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.

Lessons

This week has been absolutely jam-packed so I’ve decided to break it up into a few different posts. This week I finally got in a full round of teaching for both of my NTNU classes, Academic Writing and Communication for Engineers. Academic Writing is a tiny class of about nine and it reminds me of my college seminars. Because the class is much smaller than Communication for Engineers (which has around 130 students) I’m much more of a co-teacher instead of a teaching assistant. We didn’t cover too much since it was the first class, but I’m looking forward to having a larger role as a teacher.

With Communication for Engineers, I got to teach the students a bit about writing resources. In case anyone is interested I covered:

1. Write or Die  (When you stop writing it starts to delete what you have written) 
2. Written kitten (It shows you a picture of a cat or the furry animal of your choice once you’ve written a certain number of words)
3. Omm Writer (Provides you with a nice clean interface for writing)
4. Final Deadline (Provides you with a host of resources that can help you with writing)

Shout outs to both my thesis advisor, Danny, and my sorority for showing me most of these. As expected, Write or Die and Written Kitten were by far the most popular of these resources. I also told the class that I would be happy to read over any of their writing and would be setting up regular office hours in case they wanted to meet with me one-on-one. One student has already sent over a draft of a literature review so I’m glad to see that the students aren’t afraid to take me up on my offer.

As for the classes that I’m taking, I’m currently enrolled in a Norwegian class and a class called Gender and Norwegian Culture. Unfortunately, I had to miss the Gender class due to the Fulbright Orientation (more on that later), but I did get to go to my first Norwegian class. While the teacher seems nice, the structure of the class is mind blowing to me. In the other languages that I’ve taken there have always been regular tests on vocabulary and grammar, and in the case of Korean, weekly one-on-one meetings with the teacher. In this class almost the entire grade is determined by the final. Other than that I only have to write six essays and attend at least 80% of the class. While I am supposed to do workbook exercises I do not have to turn them in and am expected to grade the exercises in my own time. In contrast with the American education system, which in my experience has required a lot of assignments, participation, and feedback, the Norwegian system seems to be pretty hands off. I’ve also noticed this with the other classes that I’m taking or teaching. There is not a lot of work or participation required, just a passing grade on the final.

On a brighter note, I have begun to tackle a few simple phrases and the Norwegian alphabet. Luckily the Norwegian alphabet is the same as the English alphabet but with three more vowels, ø, æ, å. While I still struggle to pronounce everything correctly I have managed to memorize the extra Norwegian vowels thanks to a funny YouTube video that another Fulbrighter showed me. I included the video below so hopefully you find it as funny as I did.