Breaking down concepts and class groups—from big to medium to small—helps extroverts and introverts alike.
Assistant Professor of Social Psychology, University of Kentucky
PhD, MA, and BA in Psychology
Many people in the field of education believe that teachers should be highly extroverted, says Dr. Jazmin Brown-Iannuzzi. As a self-proclaimed introvert—and highly successful assistant professor of psychology—she begs to differ.
“I have often heard that in order to be a good teacher, you have to be a good entertainer,” she says. “That may work for some people, but this advice was not going to work for me.”
Unlike some introverted educators, she did not want to lean heavily on providing written exercises and content, which she knew could overload students. She believed, however, that she could create a very effective approach to teaching that would benefit her students and keep her out of the spotlight.
Innovation: Big ideas, small discussions
“I’ve always been sort of shy, and I used to get quite nervous speaking in front of people,” says Brown-Iannuzzi. “One way I learned how to deal with the nerves was to use my strengths in my favor. I love talking about research and issues related to research. And I’m happy to talk about this with whoever will listen. So I decided that I would set up my class as a series of small discussions.”
Her ultimate goal was to scale the class down to 1:1 discussions between her and each student. This, she knew, would limit her need to put on a “performance,” while helping students feel seen, recognized, and valued in the classroom. These, she notes, are benefits that are less accessible in a large-group lecture format.
“Another way to think about teaching is that many of us simply love a topic—or several topics. So, create a classroom atmosphere that plays to your strengths as a unique individual. The result will be a fun time for you and your students, talking about a topic you love.”— Jazmin Brown-Iannuzzi, PhD
Course: PSY 216 Applications of Statistics in Psychology
Frequency: Two 75-minute class meetings per week and one 2-hour lab per week for one semester
Class size: 50
Course description: An introduction to statistical procedures used in making decisions based on psychological data.
See resources shared by Jazmin Brown-Iannuzzi, PhDSee materials
Lesson: Dividing up the lesson—and the class
Brown-Iannuzzi poses a question to students, who then gather into groups to discuss it critically. Here are some specifics on how she makes the most of this approach:
Begin with a big class and big question
At the start of each class meeting, Brown-Iannuzzi shares a “big idea” in the form of a 7–15-minute presentation that relates to the students’ lives. She supplements her lecture with applicable slides, videos, and even interactive applets (she notes that there are growing numbers of good applets freely available for use in statistics classes).
“I ask a big theoretical question, such as, ‘Are certain law enforcement agents/agencies better at catching liars than others?’” she says.
Next, the students break into small groups to come up with smaller questions—hypotheses that are testable, such as, “Are FBI agents better at detecting lies than cops?”
The groups each discuss the data needed to investigate their question. “With some simulated data in hand, students run through the appropriate statistics,” she says. This is done individually at their desks.
Break down the class into small groups
Brown-Iannuzzi then divides the class into small groups. “They teach each other how they completed the question and formulated the statistical conclusion and the scientific conclusion based on the sample results,” she says.
Create opportunities for 1:1 exchanges
While the students are engaged in small-group discussions, she walks around the room, listening in and asking some questions of her own. This is the point at which she is able to speak one-on-one with individual students so she can assess where they are and ask them to dig deeper.
“I probe the students to think through what our data can and cannot tell us about FBI agents and cops,” she says. “And, I ask them how to think through next questions they would be interested in investigating.”
Brown-Iannuzzi has found that many students are puzzled by her more personal teaching approach. “They are often surprised that I care about what they say,” she says. “I care that they have created a well-informed and thoughtful opinion on a given topic, whatever opinion that may be. I think students are most surprised that I’m not searching for ‘the right answer’ because often there isn’t one.”
Bring the class together to let the introverts shine
“Finally, as a class we come together and discuss what we learned,” says Brown-Iannuzzi. “This process helps students feel they understand a difficult concept in a meaningful way.”
This approach has a particular benefit for introverted students as well as for introverted teachers, notes Brown-Iannuzzi: It empowers both groups to contribute more.
“Because the students have practiced their answers in their small groups, they are more comfortable speaking in front of the whole class,” says Brown-Iannuzzi. This, in fact, is true of all students, not only those who are shy. “As a result, we all get to learn from the diversity of responses the students come up with.”
The 1:1 approach also enables educators to share the depth and breadth of their knowledge in a more micro setting, so the focus shifts from “performance mode” to “conversation mode.” For shy educators, says Brown-Iannuzzi, it can be a relief to teach in this way, which may feel more natural to them.
“Another way to think about teaching is that many of us simply love a topic—or several topics,” she says. “So, create a classroom atmosphere that plays to your strengths as a unique individual,” she suggests. “The result will be a fun time for you and your students, talking about a topic you love.”