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Does Active Learning Penalize Introverts?

Posted by on in What If?
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The promotion of active learning is a big part of my work. Of course, student-centered learning is too. So it was rather upsetting when I came across Michael Godsey’s article, “When Schools Overlook Introverts,” about the potentially negative impact of active learning on introverts, and realized it had never crossed my mind. That’s why I invited Michael, along with Sophia Dembling, author of The Introvert’s Way, to join me on Studentcentricity to answer the question in the title of this piece.

Following the discussion, Mike contributed these takeaways:

When I visited Grizzly Academy (a boarding school for at-risk students), I was really intrigued by how many of them mentioned how much they liked the quiet spaces and the ability to concentrate. I thought they would all be mourning the loss of their phones, too, but they almost all looked relieved to be rid of them, which I think is related to the desire for a quiet place without interruption. Many of them also mentioned that they had been diagnosed with ADHD/ADD and been prescribed drugs, but they felt much better just being at Grizzly. That made me really wonder about the potential cruelty of overstimulating some students and then blaming and medicated them, rather than fixing the environment. 

I've observed a wide range of schools over the past year or two, and the "mainstream" public schools are, by far, the most energetic, noisy, and social. The private schools and charter schools (both exclusive or for at-risk kids) have environments that are far more conducive to introverted students. I don't exactly know what conclusions to make from this, but the contrast was almost shocking. 

And Sophia added the following:

I hope the takeaway from our discussion is that introversion is not a disability or shortcoming; it's a valid way of interacting with the world that has its own distinct qualities and strengths. I think what's most important is that teachers find ways to make space for their introverted students to contribute even within the context of active learning. Many introverts have enormous capacity for adjusting to an extroverted environment but are a lot stronger when they are also are provided space and quiet to regroup and re-energize. 

It really embarrasses me that I never gave any thought to the impact of active learning on introverts. When I heard the phrase one-size-fits-all approach during the interview, I cringed. I mean, part of the reason I’m so opposed to the tired, old instructional methods is because they’re one-size-fits-all – and for too long that’s been considered acceptable. 

I’m the person whose book includes a chapter titled “All Children Are Not the Same!” So, yes, when we think in those terms we have to go beyond developmental stages, cultural diversity, and life experiences. We have to consider personality differences too! 

You can listen to Mike and Sophia's insights here.

And for further reading, check out William Ferriter’s piece, “Am I Failing the Introverts in My Classroom?”, which was inspired by Mike’s article.


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Rae Pica has been an education consultant specializing in the development and education of the whole child, children's physical activity, and active learning since 1980. A former adjunct instructor with the University of New Hampshire, she is the author of 19 books, including the text Experiences in Movement and Music and, most recently, What If Everybody Understood Child Development?: Straight Talk About Bettering Education and Children's Lives. Rae has shared her expertise with such groups as the Sesame Street Research Department, the Head Start Bureau, Centers for Disease Control, the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, Nickelodeon's Blue's Clues, Gymboree, Nike, and state health departments throughout the country. She is a member of the executive committee of the Academy of Education Arts and Sciences and is co-founder of BAM Radio Network, where she hosts Studentcentricity, interviewing experts in education, child development, play research, the neurosciences, and more on teaching with students at the center.

  • Guest
    Laura Wednesday, 06 January 2016

    Active learning penalizes both introverted learners and facilitators, not to mention that some subjects (such as language arts) require silence, as in silent reading.

    However, active learning is easier to grade/evaluate.

  • Rae Pica | @raepica1
    Rae Pica | @raepica1 Wednesday, 06 January 2016

    Laura, how do you see active learning penalizing facilitators?

    I agree that silent reading is an important part of language arts...but a great many kids also benefit from such things as acting out words and stories. It aids memory and comprehension.

    Perhaps we disagree on the definition of active learning? I think most teachers would feel it's more difficult to grade because there's often less clarity on "right" and "wrong" responses than there is in written assignments and tests.

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