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"As children, our classroom desks are increasingly arranged in pods, the better to foster group learning, and research suggests that the vast majority of teachers believe that the ideal students is an extrovert." -Susan Cain Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking (pg. 6)
How often do we as teachers assign group projects and have all of our students pair up or form groups? It is a common practice in today's educational system. This can be a comforting and necessary exercise for the extraverted student, but what about for the introverts in the room? For the shy, timid, child that tends to keep to themselves, the "Find a partner and work together" instruction can cause stress, anxiety, dread, etc.
Extraverted and introverted students are more than loud or quiet students. Extraverts typically seek out social situations and gain their energy from their environment and from others. Introverts commonly find energy in a more inwardly focused manner, preferring solitude and inward reflection.
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Montessori has a very different approach to this idea of group working. Dr. Montessori wrote, "The child has to acquire physical independence by being self-sufficient; he must become of independent will be using in freedom his own power of choice; he must become capable of independent thought by working alone without interruption. The child’s development follows a path of successive stages of independence." (The Absorbent Mind, p. 257) As one enters a Montessori classroom, desks and tables and work spaces are provided that allow the child to work independently and uninterrupted. In contrast, if a child desires to work with a partner, they are free to do so. The beauty of a Montessori classroom is found in the mixing of ages, allowing students to take charge of their own learning and help each other grow as learners.
We know that all students can benefit from group work. While it might cause stress for our introverted students, we must consider what is gained from these types of exercises. Students learn to be team players through cooperation and collaboration. They learn that, in the real world, they cannot always do everything alone. They learn to talk to other people in order to accomplish a common goal. All of which are necessary skills for future employment.
I myself am an INFP on the Myers-Briggs scale. Small talk and prolonged interaction with others is exhausting. My role as Director and teacher requires me to be friendly, outgoing, lively, and animated with my students, their families, and my faculty. Being introverted can make this a difficult task. Just because I am introverted does not mean that I am shy or timid and it does not provide an excuse to avoid interactions. Contrariwise, I balance my duties at school with periods of rest and solitude to rejuvenate myself for the next day.
Therefore, group work forces children to step out of their comfort zones. When forming groups, educators should consider the extraversion and introversion of their students. As teachers become familiar with their students, it becomes easier to pick out which students exhibit which personality type. Picture giving your students a choice to work as a group or to work independently. Or, create a plan to organize students based on their type, allowing extraverts to work together and introverts to work together. Allow your students the freedom to learn in a manner that helps them develop as learners.
Take a moment to think of the last time you assigned a group project and let the kids pick their partners. You can observe one person doing all the work for the rest that are conversing. Pay attention to the group that assigns roles and quietly gets straight to work. Observe the group that tries to include the student that looks away and is the last to leave their seat to find a group. Personality traits emerge and start showing up in the groups.
I think that we, as educators, need to spend time observing our students and their traits. Teachers must find ways to foster their students' needs and meet them where they are. We hear incessantly about teaching to all of our students learning styles. However, that only takes into account the realms of visual, aural, verbal, and physical learning. The complexity of our students and how they learn go far beyond these broad learning styles. Therefore, when considering assigning a group project, take a moment to consider the traits of your students. We owe it to our students to help them grow into the best person and student they can be. As Dr. Montessori pointed out, "Free the child's potential, and you will transform him into the world."