extrovert) http://t.co/gnmNTXh0
Jeremy Harmer’s recent post on drilling: http://t.co/Ai9YBq2g
About the Author
- Genevieve White – @shetlandesol is an ESOL teacher living in the Shetland Islands and working in a community education centre for adult learners.
- Her blog is Notes from a Shetland ESOL Classroom