by Kristyn Kamps
Picture this: today is Day 1 of your first PBL project. You are excited: you’ve framed the work around carefully chosen power standards and have masterfully incorporated success skills into your plan; the product students will create is authentic; and most importantly, after staging an engaging entry event and the introducing the driving question—your students are hooked. You reveal to the class their project teams and move students into team building activities. But as you do, one of your more reserved students approaches. In a voice that rises just above a whisper, he asks, “Do I HAVE to work in a group?”
It could be tempting to answer a quick, “yes,” and encourage him that all will be well; however, what if this student doesn’t just dislike working with others—what if the very thought of being part of a group is downright terrifying? For students who are on the introverted end of the introversion-extroversion spectrum, working with others can feel intimidating and overwhelming. How should a Project Based Learning teacher respond?
The Power of Introverts
Carl Jung, the famous twentieth-century psychologist, first introduced the terms ‘introvert’ and ‘extrovert’ to describe personality types. Susan Cain drew from Jung for her popular 2012 TED Talk entitled, “The Power of Introverts.” Since then, Cain has written two bestselling books (Quiet and Quiet Power) and launched her Quiet Revolution, a “mission-based company whose goal is to empower introverts of all ages.” Her work can provide a clearer picture of how to support students who share the introverted personality type.
Briefly, Cain describes the difference between introverts and extroverts as follows: while extroverts “crave the external world of people and activities, thrive in groups and gain energy from being around others, introverts are drawn to the inner world of thoughts and feelings.” Introverts are our “quiet students,” and they are in every class we teach: they make up approximately one-third to one-half of the general population. Among their many strengths, quiet students possess excellent listening skills; they think and process information and experiences at a deep level; they can focus intensely for long periods of time; and they are comfortable working alone. Cain describes these attributes as “superpowers,” and indeed, introverts bring many positive qualities to group work.
Although the collaborative nature of projects can prove difficult and uncomfortable for the quiet students in our classrooms, all students benefit from having the chance to engage in the type of purposeful, collaborative learning experiences Gold Standard PBL provides. Collaboration provides opportunities for students to co-construct knowledge and deepen understanding of content. It helps build the "Ideal Graduate" we often talk about in the PBL 101 Workshops—one who is ready for the collaborative nature of the workplace in today’s economy, and increasingly in college too. And PBL teachers often notice how an engaging project can pull a quiet student out of their shell, a testament to the transformative power of PBL.
Below are some practical tips (inspired by Cain’s work) for supporting quiet students in PBL:
So, how would I answer the student who asks if she or he has to work in a group when we begin project work? “Yes, but let me share with you what group work will look like in this class.”