It’s not easy being an introvert. You’re subject to all the same obstacles and struggles as anyone, including trouble at home, difficulty concentrating, and just plain hating school -- but on top of all those everyday concerns you have a layer that makes school’s casual socialization much more difficult. Speaking up in class, participating in group work, answering questions on the board, all these things (and more) can be a source of stress, anxiety and, even reduced grades. So how can we help these struggling students?
Shyness isn’t the same as introversion
Understanding the mechanism is a good start. In general, shyness is where a person is afraid to speak up, where the act of public speaking can easily generate embarrassment and even shame. It is frequently associated with a lack of confidence, even self-esteem. Introversion, however, is more of a personality alignment, in which someone is just happier with their own company and a generally lower appetite for social interaction. Introverts can also be shy, but they are still different things.
Try shrinking the audience
If a teacher is aware of shy/introverted students in the class, a useful technique is to slow down the process of public speaking. Instead of simply pointing to someone and ordering them to stand up and start speaking, take a pause and ask the students to think about their answer. This will give the more withdrawn students a chance to calm down and collect their thoughts. Furthermore, adding a partnering step can also be a big help. Have students try giving an answer to a fellow student before giving it to the whole class. That act of speaking to just one person, hopefully a friendly person at that, can really take the edge off and make it easier to address the class.
Employ social media
This is one scenario in which social media can be a huge benefit in the classroom. Even the shyest of student is likely to have a much easier time communicating through text-based chatting or posting to platforms like Facebook or Moodle.
Be careful about comfort zones
Some teachers and parents may feel the goal should be to reverse their student’s shyness/introversion by forcing them out of their comfort zone with required recitations or speeches. However, this approach can be extremely dangerous, and indeed can cause real trauma.
Instead, be gentle and gradual. As mentioned above, addressing individuals or small groups can be a great way to expand a student’s comfort zone, so that over time they’ll be better equipped to grow their audience. It is true that being able to speak to large numbers of people can be a valuable life skill, but acquiring that skill has to be a gentle process. The mere thought of standing on a stage and addressing a crowd can truly be a terrifying prospect for some people.
Above all else, it has to be emphasized at all times that shyness and introversion don’t in any way lower the value of a human being. Ensuring that every young person accepts that truth is critical to advancing in life.