Why Introverts Should NOT Be Forced To Talk In Class

A few years ago I wrote a post on my first blog about the struggles I had being an introvert.

At the time, I enrolled in a digital marketing course through ADMA.

It was a course I put myself through and paid for. I was working in a role that did not require me to learn or even understand digital marketing but I knew it was the way of the future.

(You’re reading this right?)

forced class participation

Introverts should not be forced to talk in class

The course ran for 12 weeks and it was full of corporate types.

I remember feeling so small and insignificant because the majority of people worked for these amazing global companies whose bosses were PAYING for them to be there.

I worked for a little known association and I was forking out a LOT of my own money to do the course.

After the first night I came home feeling so annoyed and disillusioned because I found out a small but significant percentage of the course was graded on class participation.

I thought to myself, “WHY?”

And what did this mean exactly?

It meant that I had to raise my hand and participate in class discussions.

It meant I had to willingly offer my thoughts so openly in front of the class.

I also found out that we were required to present, not once, but twice, in front of the class.

Once on our own and the second time as part of a group assignment (more on that in a future post).

As much as I despise group work and presentations, it was the class “forced” participation that bothered me.

I understood that courses do require presentations (and dare I say group work) and I suspected this before I enrolled.

The forced participation infuriated me.

When I arrived home that night I wrote a post on an earlier blog called An Introvert Living In An Extroverted World.

You might be thinking why it would bother me so much and that I’m probably making it a bigger deal than what it is.

I mean it’s only 10% right?

Well 10% is nothing to sneeze at and I disagreed with it on principal.

And I’m not the only one who disagrees.

An article in The Washington Post validates my point on the back of an article written that introverted kids need to learn to speak up at school.

Jessica Lahey, a high school teacher and writer, argues that students should be required to speak in class. She suggests that in order to be successful in today’s world, introverted students must be taught and coerced to participate in class discussions.

WHAT RUBBISH!

Not only that, this is dangerous.

As the writer in the Washington Post points out, there are many reasons students may choose not to verbally participate in school.

Some students are painfully shy and others choose their moments to speak.

But more importantly, sometimes a student’s silence protects him or her from ridicule or bullying.

And I agree with the writer’s assertion that Lahey’s advocacy for grading classroom participation overlooks the myriad of other ways students can participate.

Here’s why I disagree with forced class participation.

  • I’m the type of person (as are many others) that prefer to learn by listening and absorb all of the information being shared.
  • I love nothing more than to learn. I LOVE learning. But I need to be comfortable in my environment. I’m happy to sit back, observe and listen to what’s going on. I choose my moments to speak carefully. That should not be perceived as learning any less effectively.

As I explained in my post, it reinforced to me that we live in a world created by extroverts for extroverts and I felt a sense of loneliness and despair after that first dreadful night of the course.

There were a lot of strong personalities in the class.

Since primary school I was never one to generally ask a lot of questions in a class environment because I learn more effectively by observing and absorbing all of the information.

As a result, those of us that have a quite nature are made to suffer the consequences.

I felt it was unfair to punish me because I have a quiet personality.

In my view, I also felt it was unfair that I would potentially be penalised for being a quiet person.

So for the next 11 weeks I went to class with my anxiety levels so high I was barely able to focus and concentrate in class.

So now my learning style was affected too.

The experience made me realise that we really do live in a world catered to extroverts.

I mean schools and organisations are conditioned to respond and reward extroverts as the teacher Jessica Lahey blatantly does.

I guess this experience was also the beginning of my journey to becoming an entrepreneur.

I always felt misunderstood by my previous employers and that there was pressure to conform in a certain way.

I’m not one to consider myself anti-establishment or anti-authority (not without good reason) but this experience certainly did change my outlook and view on life and on the corporate world in particular.

It also occurred to me that, unless I dramatically change my personality, I was never going to have a successful career.

I was already in my early 30’s at that point and my career was hardly a picture of success.

That’s how I felt anyway.

What about you? Do you agree that students, whether adults or children, should be forced to talk and participate in a class environment?

Are you an introvert that has felt similar pressure to conform or face negative consequences?

27 thoughts on “Why Introverts Should NOT Be Forced To Talk In Class

  1. Fascinating post and topic for a blog. Congrats on your first post.

    I’m an introvert – a fairly extreme one according to the numerous personality tests I’ve taken (I think my personality type likes to take those test….)

