The following Q&A about introverted, gifted students was written by Christine Fonseca, an award-winning author, parenting and life coach, speaker, consultant and school psychologist. She discusses temperament and how these traits present themselves in school and classroom settings, and how temperament impacts peer relations.
How does being an introvert or an extrovert affect students’ behavior at school or in the classroom?
The temperaments of introversion and extroversion refer to more than just behavior. It refers to the way a child processes energy, renews at the end of the day, interacts with the world and even learns. Introverts require solitude and a calm environment, while extroverts thrive in the social excitement that typically occurs on a school campus. In learning, the introverted child prefers to think about information before outwardly engaging with the material. Often very deep thinkers, the introverted child enjoys learning a lot about a few topics. Extroverts, on the other hand, often process information quickly and may appear impulsive in class. They like a survey-approach to learning and require significant stimulation throughout the day. Behaviorally, the introvert may appear hesitant in class, “shy” or aloof. He or she may get agitated in a noisy classroom or during loud assemblies while the extrovert is often socially engaged and will thrive when things are busy.
How are giftedness and temperament related, and what do teachers need to know about this topic?
In some respects, they are not related at all. The gifted child may be either introverted or extroverted. That said, research suggests that introversion occurs at a significantly higher rate among gifted individuals. In my own practice, I see this to be true. This prevalence of introversion among gifted individuals can further alienate gifted individuals in the typical classroom setting. As stated previously, introverts often reflect prior to outwardly engaging with learning material. In a typical classroom, this may be interpreted as not understanding the material. With a gifted introvert, nothing is further from the truth. In addition, introverts tend to pour themselves into their passions and are reluctant to transition away from preferred activities. This is true for gifted individuals as well. In the classroom, this can prove problematic. Many gifted introverts are viewed as rigid as a result—something that may not be true. The take-away message for educators here is to reserve your judgment of your student’s potential until you have mediated for temperament. Allow a longer wait time than is typical (more than two seconds) for your students. Do not pre-judge the reserved or cautious nature of a student as indicative of a problem with social skills or lack of motivation. And don’t assume that a student’s discomfort with a noisy and vibrant classroom means there is a social skills deficit. It could be you are just dealing with introversion and perhaps even a gifted introvert.
How can educators support introverted students?
There are a number of ways a teacher can support introverted learners. First, create a balanced environment—one that allows for a mix of group and individual activities, and one that enables movement for the extrovert and periods of rest and calm for the introvert. Next, create safe zones for introverts, places they can use for respite as needed during the day. My favorites include the library and a preferred staff member’s office. Focus on teaching social skills like asking for help and initiating conversations within your classroom as well as embedding social competencies (problem solving and anger management, for example) into your curriculum. Finally, create a culture of caring for all students by openly talking about temperament and learning style. The more children understand their own unique truth about their personality, learning style and temperament, the more they accept themselves and others.
In terms of peer relations, is there anything that teachers can do to assist introverted students?
Relationships with peers are tricky for gifted children in general. Add the aspect of introversion and it is easy to understand why friendships are such a large area of concern for educators and parents alike. Fortunately, there are many things teachers can do to support introverted and gifted students. First, understand the differences between shyness and introversion. Many introverts are not shy—they do not fear social humiliation. When they avoid the playground at lunch, it is not always because they fear social interactions. Usually, it is because they prefer the quiet atmosphere of the library instead. Furthermore, many introverted children are very good at forming one or two close relationships. If introverted students are struggling with developing social connections, focus on teaching social skills like conversation initiation and problem solving. Also, pair introverted children with similar interests together. Finally, encourage introverted children to use their safe zones during lunch or recess, and bring a friend along. This will enable them to get the respite they need while also enhancing their social development.
What are some commonly asked questions by educators regarding introverted, gifted students (and your responses)?
I get many questions from educators regarding teaching introverts and encouraging participation without draining their energy. My advice, allow introverted children to learn through a balance of group and individual projects. Furthermore, allow introverted students an opportunity to study areas of interest at a deeper level. These considerations, as well as the previously mentioned suggestions, can support the wide variety of learners in a typical class, including the introvert and the gifted introvert.
A more thorough discussion of temperament, introversion and supporting both introverted and gifted learners can be found in my books, Quiet Kids: Help Your Introverted Child Succeed in and Extroverted World and Emotional Intensity in Gifted Students: Helping Kids Cope with Explosive Feelings and the upcoming Raising the Shy Child: A Parent’s Guide to Social Anxiety (Prufrock Press, March 2015).
Authored by Christine Fonseca, an acclaimed and award-winning author of nonfiction and teen novels, parenting and life coach, speaker, consultant and school psychologist. She has dedicated her life to helping children and adults find their unique voice in the world. When she isn’t crafting new worlds and new stories, helping kids, or playing with her family, she can be found sipping too many skinny vanilla lattes at her local coffee house.