A wise man once said: “only a Sith deals in absolutes”*. Hold onto this thought while I write about something else.
Susan Cain’s (2012) well researched book Quiet focuses on the good side of introversion that is often overlooked in North American culture. Her book dedicates a chapter on work spaces in relation to introverts. From this chapter, the take home message is this: despite the popularity of the “New Groupthink”, certain tasks and masteries are meant to be completed and achieved alone.
The New Groupthink is a term coined by Cain that refers to a phenomenon where people focus (obsess) over teamwork and socialization in work environments. Companies are decreasing personal work spaces in favour of facilitating a social atmosphere where workers can engage in group activities such as group brainstorming sessions. Schools are pushing for cooperative and small group learning, where they promote leadership and collaborative skills (Cain, 2012).
Cain isn’t saying these approaches to work and education are wrong, but rather she’s asserting that we need them in moderation. Her view is supported by Obi-wan’s quote from above: We must not design our workplaces and education solely based on extrovert traits. To grossly simplify Cain’s argument on why we shouldn’t, it’s because specific masteries relating to fields such as music and math, productivity tasks that require high amount of concentration, and even creative tasks where new ideas and solutions are needed all require significant amount of solitary time, not multiple meetings or group sessions (and perhaps not every kid in the class wants to grow up to be a charming, charismatic leader).
Ok… so am I suggesting we get rid of partners and group activities in classrooms and split every desk to be themselves? No, we don’t deal with absolutes. We should definitely have a mix of both. I personally think maybe in a 75 minute lecture in a high school class, we could spend 30 minutes on the lecture itself. Then, give 20 minutes for each students to digest the material. Then spend the last 15 minutes on a group activity. Perhaps the students can disperse into small groups or go study individually at some work stations, then have some sort of seminar in the classroom. It’s been awhile since I’ve been to high schools, but I’d think (hopefully) some of these instructional design are already taking place. Besides class time, what else can we improve?
Lunch and break times. A lot of student spaces I’ve seen in various high schools mostly had spaces where it was clearly designed for group work. Why not have classrooms or lounges where there are spaces for individuals specifically? The library shouldn’t be the only place where students can go to have some solitary time. And speaking of libraries, I think there also should always be wide open tables designed for collaborative work, while there should also be small desks in other areas used for individual work.
Perhaps all of these are already implemented in modern high-schools and colleges (I know a lot of medium to large scale universities can already support all of this). But the lesson should never be forgotten – to push for individualized education, we must design work environments that cater to our individualized differences. What would be some best classroom design practices that caters to both introverts and extroverts? If this lab ever gets funding, we’ll know.
Cain, S. (2012). When collaboration kills creativity. Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. New York: Crown.
*The quote is from the movie Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
Check out the book in this post!