Introverts and the Norwegian Classroom

Not too long ago a friend of mine recommended that I read a book by Susan Cain called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. As someone who has generally considered myself somewhere in the middle of the introvert/extrovert spectrum, or an ambivert, I figured I’d give it a read and see what I thought.

The book is written much like an academic thesis, filled with facts, studies, and scholars, yet it is also clearly written to be understandable by the layperson. At times I think this means that the book sacrifices academia for readability, but overall I enjoyed it. In fact, to my surprise, according to Cain’s definition, I’m much more introverted than I thought. You can take a quiz adapted from the book here, but signs that you might be an introvert include:

  • You prefer one-on-one conversations to groups
  • You prefer to express yourself in writing, as opposed to say face-to-face
  • You are happy being alone or independent
  • You are often told you are a good listener
  • You’re generally not a risk taker

And the list goes on. Much of Cain’s book deals with how to appreciate being an introvert in the United States, a society that largely celebrates extroverts. Her book also looks at ways of celebrating introversion instead of critiquing it, and how to maximize your strengths as an introvert. While the book is mostly geared towards introverts, it does provide information on extroverts, and even spends time discussing how the two can best work together. But what particularly struck me about Cain’s book was its implications for education.

So, I thought we’d make a pitstop at the Norwegian education system. Now Norway is notorious for having low levels of in class participation, and I feel confident saying this having discussed this with a number of Norwegians teachers and the Roving Scholars. Students simply don’t want to participate or volunteer. Even getting students to answer straightforward or obvious questions is a struggle. It’s also not uncommon for students to ask to give a presentation in front of just the teacher, instead of in front of the whole class.

Several of my co-teachers said this lack of participation could be traced back to Junteloven, a feature of Scandinavian culture that can be summed up by saying “You shouldn’t think you’re better than anyone else.” According to Wikipedia, Junteloven breaks down into the following ten laws:

  1. You’re not to think you are anything special.
  2. You’re not to think you are as good as anyone.
  3. You’re not to think you are smarter than anyone.
  4. You’re not to convince yourself that you are better than anyone.
  5. You’re not to think you know more than anyone.
  6. You’re not to think you are more important than anyone.
  7. You’re not to think you are good at anything.
  8. You’re not to laugh at anyone.
  9. You’re not to think anyone cares about anyone.
  10. You’re not to think you can teach anyone anything.

If that doesn’t crush the idea of the individual, I don’t know what does.

The idea behind all of this is to preserve harmony within a community. In short, if everyone is equal, nobody stands out or can rock the boat.

If you apply those ten rules to the classroom, it becomes easy to see why a student might not want to raise their hand, or appear to think that they know best in front of their classmates. Luckily, my co-teachers have said that Juteloven hasn’t been emphasized as much with younger generations. This might be why children are starting to participate a bit more in class, though nobody would say that class participation is high by any means.

Now all of this brings me back to Susan Cain. Before this book, I had never thought to think of my students as being introverted, and while I’m not saying that a lack of student participation can be traced to introversion, I suspect that introversion does play a significant role in Norwegian classrooms. Luckily, a significant part of Cain’s book looks at how to interact with introverted children, and it specifically touches on teaching techniques. Here are the ones that I thought were most useful, most of them direct from the book:

  • Don’t think of introversion as something that needs to be cured. If help is needed with social skills, teach them or recommend training outside class (similar to if a student needs help with any other skill, such as reading or math).
  • One third to one half of people are introverts. Extroverts like movement, stimulation, and collaborative work, while introverts prefer lectures, downtime, and independent projects. Mix it up fairly.
  • Some collaborative work is fine for introverts, even beneficial. But it should take place in small groups–pairs or threesomes–and be carefully structured so that each child knows his or her role.

Using the points above, here is how I plan on using some of Cain’s suggestions in the classroom:

  • Remembering that it’s okay for my students to be introverted. I think it’s useful to remember that extroverted behavior should not necessarily be the pinnacle of the education model.
  • Mixing up different types of work. I often lecture my students and then follow up with an activity. So far I’ve noticed that they really like games (what student doesn’t?) but I’ve also had them collaborate in large groups. I’m now planning on having them do a few more independent projects.
  • When assigning group work having that work be structured so that each student has a specific role.

I obviously don’t know how successful this will be, or even if my guess about introversion in Norwegian classrooms is correct; however, there is nothing to lose and potentially much to gain. So here’s to trying new things.

Mischief Managed

Since I’ve started helping Nancy with her two classes, I’ve noticed that while many of our students are required to write regularly, few of them have a solid foundation on the basics of academic writing. Many of Nancy’s classes are divided into covering topics like: how to determine the relevance of an article, how to create an annotated bibliography, and even how to find sources. I was pretty stunned when some of my masters students approached me asking what resources they could use to find articles relevant to their theses. As an undergraduate, I felt like I was forced to review how to find sources at least once a year, so it came as a bit of a surprise to see how lost at sea these masters students were when it came to doing research.

Because many of our students do lack writing fundamentals, I wasn’t surprised to see that Nancy had planned to spend one of our classes reviewing references. What did surprise me was the fact that I would be teaching the class. Nancy wasn’t able to come to class today since she was out of town for a conference, so today was my first day teaching on own! Nancy gave me the freedom to do whatever I wanted with the class as long as I taught things related to references, sources, and how to avoid plagiarism. While I was excited to plan my first lesson, I initially wasn’t too excited about my topic. As my friend Irene put it, references tend to be “less than inspiring.”

While references may not be the most exciting thing, they are a crucial component of academic writing and something that needed to be reviewed. In order to make the topic a bit more interesting, I decided make my lesson Harry Potter themed. I won’t go too in depth into what I taught, but I broadly focused on:

  1. Different types of sources (primary, secondary, tertiary)
  2. How to access the relevance and credibility of an article
  3. Where to find sources
  4. Why referencing is important and easy (especially if you use tools like easybib.com, EndNote, and Zotero)
  5. What plagiarism is and how to avoid it

Because this particular class is quite small (on average nine people turn up for class), they seem to really excel when it comes to doing group work. Their favorite part of today’s lesson was when I had them divide up into groups and read three of the six articles below:

  1. An excerpt from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
  2. An excerpt from Wikipedia’s Harry Potter page
  3. The Atlantic’s How the ‘Harry Potter’ Movies Succeeded Where the Books Failed
  4. The Leaky Cauldron’s “Harry Potter Book to Movie Differences: Prisoner of Azkaban
  5. An interview with Daniel Radcliffe about pretty much anything other than Harry Potter
  6. Philip Nel’s “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bored: Harry Potter, the Movie”

After they were done reading, they had to talk to their groups and try to answer these questions:

  1. What kind of source is it? (primary, secondary, tertiary)
  2. How credible is the source? On a scale of 1-10
  3. How relevant is the source? On a scale of 1-10

Overall, they seemed to have a fun time realizing that credible sources are not always relevant, and that relevant sources are not always credible.

Later on I had them practice paraphrasing by having them summarize their different articles and their arguments.

By the time class ended, people seemed to have a pretty good understanding of references and looked like they had enjoyed themselves. In short, mischief managed!