Are we designing extrovert-focused world language classrooms?

I am an introvert. This is incontrovertible; it is who I am. My energy wanes in the course of social interactions, and to get it back I need time alone to recharge.

I am also a teacher. A world language teacher. So it may not be surprising that this article from the Atlantic about teacher burnout among introverts had some points that resonated.

It also got me thinking about the way I teach French, and the way that world language teachers are encouraged to teach. Right now, the forward-thinking thing to do, the “best practices” thing, involves speaking as much as possible, as often as possible.

Is this making us design extrovert-focused classrooms for both teachers and students? Frequent group interactions, group activities, milling around, talking talking talking. I know as a facilitator of this process, some days I am simply exhausted, and I’ve had conversations with good, motivated students who just want a chance to do something quietly on their own once in awhile.

But wait, you might say. Isn’t speaking the whole entire point of language learning? Why did you even get to the point of studying French or being a world language teacher if you are an introvert? And those introvert students, maybe they should just toughen up; we are doing best practices around here or ELSE!

For me, language has always been about so much in addition to speaking. I love reading, and so now, I’m often reading novels and non-fiction in French. When I work or study in France, I am obsessed with studying advertisements, listening in on other people’s conversations, or speaking with a small group. I’m interested in history, culture, linguistics, art, cuisine… you get the picture.

I’ve also always seen language as a way to launch someone into adventures they wouldn’t have imagined before. Without studying French, I might not have gone to France, Belgium, Switzerland, Morocco, and then pushed myself to travel more, travel alone, seek new opportunities, learn enough to survive in another language. So when I’m teaching, my passion, the love I want to share, is often in those areas.

Speaking is SO important. Of course it is. I’m not advocating for day after day of silent crossword puzzles and other outdated methods. But by elevating speaking over the other aptitudes, are we valuing one type of learning over another? One type of teaching?

What can we do to value introverted students and teachers? I think that it pays to have a mixture of activities, some with lots of interaction, others where students can work more individually, think things through, and do research. An example – introverts may like (gasp!) grammar, and find it rewarding to learn the “rules” in a more traditional way at times. I know I did. Our classrooms are likely to contain both kinds of people, so it may be worth having methods that cater to both.

I can also tie this in with the most recent langchat about dealing with colleagues who have different methods. That introvert-extrovert thing might be happening here, too – an extrovert loves a bustling classroom, whereas an introvert might be afraid to try something they fear will leave them feeling empty at the end of the day.

What do you think? Is there a preference right now for a style better suited to introverts or extroverts? Are we teaching using methods that works better for extroverts or for introverts? What does language learning look like for introverts vs. extroverts?


9 thoughts on “Are we designing extrovert-focused world language classrooms?

  1. Julie says:

    This is such a wonderful post! As a student, I always avoided group work as much as possible, more because I like to work alone, as opposed to working in groups, but the idea is the same. All things in moderation, and everything in balance. Having a range of activities suited for all types of learners is, in my opinion, serving our students better than focusing in on, and using almost to the exclusion of other practices, group and partner activities. Speaking is indeed important, but so are the other three skills of learning a language. Your perspective is greatly appreciated! ~JULIE, Mundo de Pepita, Resources for Teaching Spanish to Children

  2. Laura says:

    Great question! I feel that need to recharge too! I think there is pressure for teachers to be extroverted, but I think a lot of strategies can–and should–be adjusted, not just for introverted students, but for variety. Paired work is a popular Best Practice that can be less draining. Having students respond to class questions in writing (whiteboards, Peardeck/Nearpod/Classroom, Twitter) also allows introverted students to participate with less pressure. Do you think that could be enough to accommodate the introverts in the crowd?

    • amyconrad23 says:

      I think those methods can help introvert students AND teachers! Sometimes when I use Nearpod, it feels like a nice break – we’re all participating (and it’s often hilarious), but it’s also a chance for students to “do their own thing” while still participating.

  3. JH says:

    Thank you so much! I am very introverted and overwhelmed by all the best approaches to facilitating 2nd language acquisition. I was away from the classroom for several years until last August. I am eagerly following your post and the comments because I have to plan most of what I am going to say; spontaneity is very difficult for me. Trying to be interactive and charismatic is exhausting for me and I was wondering about my shyest, seemingly disengaged students–how can I draw them out gently when they, too, hate to be the center of attention?

    • amyconrad23 says:

      I liked Laura’s idea of using methods that allow shy students to participate without having to raise their hand or be put on the spot – things like Nearpod, Kahoot, whiteboards, etc. I’ve definitely had some quiet students show a surprising amount of humor or interest when they know they’re not the center of attention!

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