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How to invite introverted students to share their thinking in class

DANIEL ESTRIN, HOST:

When students head back to school this month, many will be in classes where speaking up counts toward their grades and where collaboration is highly valued. Student-led discussions and team projects can be valuable to learning. They can also be draining for introverted students, who may do their best thinking on their own or in quiet settings. KQED's MindShift podcast visits a language arts classroom where an extroverted teacher has developed creative ways of invited - of inviting introverted students to share their thinking. Hosts Kara Newhouse and Nimah Gobir take it from here.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "MINDSHIFT")

KARA NEWHOUSE, BYLINE: Nimah, do you consider yourself an introvert or an extrovert? Do you get your energy from solo time, or do you get a buzz from parties and group outings?

NIMAH GOBIR, BYLINE: I am definitely an introvert.

NEWHOUSE: How did that affect you in school?

GOBIR: It was a little stressful. My heart rate would jump when I was called on in class. And there were many times that I'd know the answer to a question, and I just wouldn't raise my hand to say it out loud.

NEWHOUSE: Those are pretty normal reactions for introverts. So that's what we'll talk about today. In this episode, we'll explore how teachers can set up class discussions to invite participation from all students. Also, we'll learn how to reimagine student engagement so it doesn't just mean talking a lot.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SUSAN CAIN: A third to a half of the population are introverts - a third to a half. So that's 1 out of every 2 or 3 people you know.

NEWHOUSE: Listeners might have heard author Susan Cain talk about introverts. She wrote the book "Quiet," and she gave a viral TED talk in 2012.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CAIN: So extroverts really crave large amounts of stimulation, whereas introverts feel at their most alive and their most switched on and their most capable when they're in quieter, more low-key environments. Not all the time - you know, these things aren't absolute - but a lot of the time.

GOBIR: These concepts weren't very well-known back then, but it seems like a lot more people have learned about introverts since that TED talk.

NEWHOUSE: But at the same time, in schools, teachers have been shifting toward what's called student-centered learning. In this model, teachers spend less time lecturing, and students are expected to take the lead in the learning process, which often means...

GOBIR: Students have to do a lot of talking.

NEWHOUSE: There's a teacher who has done a lot of thinking about introverts and where they fit into student-centered learning.

BRETT VOGELSINGER: My name is Brett Vogelsinger. I'm a ninth grade English teacher at Holicong Middle School in Doylestown, Penn.

NEWHOUSE: Mr. Vogelsinger is an extrovert. In high school, he was always ready to raise his hand and speak up. So when he became a teacher, he thought that's just what it meant to be a good student.

GOBIR: That idea would definitely leave me out of the good student category.

NEWHOUSE: It would leave out a lot of students. And Mr. Vogelsinger recognizes this. He's brutally honest about that flaw in how he used to think.

VOGELSINGER: I would even see a student in an honors class who wasn't super participatory, and I'd think to myself, what are they doing in an honors class? They don't seem that into English class. I don't really like that I thought that, but I did.

GOBIR: So, Kara, what changed?

NEWHOUSE: Well, for one thing, he married an introvert. Seeing the differences between him and his wife made him realize...

VOGELSINGER: Introversion is not about being quiet, shy or reserved. It's about feeling recharged and energized by quiet time, reflective time. And that's really, really valuable. In an English class, that's really valuable, and in learning, that's really valuable.

NEWHOUSE: He also began to notice that some of the most striking writing assignments came from students he rarely heard from in class. Over time, he started to see student participation in a new light.

VOGELSINGER: It took me a while to realize that someone can engage rigorously mentally with what's going on in the classroom, and you might not hear it as a teacher. So then how do we make that learning visible? How do we give them chances to share what they're learning?

GOBIR: Kara, it sounds like Mr. Vogelsinger was demonstrating intellectual humility in how he viewed introverts. That's really helpful for teachers' growth.

NEWHOUSE: True. I went to Pennsylvania to see how he goes about engaging introverted students. I'm going to share two of his strategies with you. Are you ready?

GOBIR: I'm ready.

NEWHOUSE: Like most English classrooms, Mr. Vogelsinger's room is lined with bookshelves. There are also literary-themed artworks on the walls and grammar jokes on the whiteboard.

