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Differentiation for Introverts and Extroverts

When I was a student, I often felt crowded by the crowd. The noise bothered me. The constant shift between groups and seating charts exhausted me. The moment I made a friend, teachers felt the need to move students away from one another and ultimately, being a quiet kid, the teachers would place a loud trouble-maker next to me.

I wasn't a silent student. In fact, I often joined class discussions. I participated in the group projects. I played sports on the playground. However, I craved additional space. I wanted alone time to process what I was learning. I wanted a chance to write and to solve and the dream in a space that I could call my own.

I was an introvert. I still am. Social, yes. Gregarious, sometimes. However, I find myself tired at the end of a party. I find myself overwhelmed by new relationships. I find myself gravitating toward a few close friends rather than developing a massive social network.

I had friends growing up who were the opposite. If I felt shamed for being introverted, they were shamed for being social. Teachers expected them to be silent and asocial through hours of lectures. They were called bossy for being strong leaders or nosy for knowing what was going on.


So, it has me thinking about a balanced approach to introversion/extroversion. In general, I structure lessons with the following time allotment:

  • 30% individual learning: individual assignments, personal processing
  • 20% partner learning: partner projects, student-to-student discourse (also teacher-student conferences and tutoring)
  • 30% group work: shared projects, small group discussions
  • 20% whole class: class discussion, direct instruction

Given this opportunity, many introverts thrive in the partner structure, individual structure and whole class direct instruction. They don't get overwhelmed, because they have that necessary processing time. Extroverts enjoy 30% group work, a chance at class discussion and the chance to interact with a peer.

It's not a matter of "letting them off the hook." Introverts are still asked to be social and extroverts are still asked to process things internally. However, the teacher can still respect student identity and protect each person's weaknesses while building on student strengths.


After creating a balanced approach, teachers can create loosely-designed lessons that allow students to choose methods that fit their level of introversion and extroversion.  For example, when developing literary circles, I allow for four types of grouping (on top of the silent reading and guided reading groups):

  1. Shared read-aloud: the students read the work aloud and discuss it throughout with their literary circle
  2. Silent reading with discussion: the students spend the first part of literary circles reading silently and then share their insights with a small group
  3. Reading Pairs: students read quietly and then go really in-depth with one other student. The pairs then meet every so often with another pair to share their insights. 
  4. Online lit circle: the students read silently and then share their insights in a shared blog or on Twitter (using the group's hash tag). 
In each case, the students still access the same material and the same standards and have the chance to engage in meaningful discourse and critical thinking. However, the individual student has the opportunity to choose the grouping format. 

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