    This is something I have mixed feelings on.

    Growing up I used to dread class room participation and can relate to some of the feelings you expressed. I come out of that experience wishing that the schools (primary, high and university) I went to tailored what they did for different personality types a little more than they did.

    Debates, presentations, marking based upon asking good questions, class discussions etc all freaked me out and as someone who is not only ‘shy’ but also what I’d classify as a ‘slower paced’ thinker I felt at a disadvantage in many of these situations.

    Having said that…. I would also say that for me it was actually the times I was stretched into some of these more participatory modes of learning that I think I learned the most.

    The pressure of having to stand up in front of a class drove me to prepare better. The worry of having to debate made me look at every angle of what might happen and learn more.

    Interestingly it was also these situations that helped me discover something quite surprising – I was actually pretty good at speaking in public (if given time to prepare). I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I’d not been forced to speak in front of my class and had been allowed to just be the shy kid I felt I was?

    I had this conversation with a very extroverted friend recently and it was fascinating to hear that he too felt he was an a disadvantage in school. He LOVED the interactive elements of classes (group projects and presenting) but it only counted for 10-20%… while writing essays and individually focused assessment made up 80-90%. He felt if he could have been able to have a more interactive learning environment that actually resembled the work place of many that he’d have got better marks and been better prepared for his career.

    As a dad of 3 boys – one obviously extroverted, one quite introverted and one that we’re not sure about yet I do wonder how they’ll go at school.

    I guess taking it all into account that I wish schools were perhaps more flexible rather and came up with varied ways of learning and assessment that both helped students to be comfortable but also that stretched them.

    I want my son who is more like me to feel comfortable with his personality – but I also want him to be stretched and discover elements of himself that he may not otherwise find if he isn’t stretched. Similarly I want my more extroverted son to discover the art of contemplation and be comfortable with working alone and in more individual ways.

    Not sure if any of this makes sense – but it’s a fascinating one to ponder.

    Good luck with your blogging!

    • Hi Darren

      Thank you for being the first person to comment on my blog. I do agree that it is important to stretch ourselves and to experience things that do push us beyond our comfort zone. As much as I detested all the oral presentations (as we used to call them) and presentations I was required to do at high school and uni, it is all character building and allows us to develop a deeper understanding of our own personalities.

      In the last 12 months, I have volunteered to present on stage at a local accounting chapter and participate as a guest panelist at the Victorian Small Business Festival. These things are I used to avoid in a pink fit and run for cover. But as a business owner and entrepreneur, it’s up to me to hustle and to create new opportunities for myself. I’m actually quite proud of the progress I’ve made considering the person I used to be.

      My frustration lies in learning environments that treat everyone as if they were extroverts. A lot of people suffer great anxiety and and I know this particular learning environment heightened my anxiety even further. It wasn’t the class or group presentations that bothered me – it was being aware that I had to make a conscious effort to make sure I was “raising my hand” anytime the teacher spoke to the class.

      • I absolutely agree with Shae’s comments about being forced to speak in class participation. My teenager son is now suffering tremendously because he experiences the same challenge in class. The majority teachers complain that he does not speak in class. The Advisory class make 50% of the grade as class participation. Sometimes I wonder what does it really mean embracing diversity, or being inclusive. Why is that the quiet ones would be labeled as “problem ” or defiance, or passive aggressive for not speaking up?

  2. Amazing insights, Shae. I’m split on this topic too. I’m not a classic introvert but let’s just say I feel like I’m “better in writing”.

    I have a European languages background and my forte was translation but the spoken element of foreign language learning is heavily weighted as a part of any language degree. I pursued a route where the intricacies of linguistics and written discourse were the focus but to “get good” at French in the first place we were forced to present in class as well.

    I’ve seen so many peers get tongue-tied in front of an audience when I know their language skills far surpass their performance on the day. What wasn’t taken into account in our grades was the fact that personality plays a far greater part than language skills in the classroom situation. It’s not that people don’t have something to say. The assumption was that, if we weren’t saying it, that was because we couldn’t.

    I appreciate that spoken language was a necessary skill to learn, but the way it was assessed and graded didn’t reflect ability so much as personality. It would be a good topic for those setting school and university curricula to revisit.