VOGELSINGER: OK. The bell - there we go. So at this point, if Canvas is on your screen, just sort of alligator (ph) that screen for me for a moment so we don't get distracted by anything. We'll come back to that in just a few minutes.

NEWHOUSE: On this spring day, as students walk in, they find yellow and white index cards on each desk. Those will be used a little later. First, there's some of the usual classroom start-up - attendance, reminders about an upcoming assignment. Then it's time for the main feature, a discussion of one of the themes in "Romeo And Juliet" - fate versus decision-making.

VOGELSINGER: I want to give you a couple minutes to look at the message board, to look at the message board, and you can even write a little response to a friend if you think some of their thinking is great. I'm going to ask you to write a response to...

NEWHOUSE: This is the first detail to notice. Mr. Vogelsinger gives his students think time before large group discussions. In this case, they had already responded to a message board about the topic. Letting them review what they wrote and read their peers' responses meant that introverted students weren't being put on the spot when they started talking.

VOGELSINGER: We're going to have a whole discussion today about the tension between fortune and fate and luck in "Romeo And Juliet" and characters' decisions - good, bad or otherwise - in the play and the tension that Shakespeare creates between the two.

NEWHOUSE: Now here's where those yellow and white index cards on the desks come into play. This is a discussion style called white snow, yellow snow.

VOGELSINGER: Just a reminder, white snow means you have a fresh new idea no one's brought up yet. And yellow means you're build - that someone's been there already. You're building on their ideas a little bit, just like yellow snow means someone's been there before. So take a moment and have those cards ready, because I do want to make sure that I don't miss somebody's thinking that connects to someone else's thinking. It helps me just keep track of the flow of conversation a little bit.

NEWHOUSE: Several students raise their white index card to kick things off.

VOGELSINGER: Go ahead, Emma (ph). New point.

EMMA: I feel like it's - like, for Juliet, it's, like, more, like, luck for her. But, like, for Romeo, like, what does he expect? Like, he's going to...

NEWHOUSE: This isn't the first time these ninth graders have done a white snow, yellow snow discussion. As they listen to each other speak, they shuffle between which card they have raised, depending on where the conversation is at and what they want to say.

VOGELSINGER: It sounds like our conversation is starting to center around Romeo. Good. So I see a lot of people following up with the yellow cards. Go ahead. Let's hear your thought, Romero (ph).

ROMERO: I think it's - I think both points can kind of, like - I think both luck and decisions...

NEWHOUSE: The cards also provide pivot points for Mr. Vogelsinger as a facilitator. When one idea has been discussed for a bit, he calls on a student holding up a white card.

VOGELSINGER: Joe (ph), take us in a new direction.

JOE: I almost think that they like the idea that they're not supposed to like each other, and it makes it even more interesting 'cause they know that there's going to be repercussions 'cause obviously their families have had a long hatred for each other. And they almost like the idea of, like...

GOBIR: Kara, did most of the students participate?

NEWHOUSE: I heard a wide range of voices in both periods where I saw the white snow, yellow snow discussion. Thinking about introverts, there was one moment that stood out to me.

GOBIR: Tell me about it.

NEWHOUSE: This is in first period. We're 12 minutes into the discussion, so about halfway through. Students have already identified a bunch of ways that the characters in "Romeo And Juliet" brought the tragic ending on themselves. Mr. Vogelsinger asked them to consider what elements were out of the character's control. I see one student tentatively raise a yellow card, the one they use to build on each other's ideas. She doesn't hold it the whole way up at first. But after another student speaks, she raises it higher.

VOGELSINGER: Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #1: You can also consider it fate that he met Juliet because he originally went there for Rosaline.

VOGELSINGER: Right. That's sort of a twist that he couldn't control and didn't expect to happen or didn't try to make happen. Think about...

NEWHOUSE: I wondered if this student would have spoken up without having the different cards to raise. After class, Mr. Vogelsinger talked about the exercise.

VOGELSINGER: It definitely gets more people talking. So the quantities of people go up. Plus it just - it interests them a little more. So, like, instead of just raising a hand, which you're doing all day, now you have this other element, and you have to think about how it connects to other things with the white snow, yellow snow.

NEWHOUSE: So that's discussion strategy No. 1 - white snow, yellow snow.

VOGELSINGER: Guys, thank you so much for your conversation today and the discussion. Leave the yellow and white cards on the desk. You used them really well. I will see you on Monday. And, of course, you have - oh, if anyone...

