The following blog post was written by Dara MacKay. This is the final blog in a series that explores the psychology of the introvert/extrovert in the ELL classroom.
My last blog post was about some teaching strategies when dealing with introverted learners and balancing your teaching approach so that it is inclusive of all learners. This post will focus on ideas for how to assess introverted learners, especially in the area of speaking.
I find that this is the area that is most difficult to assess. I often feel like I have a really good handle on the abilities of some learners (extroverts, usually), and less of an idea for the quieter, perhaps more introverted learners. By the end of the term, we hope to collect enough evidence to give them a proper and accurate benchmark or score, and when you don’t hear from certain learners, this becomes even more challenging than it already is. I’d like to offer some tips for this, based on what I have experienced as a learner and as an instructor.
Introverted learners need more time
Allowing them a little extra time, if needed, isn’t undermining the validity of what they have to say.
First, and foremost, introverted learners need more time. They need time to process their thoughts and turn them into language. This is a cognitive processing reality.
In much of the research I have read, it has been suggested that introverts possess a different processing system, and they cannot instantly offer ideas, comments, or chime into a conversation. I myself often find this. In large meetings, or while working in groups, or even while having conversations with a group of more than one or two people, I often stay quite silent. This is not because I have nothing to say. It is because it takes me longer to formulate what I want to say. I literally don’t have words until I have fully processed everything. This is often the case when we put learners on the spot. Allowing them a little extra time, if needed, isn’t undermining the validity of what they have to say. It is validating their cognitive process and giving them a better chance to succeed. When doing a speaking test, consider offering these learners time to collect their thoughts privately, quietly, and away from the public eye. This can alleviate many of the issues we have with those quiet learners.
Learners need options
Second, and no less important, is providing options. Again, I say give them choice. It is very hard to speak in front of a crowd, a teacher, or peers, especially for introverts. It gives an extra challenge, because not only are they trying to process and figure out what to say, but they are fighting the urge to run and hide. They don’t like to be the center of attention. So, wherever possible, give some choice. If you are trying to hear if they are using cohesive devices, consider assessing them during a more casual paired conversation instead of a lone presentation in front of a group. If you want to hear a holistic speech, consider doing it one-on-one instead of in front of the class.
Learners need guidelines before doing a task
Give learners a set of topics for conversation or questions to consider alone for a few minutes beforehand quietly.
A third option is to give guidelines and expectations before doing a task. Now, I know we all do this, but what I mean is, to have each learner understand that they have an equal role to play. For example, if you are assessing conversational English, and you put your students in small groups, stipulate that each student must speak for a minimum and maximum amount of time. Assign a timer or group leader to keep people on track. Give learners a set of topics for conversation or questions to consider alone for a few minutes beforehand quietly. Then, observe them taking turns speaking on each topic. The introverted learners can then ease themselves into a situation where they would otherwise be uncomfortable by being more prepared, and the extroverted learners have a cap on their time so they don’t dominate the conversations.
Introverted learners may perform better in one-on-one situations
Lastly, understand that introverted learners do not often perform well in large groups, and therefore may show you more of their ability in one on one situations. If they blank in a class presentation, offer them a chance to do the same thing with only you. It will be a more accurate measure of their ability if they are more comfortable. Comfort zones are not an enemy. Yes, we all need to push our boundaries from time to time, but when an introvert is operating within a comfort zone, they will almost always perform better.
There are lots of things an instructor can do to assess introverts, even though it can be difficult. The biggest piece of advice I can give is to be flexible. Anticipate your learners’ needs, and see where you can stretch to accommodate them. We can often get a better read on those quiet ones if we allow them to feel in control of their surroundings and give them the opportunity to be comfortable, safe, and prepared.