  3. I recently read about a third type of personality – an ambivert. I then discovered a whole lot of articles about this idea, that one can have aspects of both introversion and extroversion. I certainly fall into that category – able to be extroverted but then need a long nap to get over it! 🙂

    Thanks for sharing your experience and thoughts Shae, and HOORAY for this new venture!

    Michelle

  4. Sensational first post Shae and one that’s close to my heart as a fellow introvert. I was insanely shy as a kid and the idea of public speaking still freaks the hell out of me. While I resonate with your frustration at some of the more extroverted learning models, I know that being pushed outside my comfort zone and muddling my way through is the best way to feel more confident, alive and connected with others (even if I need a power nap afterwards!). We can celebrate our differences by remembering that we think to talk while extroverts talk to think 🙂

    • Hi Kim. I agree that we do need to be pushed out of our comfort zones. That’s not the issue. As I mentioned to Darren, I’ve made a conscious effort to move beyond my comfort zones this past year because I started my own business. My frustration lies with the learning models that are not flexible to allow an introvert to learn the way they need to.

  5. Congratulations Shae on your new blog and what a great post to start it off. I really like Michelle’s comment on being an ambivert as this resonates with me. I think many of us (myself included) are a complete mixture. For example I can get up and do a presentation, or sing a song on stage but I also like to be quiet and have my own company, and I still hesitate before making a call to people I don’t know, which seems ridiculous to me but it’s how it is – I just make myself do it, and of course I’m fine once I start talking.

    Regarding the assessment element you talk about, I agree with the earlier comments that we all have different ways of learning and the mode of assessment will suit some better than others. This makes it all the more important for educators to use mixed forms of assessment, as well as providing young people with skills they may need in the workplace. Unfortunately in the UK we seem to be moving away from this and going back to more traditional forms of assessment. Anyway that’s a whole other area.

    I wish you all the best with your new venture Shae.

    • Thank you so much Kathryn. I hope you come by again. Interesting what you say about the UK learning system. It’s a shame they seem to be going back to a more traditional system.

  6. Great question, Shae! I really liked what Darren had to say about challenging ourselves in either direction – either to speak up or to learn to be more contemplative as being beneficial in the learning process. I also agree that schools tend to have one style of teaching whereas we all learn differently. I was just listening to a presentation where someone with a lot of earth qualities takes more time to observe and absorb the information, yet then it really sticks and you never forget. All fascinating. I wonder how you can direct that anger into something productive since you are an entrepreneur, perhaps it will fuel a new business concept. Best of luck!

    • Thanks Sheila. I certainly plan to turn this into a positive experience for people hence starting this blog to help out fellow introverts.

  7. I am an extreme introvert, according the Myers Briggs scale and always struggle in social situations. Having been criticised for my lack of participation in the work environment, I spent a good part of my 20s learning to be more extroverted and training in public speaking and group facilitation skills. Like Darren, I found that I was actually quite good at both, given sufficient preparation, but still suck at impromptu speaking and participation.

    I do however push myself out of my comfort zone constantly, because like it or not, we are living in an extroverts’ world and I don’t want to drown in it. Also, as an entrepreneur, if you don’t speak up, you don’t get noticed. I do my best work with clients one-on-one and in the development stage of my programs, so I still get my introvert what she needs.

    • I’m glad you pointed out that you’re actually quite good at public speaking given sufficient preparation. This is something Susan Cain touches on in her book Quiet and I have a blog post coming out about this soon.

  8. I totally relate to your post, Shae. I experienced a lot of anxiety and shame as a kid because I didn’t like to speak up in class, do presentations, ask questions, etc.

    I even remember (very vividly) an experience in university when I had to do a presentation with a partner. I was so scared that my knees, voice and hands were shaking. My heart was pounding and I didn’t look up from my paper except to say, “I’m dying up here.” I looked back down and continued to read. My partner looked at me with total disgust and disappointment when I was done.

    I’ve spoken as an adult in various contexts and people always tell me I’m eloquent. But I’m still scared out of my mind and I tend to avoid situations like that.

    I’m a teacher. I left my teaching job to run my business, but as a teacher, I believe strongly in each child’s unique personality and learning style. I always worked to honor that. I gave kids the opportunity to express themselves in ways that worked best for them.

