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.

The Love Guarantee

So far I think that the love guarantee is the funniest thing I’ve heard about Trondheim. Yes, it is real.

So what is the love guarantee? I know that was my question when I first heard about it, and the answer is that the city of Trondheim guarantees that its students will find love. Oddly enough it’s the city making the guarantee and not the local university. Trondheim is very much a college town and the logic behind the guarantee seems to be that because 20% of Trondheim’s population is made up of students the odds are in your favor.

HOWEVER, there is some fine print regarding the guarantee:

“In order for the Love Guarantee to apply, you have to do some effort on your own as well. You must act nice, at least most of the time, and be relatively clean. You also have to get out of the reading room and out of your house every once in a while. Going to the groceries or the post office does not count.  It is said to definitely help if you cross the bridge called “Lykkens Portal” (The portal of happiness) or strut down the Nordre Street at least a couple of times a week. You also need to be willing to engage in some extracurricular activities. There`s an endless number of student organizations and things to get involved in as a student in Trondheim. There are a wide range of student interest groups such as university press and broadcasting, film clubs, different festivals (for instance UKA – the largest music festival in Norway, or ISFIT – the largest student festival in the world), theatre, the student society house “Samfundet,” and more than 50 different organized sports activities for students. If you do not find what you are looking for, there is always room for more so do not hesitate to start your own organization or activity group. Finding someone to share an interest with might be the very first step towards sharing romantic dinners…” (The Love Guarantee)

The city has received a complaint letter or two (hence the fine print) but their stance towards those who have been unsuccessful is generally that the complainers simply haven’t put in enough effort for the guarantee to work (Rejected Complaints with a Poem).

I originally heard about the love guarantee from Alix so I decided to ask a Norwegian friend about it to see if it was widely know within Norway. My friend quickly told me that Trondheim’s love guarantee is common knowledge and that the city has even organized speed dating to facilitate new romances. While I personally don’t feel like testing out the love guarantee this year, I look forward to seeing how accurate is for some of my friends.