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3 ways to engage introverted students

By Christina Lovdal Gil
October 4, 2016
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I love discussing books even more than I love reading them. When I can’t figure something out, I do best by talking it through. I get more energy from whole class discussions than from any other teaching activity because I am an extrovert myself.

So, in a classroom setting, it’s easy for me to favor extroverts — the ones who want to participate in everything, the ones who always have their hands up ready to share new ideas, the ones who will discuss anything.

In my experience, students who are more introverted do better with writing. They express themselves better on paper, they work through ideas better when they are written down, and they don’t need to talk about ideas in order to process them. They love my writing prompts, but they don’t love my discussions.

All of this is great, but it makes it more difficult to connect with these students during class. So how do I connect with the introverts?

Two of the best tools for me are Chromebooks and Google Docs.

While any computer would do, there is something about the simplicity and portability of the Chromebooks that make me more likely to use them. We use them for writing workshop, research and even for group projects.

These are the reasons why I like using Chromebooks with my less-extroverted students.

They can share their ideas in a way that’s more comfortable for them. Sharing ideas with other people is pretty much my favorite way to spend time. But this doesn’t always happen as much as I’d like with introverted students. In the past, there were a number of ways students could share their ideas with me. They could participate in class discussions, read them aloud or write them out for me to read in class or take home. 

But with Google Docs, students can share their writing, and I can read it from my desk and give comments during class. We can have that exchange of ideas without actually having an oral discussion. Although students still get nervous when they see my little icon show up on their screens, they end up enjoying the exchange of ideas as much as I do.

They get immediate feedback. One of my AP students last year never said a single comment out loud in class. This was unfortunate for her peers, because she wrote beautifully and had some of the most insightful ideas that I had ever read in my career as a teacher. I loved reading everything she wrote, but no matter how many exclamation marks I put in written comments, it didn’t fully convey the strength of my approval. But when we workshopped an essay in class, I could read it as she wrote it and give her the kind of immediate feedback that other students received in class discussions. I wanted her to see how much I appreciated her thinking and the hard work that she put into what she wrote, and, as an extrovert, I prefer to do that in person. When we had Chromebooks and Google Docs in class, I could read her writing right away and let her know how amazing it was.

They have an easier way to work in groups. One time I assigned students to write and perform a play in small groups. When the three quietest kids in the class formed a group together, I was nervous about how it would all turn out. But they worked — almost without ever talking — on a document together. They shared it through Google Docs, and they all contributed to the writing, adding and revising as a group. Though they were surely uncomfortable when it came time for the performance, it was one of the best plays that year. They worked together to create a great final product.

I am always thinking about how to better connect with my students, personalize their learning, and let them know that I appreciate their ideas and contributions to the class. Google Docs allow me to do that while addressing the Creative Communicator standard within the 2016 ISTE Standards for Students, which expects students to "communicate clearly and express themselves creatively for a variety of purposes using the platforms, tools, styles, formats and digital media appropriate to their goals." 

As someone who is not always a fan of new technology, it is somewhat surprising that I am able to use it to build connections with students while stretching beyond what is natural and easy for me. And that is always a good thing.

Christina Gil was a high school English teacher for 16 years before she left the classroom to follow a dream and move with her family to an eco-village in rural Missouri. She believes that teaching creative writing helps students excel on standardized tests, that deeply analyzing and unpacking a poem is a fabulous way to spend an hour or so and that Shakespeare is always better with sound effects. When she is not hauling water to her tiny home, she can be found homeschooling her two kids or meeting with her neighbors about the best way to run their village.

Find more articles on how to use ed tech in the classroom on the EdTekHub.