    I agree with other commenters that we need to stretch and grow, but putting kids in a position of feeling like they’re “dying up here” is just not OK. Making kids feel that kind of anxiety and torment every day is damaging.

    I’m choosing to grow in this area and put myself out there as an adult. But there has to be a better way to help kids grow than to put them in a situation where they’re forced to do something that destroys them inside just for 10%.

    My comment is jumbled. Sorry about that. This is an awesome post and something that really needs to be explored.

  9. Oh Leanne. Thank you for your comment and dropping by. And I definitely will be exploring this topic a lot further.

  10. I hate public speaking too, Shae, but now I am a lecturer at vocational level so I guess I do it everyday. I was forced to do presentations for assessments at university, and although I dreaded it, I found that it helped me immensely, especially when I started doing client pitches and presentations to industry groups, including some hostile audiences, in my work environment.

    As a vocational teacher, we do use presentations as assessment tasks, sometimes individually but mainly in groups where there is ‘strength in numbers’. We do this because no matter what industry you go into, there will be some form of public speaking and it is great to get the students as experienced as possible. Even as an entrepreneur, you may need to present to a bank manager for a loan so these are skills that are vital, especially for introverts who may be extremely capable but just lack the confidence.

    I think the key in an educational capacity is not to ‘force’ it but look at ways to make it more enjoyable and not as intimidating. As I said, presenting in a group and sharing the experience is one way. Also, as an assessor, not marking too harshly and offering encouragement through smiling and nodding approval – even if the presentation is not great – are other ways to manage what is clearly an ordeal for many people. Another way is to allow the introverts to present last so they can hopefully see that everyone else is not perfect at it either! If they falter, reassure them and give them a chance to take a breather and re-commence when they are ready without impacting on their final mark.

    Although I have delivered a thousand classes – well, it feels like it! – I am still nervous and not 100% comfortable when I stand in front of 20-30 expectant listeners each day (try this with students texting or checking Facebook while you do it – very off-putting!). But it is similar to acting – I am performing a role in the classroom and I add some bravado to my topic expertise and, together, this is enough to fool the students into believing I am a confident presenter.

    I have full empathy for the introverts in this situation, but as you yourself have proven, Shae, it can be overcome…and I still believe that delivering public presentations is an important tool in the assessment arsenal. You just need to understand the personalities and work with each of them.

    Great blog topic, and wishing you continued success, Shae.

  11. Great thought-provoking post Shae. As an extrovert, I gain a huge amount from interaction during a learning environment. Personally I feel that sometimes the presenter, or teacher, can go on a tangent and lose the group. I feel that if no-one speaks up and asks a question, then we may all not benefit as fully as we could have.

    That being said, I have grown a lot in the past 10yrs and I am a lot more aware of other personality types and as such I am more mindful now about trying not to overwhelm introverts. Which I get a lot of practise at, at home as my partner is a fairly extreme introvert.

    Like a lot of previous comments, I don’t think introverts should be ‘forced’ to speak up in class. But I do think it is worthwhile to be encouraged to participate even if it means going outside your comfort zone. I remember numerous times when I was terrified to speak up in class. The more I did it though, the more confident I got and the more I benefited from the learning experience.

    I think the key is to educate the leaders of the group, be they teachers, presenters, or facilitators, to be more aware of different personality types in the room.

    In situations where there are clear extroverts taking the lime light without being aware of this, I believe it is up the person up the front (or in charge) to adapt the environment. This could be breaking into smaller groups to share opinions and thoughts, or perhaps moving around the room, seeking feedback from students individually 1-on-1 while the rest of the group are working on an exercise.

    It’s funny that you say the world has been developed by extroverts for extroverts. I never thought about it that way, but it does seem to make sense. I’m getting a strong feeling that the blogosphere has been created by introverts for introverts 😉

  12. Great post! I think of a comic that I once saw of students in a jungle being tested, they were all sorts of animals with different gifts and abilities, but they were all being tested by their ability to climb a tree. The monkeys did well, but as you would imagine the fish, and many other animals failed.
    I completely agree that there are many types of people out there who thrive under different conditions. When people are forced to perform in ways that are unnatural to them, they experience exactly what happened with you, anxiety and the inability to thrive. Thank you for this post and your honest words!

