My post, “What Teachers Really Think of Quiet Kids,” and its follow-up, “A Different Kind of Cool Kid,” generated passionate reactions here and on Twitter. Many of you responded with heartbreaking stories of introverted children suffering at school. But there were inspiring stories too, of thriving kids who found themselves and their way. I also heard from caring and sensitive educators who take questions of temperament very seriously.
These responses reminded me that the goal of this site is not simply to share interesting information about introversion, but also to work towards transforming society so that introverts and extroverts both get to live to their full potential — especially when it comes to education. Every school, and every teacher, needs to be reminded that 1/3 to ½ of the kids in their classroom are introverts, and in too many cases these kids are poorly served.
But first we need to know what an ideal school environment would look like. I’ll be hosting regular discussions with teachers, ultimately in live chat format. Here to share his thoughts today is Royan Lee, a thoughtful middle school literacy teacher with experience teaching all elementary grades. Royan is based in Ontario, Canada, and has a blog called Spicy Learning. That’s him in the photo above. He has some fascinating things to say about the role of passion – and social media – in the classroom.
Susan: If you had a shy or quiet child and could send them to any school you wanted, what kind of school/teacher/classroom would you look for?
Royan: If my child was shy, I would want a school/classroom with a teacher that understood differentiated instruction (DI). In education, what we mean by DI is the ability to design curriculum, instruction, and assessment to meet the needs of diverse learners in the class. In other words, the opposite of everyone doing the same thing at the same time at all times. I would want a school where shy kids could show and display their passions in ways that transcended only face-to-face communication, perhaps through social media. I would want the learning to be passion-based, working towards the strengths and interests of each individual learner (including staff). Actually, this outlook is something I seek for all kids, shy or otherwise.
Susan: How collaborative (group-oriented) a teaching environment do you think is ideal for quiet kids who prefer to work on their own?
Royan: I think blended learning (a mix of online and classroom learning) may be the answer not just for quiet kids but all kids. Sometimes we forget how bizarre the concept of 30 people together in one room all day with one adult is. If aliens came down from outer space and saw this, they would rightfully assume that we had a lot of factories to fill with workers.
Susan: You wrote on your blog that social media in the classroom transforms what it means to be shy or quiet. Can you tell us more about that?
Royan: Social media allows shy/quiet kids to express themselves more clearly without having to transform into a bombastic or extroverted individual. Everyone becomes more diverse in the way they communicate and connect with one another. Labels then start disappearing in your class. It allows students to communicate with classmates they do not normally communicate with.
Susan: Can you give an example, a story, of a shy/quiet child who thrived in real life by expressing himself first online?
Royan: Oh my gosh, where do I begin. I could pick from a hundred examples. I had a student – let’s call her Irene. She never volunteered to speak in class. When speaking to her friends, she did so in a whisper. When walking, she glided inconspicuously like a phantom. But on social media, she is talkative, starts forum threads, replies to people, and shows a gregarious and humorous side she never exposes in person. I could name at least a hundred students like this who I have taught.
Susan: Does Irene’s ability to connect with people online ever spill over into real life? Does social media allow students like her to make friends they wouldn’t otherwise have had?
Royan: I would say yes, with the proviso that I haven’t done research on this. The best thing with using social media and blogging in the classroom is it brings everyone’s passions out. “Hey, I didn’t know Irene was artistic!” etc.
Note from Susan: Confirming Royan’s instincts, studies do show that shy people use media like Facebook to build a bridge from online to “real life” connections.
THANK YOU, Royan, for sharing your insights!
We hear so much about the risks of social media for kids — about the potential for online bullying and so on. I found Royan’s take on the upside of these media to be fascinating. What about you? Do you think social media is on balance a good thing for introverted children? What have your kids’ experiences been?
And, if you have any follow-up questions or thoughts for Royan, I’m sure he’d be happy to answer them.
Back in the 60′s we had some independant study in grade school. It was called SRA and I don’t know what that stood for. I only know I loved it. I loved getting to work at my own pace in solitude and quiet. Finish one assignment and go pick up another. It was wonderful. Before this, in second grade at a new school, I was asked to read while in the reading circle. After a few sentences the teacher asked me to slow down as the other kids couldn’t keep up with me. I was mortified to be corrected in public especially as I didn’t know I was doing something wrong. I learned to hate school but not learning.
I have to wonder how different my life would be now if the internet and social media was around when I was a child. I have terrible social phobia and am very introverted and in my early thirties. In the last year or so my life has changed dramatically with the use of Facebook, Twitter and blogs. I am able to get to know people to the point I am comfortable enough to meet then face to face. 2 years ago I would never have been able to walk into a room full of people I’d never met face to face, but now I’m attending Tweet-Ups and parties. It’s an amazing thing.
I was an excellent student. The only thing I ever got low marks or comments on was “Participation.” I hated talking in class because, no matter how hard I tried, my face turned red and I got nervous. Imagine if those forced group discussions in English could’ve taken place in an online forum?! I would’ve rocked it.
I know I’ll be amazed at what my now 10-month-old will be doing in middle/high school once he gets there. I’m excited for the options and choices he’ll have.
I recently wrote about my daughter’s experience in first grade where I got phone calls about her “refusal to participate”. I watched as she shrank into herself even more and wasn’t surprised when her learning suffered. Many teachers are extroverts and don’t realize that being uncomfortable is different than being unwilling.
Great post - thanks!
Timaree, I wish they’d bring back “SRA,” whatever it was! When I was researching my book, I toured a lot of private and public school classrooms and was shocked to see what a large portion of the day is devoted to group learning nowadays.
Jenn, thank you so much for sharing your story. Would love to hear even more! Like, what kinds of events do you now attend? Are they based around specific subjects that interest you?
A, yup. I’ve been interested to see that even places like Harvard Business School are now teaching some classes — in leadership, no less! — online.
Melissa, I would love to read what you wrote about your daughter’s experience, and I’m sure other readers would too. Would you send a link?
Timaree, we had SRA in 4th grade; I loved it, and have enjoyed other self-directed learning experience since then. I never did well learning in alarge group environment, and since we had no other choice, I suffered terribly from first grade through high school. College was easier because by then I leaned to adopt an extrovert persona for survival.
Susan, I love this blog. Thank you so much!
Grace, you’re welcome!
Royan and other teachers out there, is there still such a thing as “self-directed learning” or is most teaching group-based nowadays?
[...] Read Susan’s interview with me here. [...]
Not much comment on its connection to education, but I’m an extreme introvert who used social media back in my pre-teen years, when the Internet was just starting to gain momentum. I found it so much easier to establish connections with people through social media. It’s helped me enormously. I would certainly not be the (mostly) well-adjusted individual I am today if I’d only had “real life” social experiences.
[...] particularly loved the piece about using social media in the classroom to help introverted kids. Teacher Royan Lee’s observations about how social media can level the playing field, so to [...]
[...] The Blog, Susan Cain and her guest contributor Royan Lee share some interesting thoughts regarding the power of using social media in the classroom to help introverted kids. Let’s just say that I identified with the example that Royan gave of a girl who was very [...]
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Thank you, Timaree and Grace, for mentioning SRA cards! I hadn’t thought about those in almost three decades and I LOVED them and had to Google the expression.
SRA = Science Research Associates and they were self-directed reading cards that we could complete at our own pace and go back for more.
As for social media, I believe all of my introverted friends are greatly enjoying the opportunity to connect asynchronously with social media. Twitter, FB, LinkedIn, etc. all offer opportunities to collect our thoughts before responding and to enter and exit the conversation gracefully at our own paces.