Des conseils de carrière
Class participation for all
Recognizing the differences
between shy and introverted
by Adam Chapnick
orkshops on how to encourage class
participation are a staple of teaching
and learning centres across the country. However, little of that advice is
geared to the needs on an oft-neglected
subset of introverted university students: the
ones who aren’t shy.
Even though Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The
Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,
was a bestseller, and her TED Talk has been
viewed more than 10 million times, I’m not sure
that our postsecondary teaching and learning
community has fully appreciated its implications.
If we want to encourage all of our students
to participate in class, we have to accept that shy
students are not necessarily introverted. And
introverts are not necessarily shy.
Shyness is a form of social anxiety. Shy students often want to participate in class discussions, but they worry about how they will come
across, or what others will think of what they
have to say. Bringing these students out of their
shells typically requires empathy, trust-building,
and – most importantly – a focus on self-efficacy.
Instructors have to identify and develop relationships with their shyer students, help them realize
that they have valuable insights to contribute,
and encourage them to speak out.
The advice on how to manage shyness is
ubiquitous, research-based and reliable. Most of
it will emphasize some, if not all, of the following themes:
• Be open and inviting.
• Treat each student as an individual.
• Be clear about why you ask for participation
in the classroom.
• Be transparent about what you mean by participation.
• Be flexible by offering a diversity of methods
and means for contributing.
• Start the academic acclimatization process as
early as possible.
• Provide clear and honest feedback on individual contributions to classroom learning
throughout the term, not just at the end.
Unfortunately, not all of these strategies will
resonate with every introvert. The problem is in
the premise: that there is a psychological barrier
preventing participation, and that if the barrier
is removed, the behaviour will change.
Introverts find group conversations physically – rather than primarily psychologically –
exhausting. Self-aware introverts might therefore make a conscious choice not to participate
in class discussions even though they have lots
to say. When they do speak, it tends to be at the
end when they have had ample time to reflect.
The issue, then, is not always self-efficacy;
these introverts are not worried about the adequacy of their views. They aren’t necessarily concerned about how their peers, or instructor,
might respond to their interventions. Rather,
their behaviour is about self-preservation in a
Particularly if they have multiple classes or
other social engagements in a single day, they
might choose to conserve their energy by staying
quiet. In doing so, they knowingly accept the aca-
Wdemic consequences (like a lower participation grade) as the cost of self-preservation. There is significantly less research, and advice, on how to encourage participation from individuals with this mindset. Indeed, in my
experience, a focus on self-efficacy can be self-defeating: by convincing introverts that they
have meaningful ideas to contribute, we also validate their general sense of judgment. If that
judgment tells them to stay quiet, then they
become even more comfortable in their silence.
In recent seminars, I have begun experimenting with two strategies. The first is intellectual. I
explain that neither I, nor any individual course
member, nor the assigned readings, can provide
as great a diversity of thought as a group of individuals reacting in real-time. Put simply, every
I also make an ethical appeal. Regardless of
whether introverts participate, they benefit from
exposure to the ideas of their more outspoken
colleagues. If you have the opportunity to learn
from others, it seems only fair that you offer
something in return. And if everyone waited
until the end of class to speak, we could not sustain a discussion.
Whether my approach represents best practice is unclear, and my success rate is uneven.
What is clear is that shyness and introversion
are different phenomena. Certainly, many introverts are also shy, but not all of them are. It is
therefore worth thinking about how we might
adjust our approaches to encouraging class participation accordingly.
Adam Chapnick is the
deputy director of education
at the Canadian Forces
College in Toronto.
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“When students don’t
they nor their peers
can learn as much.
Every voice counts.”