  13. Shae – fantastic post. It reminded me of so many things that have come up for me during my life, but from the opposite point of few. You see, most people would call me an extrovert, so the expectation that I will always be the loud one, the first to get up and speak, the one to lead the presentations, the organiser or the life of the party has always been there. Mostly it works. My A Game is being on stage and leading…….BUT……..
    People don’t realise that being an extrovert doesn’t mean you’re switched on all the time. I love, crave and need my introvert moments – and when I go into one of these I get asked ‘what’s up’ ‘why are you sad’ ‘ is it that time of the month’ ‘ did you get out on the wrong side of bed’ etc etc.
    What we need is a balance. Not to be given one label or the other. Just let people find their perfect balance and encourage them to go with that – especially kids.
    My daughter is an extrovert like me, but wow, somedays she just wants to chill in peace and quite and be left alone – so I let her, and I hope they do the same at school.
    Congrats on the new blog by the way.

  14. My daughter is an introvert. She is brilliant and it can be frustrating as a parent to have her judged as less when she is quiet. This can be particularly frustrating with other family members.

    How does being an introvert relate when it comes to public etiquette such as looking in someone’s eyes when in conversation, audibly responding to questions?

    I’m asking because this is when my daughter’s shyness can come off as rude (based on my family’s projections) or that she is socially awkward/regressed (my personal fear of people’s assessments of her when first meeting).

    I appreciate this post, your candid share and the opportunity to dialogue with an introvert on the behalf of my 13 year old daughter.

  15. I have 3 sons. My 16 year old is an extrovert but does not read very well. The 13 year old is an introvert that reads on a college level. Both of them have had difficulty in school because of the paradox of exactly what you are talking about. I feel that many different learning styles could be incorporated into the teaching structure and it would just take a level of awareness that this is even a issue in order to implement.

    The issue is that many of us subscribe to the there is a best way to do things approach to living oppose to many paths can lead to one.

    My baby will be 2 in a few days. Hopefully by the time he is ready for school, I will understand his best learning style and find a institution that supports the way he learns so that his confidence isn’t trampled by societies “have to’s’.

  16. I was always quiet, I made it through school with just two or three close friends and although not painfully shy, I never really wanted to be noticed. I can’t remember being forced to participate in any classes but then I guess as I was so quiet most of the time I think I probably went un-noticed and as time went on the teachers kind of forgot I was there. Except for one, my English teacher, Mrs Scott, who at the end of my time at school gave me a card to wish me well in my adult life. In it was a quote she had written from Hamlet…

    “Bless’d are those whose blood and judgement are so well mingled that they are a pipe for fortune’s finger to sound what stop she please”

    It’s what Hamlet had to say about his friend Horatio, as Hamlet admires Horatio for the qualities that Hamlet himself does not possess. Hamlet knew that Horatio’s strength of character was unwavering, and Hamlet longed for the for the peace of mind and stoicism that Horatio possessed. What’s more I still have that card today 25 years later and I get it out now and again to remind myself that we are all different.

    I have learned over the years to participate more and I can now stand up and give a presentation, work well in a team or go networking, but I can’t say that I love it, and doing these things can drain me. Have I forced myself to do these things to fit in? I don’t think I have, I do them to a level that suits me and have helped me to achieve the things I wanted in life. I am and always will be an introvert and that suits me just fine. Yes the extroverts get noticed more, but if it wasn’t for all the introverts working away in the background, then the world would be a poorer place. Great blog post Shae and keep them coming 🙂

  17. Awesome post Shae – congrats on your first post!

  18. Hi Shae! I have just found you via the Bright Eyed & Blog Hearted. I can totally relate to this post. I am always the one hiding up the back with little to say, but that doesn’t mean I am not participating. Complete opposite actually. The pressure of having to perform publicly will send me into melt down every time!

  19. Hi Shae,

    I know this post is old, but I wanted to leave a comment as this is something I feel strongly about. For 12 years I have been battling with my daughter’s teachers about this. Every report and every parent teacher interview they comment about how she needs to talk and participate more in class. Every time I respond that not everyone in this world is an extrovert. One time a teacher even warned me that teenagers who are quiet in class are considered to be moody or sulky!

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