Are your students true—or practiced—extraverts?

Today Minds in Bloom is thrilled to welcome guest blogger Jen Lilienstein, founder of, a website devoted to making learning fun by meeting the needs of every learner.  

One of the things I come across most often in my interactions with both parents and teachers is a misunderstanding of what an introvert truly is. Parents will say things like “my child is extraverted—she just takes awhile to draw out” or teachers will report, “that child is clearly an extravert—he has lively interactions with a few of the other boys in class and is by no means a loner at lunchtime.”

The challenge with this is that, because of our society's perception that it's better to have an extraverted personality type, many kids have been trained at home or at school to practice appear extraverted... even if their true nature leans more toward the introverted side. I, myself, am a “practiced extravert”. I can play the part of an extravert when it's required of me...but I am, at heart, an introvert.

I recharge my batteries with alone time. My heart beats faster and faster as the group in which I'm interacting grows larger. I like to think through a problem in my head before volunteering an answer. (The reason I prefer email dialogues to phone calls!) But, I can get up the gumption to introduce myself or talk about my business with strangers on the phone or in person when it's necessary. And, if you see me with a group of friends or colleagues whom I know very well, I will look every bit an extravert to an outsider.

Why is it important to be able to distinguish between an extravert and an introvert in your classroom? It's because our children's blooming minds flourish under different conditions. Your introverted students may “scorch” under the class spotlight if called upon too quickly take a guess at the answer to a problem in front of the class. Similarly, your extraverted students—because they talk through solutions to problems—run the risk of withering if you ask them to FOCUS before volunteering an answer and neglect their need to work through problems aloud.

Both extraverts, who like to direct their energy toward the outer environment and introverts, who prefer to spend time reflecting on inner experience have made major contributions to society. One preference is not better than the other.

But, in order to allow these minds to blossom to their fullest potential, both teachers and parents need to respect, embrace and even celebrate our kids' and students' energetic orientations.

5 tips for embracing extraversion and introversion in your classroom:
1.      Employ techniques like conversation sticks and red/green question cards when managing group discussions and honoring both the introverts and extraverts in your classroom.
2.      Remind extraverts during breakout groups that silence can sometimes mean that their classmates are still thinking—not that they have nothing to say.
3.      Allotting teacher “quiet time” during the day can make your introverted students more comfortable asking a question one-on-one vs. being spotlighted during a lecture.
4.      Personality type assessments at the beginning of the year can help ensure that an introvert that may be a practiced extravert isn't inadvertently placed in breakout groups with true extraverts that don't let their classmate get a word in edgewise after reflecting upon the problem and reaching a conclusion.
5.      Most importantly, there's often a parent-child attitude dichotomy that hinders the progress of their schoolwork because a well-meaning parent is trying to employ tactics that were successful when s/he was young. Remind parents during teacher conferences of their kids' energy preference in order to more effectively help with homework and schedule out-of-school-time activities—but try not to “label” the child as one or the other to the parent because of an energetic prejudice that may exist. Encourage parents of introverts to not force their child into a variety of activities to “draw them out” because they'll lack the alone time they need to recharge and center themselves. Encourage the parents of your extraverts to form study groups versus leaving the child left alone during homework so that they can “focus” since talking out their studies helps them to contextualize and cement the new information.

Acknowledging the different learning preferences of your students can help them learn how to play to their unique strengths and develop an awareness of and respect for the individual ways that their fellow classmates prefer to learn.

Ms. Lilienstein is the Founder of and co-author of At Home for Multiple Intelligences, a new course offered by the MI Institute. To find out more about Kidzmet's Student Snapshots and Pairing Portraits, which can help teachers and parents better understand how their unique kids are wired to learn, click here.. To find out more about the eight personality types of children under 12, click here.


Teacher Nyla said...

At first, I thought my class had more extraverts than introverts but now I think that the ratio is balanced. Thank you for the tips!

Jen Lilienstein said...

I'm glad you found the tips to be helpful, Nyla! :)

Sally said...

Being an introvert myself, I've experienced the introvert/ extrovert confusion. Introverts do like people! They just prefer smaller groups, and spend more time in reflection. Thanks for the clarification!

Sally from ElementaryMatters

Laura Candler said...

Great article! I'm definitely in the "practiced extravert" category! I was a quiet, bookworm type during my childhood, but then I learned that I loved teaching others! So I had to come out of my shell in order to become a teacher. Then over time, I overcame my fear of speaking in front of large groups and now I enjoy going to conferences and meeting others. But I'm still very happy working alone, too! It's important to recognize when kids need that time to think and process information on their own before interacting with others.

Jen Lilienstein said...

Sally & Laura--it's so good to find other "practiced extraverts" that are helping kids and parents understand that introverted doesn't mean anti-social, it means "look inward for solutions". :-)

I think that's why I enjoy the Web world so allows me to go inward with my thoughts and reactions before I "socialize" them on FB, Twitter, blogs, emails. :)

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