NEWHOUSE: Nimah, are you ready to hear discussion strategy No. 2?

GOBIR: Let's do it.

NEWHOUSE: This is during Mr. Vogelsinger's third period class. That's right before lunch, so this group of students is a little more antsy and in need of movement. Mr. Vogelsinger asks everyone to get out a blank piece of paper and write their answers to one question.

VOGELSINGER: We've been studying dramatic irony. We know things the characters don't know. If you could tell one character one thing that might fix this whole play, what would it be? Take maybe four minutes to write that and look over the message boards till we're ready to talk a little bit more as a class.

NEWHOUSE: Mr. Vogelsinger sets a timer, and when the timer dings...

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

VOGELSINGER: I want you to take your response - make sure your name is on the top of it - and then crumble it up into a paper ball that's going to sit on your desk.

(SOUNDBITE OF PAPER CRUMPLING)

NEWHOUSE: So now each student has a crumpled piece of paper at their desk. At the front of the room, there's a blue plastic crate on top of a podium. The discussion gets going.

VOGELSINGER: Go ahead, Henry (ph).

HENRY: I would tell Romeo there's more fish in the sea and not to get so hung over over, like, a chick, you know?

NEWHOUSE: And after a few minutes, Mr. Vogelsinger pauses the discussion. Now, anyone who spoke so far gets a chance to throw their crumpled paper ball into the basket.

VOGELSINGER: No one fire till I'm out of the way. And then when I'm out of the way, if you participated thus far, you could stand and try to take a shot. Go ahead.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHAIRS SCRAPING)

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #1: Oh, my God.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #2: Oh, my God.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #3: I got it.

VOGELSINGER: Oh, was that Mason (ph)? Nice work.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #4: Mason is the only one making it.

VOGELSINGER: Good work. All right, if you don't...

NEWHOUSE: The class gets through three rounds of this basketball-style discussion before lunch, and most of the class did join in. In fact, as they head out the door to lunch, I hear one student saying to another, I actually participated today. But shooting the basket isn't the part that's specifically designed for introverts. Remember, those paper balls that they were shooting already had their written response to Mr. Vogelsinger's initial question. He collects those papers from anyone who didn't shoot a basket that day.

VOGELSINGER: That's all I have for you. Thanks, guys.

NEWHOUSE: After class, he reads through them.

VOGELSINGER: This is something that didn't come up in the verbal conversation in class. I would tell Romeo that Lady Capulet is sending an assassin after him - that didn't come up in the regular discussion - because she's going to send someone with poison, she says, to Mantua to kill him. So, I mean, that was a great observation I kind of wish would have come up in class, but I can still respond to the student now this way.

NEWHOUSE: I asked if the students who didn't speak are usually quieter in class.

VOGELSINGER: All three of them, yes. Yeah. But in a normal - in just a regular classroom conversation, I wouldn't have had anything from them. So I wouldn't have known they had these thoughts.

NEWHOUSE: A few years ago, he and the other freshman English teachers developed a self-reflection that students do quarterly. It covers a bunch of topics related to their academic work, and one of the questions is...

VOGELSINGER: Engagement and participation are vital to success but can look different to different students. Explain how you participate and engage in class.

GOBIR: It seems like reflecting on that question would be valuable to all students, not just introverts.

NEWHOUSE: Their answers might be different, but introverted and extroverted students can learn a lot by thinking about what they do when they're really engaged in learning.

GOBIR: When I was in school, I knew that I felt nervous raising my hand, but I was never asked what else I was doing to drive my learning.

NEWHOUSE: Hopefully, by asking those kinds of questions and incorporating the answers into lesson plans, teachers will spark new ideas for engaging all students and help students discover that they, too, have control over their learning.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

NEWHOUSE: The MindShift team includes me, Kara Newhouse, Nimah Gobir, Ki Sung and Marlena Jackson-Retondo. Our editor is Chris Hambrick. Seth Samuel is our sound designer.

ESTRIN: MindShift is a podcast from KQED that explores the future of learning and how we raise our kids. Their new season covers topics like improving dress codes, dealing with emotions in math class and how schools can adapt to climate change. Next week at this time, we'll bring you another podcast we love from the NPR network.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Kara Newhouse
Nimah Gobir