If you’re a teacher, you’ve likely struggled to balance student engagement in the classroom. While some students are constantly speaking out, others may be afraid to even raise their hands.
This can pose a challenge because not all quiet students will benefit from trying to be like their more outgoing peers, and it may cause more stress and anxiety to call on them at random. Fortunately, learning to understand the needs and desires of your quiet students can help you guide them towards success.
Shifting Perspectives on Success
One reason it can be so hard to engage quiet students is because we live in a world that favors extroverts. Elizabeth Street at Learning Liftoff explains that in the classroom, project-based discussions and large groups give extroverts a chance to thrive. However, the ordinary classroom environment isn’t well-suited for showcasing the strengths of introverts.
To accommodate such needs, there needs to be a shift in how success and participation are perceived. According to Marsha Pinto, who founded the introvert activist website Softest Voices, quiet students long for teachers to understand and appreciate their uniqueness. Instead of treating quiet students like extroverted students, helping them excel means listening to them with compassion and patience. Additionally, practicing active listening can help teachers tune into the needs of quiet students and see their contributions in more subtle ways.
Teachers also should understand that introverted people need peace and quiet after being in over stimulating environments. Giving a presentation, being around extroverts or spending a day in a busy classroom, for example, are all things that can be exhausting for introverts. Angela Watson, founder of The Cornerstone for Teachers, stresses that having quiet time is simply how introverts recharge. Recognizing the need for peace and quiet, and incorporating such time into the classroom, is a great way to help these students feel their best.
One organization redefining how introverted students are valued is The Quiet Schools Network, co-founded by Susan Cain, the best-selling author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. The Quiet Schools Network trains teachers to rethink how they understand leadership. Specifically, lessons and training focus on how teachers can create more inclusive learning environments for introverts by enhancing kindness, creativity, engagement, compassion and presence.
Understanding and Supporting Quiet Students
Introverted and extroverted people have contributed to the world in equal measure, and being quiet isn’t a negative trait. However, introverted students still need to be able to communicate their needs and desires to other people in the world, including strangers.
Being afraid to speak up makes the world much more intimidating, Dartmouth Medical School assistant professor Kendall Hoyt tells Jessica Lahey at The Atlantic. It can also interfere with a person’s ability to stay safe and interact with loved ones. Therefore, teaching students how to speak up and advocate for themselves in their own way will help them pursue a more successful life.
Teachers can also help quiet students by looking beyond their classroom behavior to understand why it is they’re so reserved. According to the Tenney School, a private school in Houston, students may be self conscious about what their peers think. This could be due to a speech problem or simply because a child doesn’t feel like they belong socially. Students who are second language learners may be unsure of their abilities to answer the question correctly, so they might try to avoid speaking in English.
Strategies to Encourage Participation
To encourage participation among quiet students, teacher Chrissy Romano-Arrabito suggests giving students time and space to plan out their responses before asking them to speak aloud. This can reduce stress about having to formulate an answer on the spot, and might make quiet students more willing to participate. She recommends putting students into pairs and giving them a few minutes jot down answers and ideas before starting a discussion.
This strategy can be enhanced by handing out the questions in advance. Former teacher and at-risk youth consultant Maddie Witter suggests writing down questions on slips of paper, handing them out to students before discussion, and allowing time for the questions to be discussed in groups.
Teachers might consider assigning seats in a way that helps quiet students do their best.
Instead of pairing a quiet student in a group with three extroverts, for example, Ronna Mandel, founder of Good Reads With Ronna, suggests pairing quiet students with other quiet students, or those who are outgoing, but also compassionate and able to listen patiently. In addition to helping quiet students participate, this strategy also enriches the quality and depth of the conversation, bringing more voices to the table to make it more meaningful for everyone.
Redefine Participation Standards
Teachers could also consider changing participation requirements all together. Grading students on how often they raise their hand neglects the needs and performance of quieter students, Robyn D. Shulman, founder of EdNews Daily writes. Changing participation policies to include other forms of engagement, such as digital, means quiet students don’t fall behind.
Quiet Schools Network co-founder Heidi Kasevich, who taught for over two decades, agrees that raising one’s hand to answer a question isn’t the only way that a student can participate. She suggests that teachers reimagine student participation by engaging students with activities where they can be present and connect without having to speak in front of the classroom.
Presentation and Speaking Skills
For many shy students, getting up in front of the class to give a presentation is a terrifying thought. To make presentations easier and more approachable for quiet students, The Educators Room suggests allowing more flexibility as to how presentations are given. For example, you might allow your students to record their presentation ahead of time, followed by a live Q and A session.
You could also have students give presentations in small groups outside of class time, which might reduce anxiety and build trust. Online tutor resource Tutor Doctor explains that giving a student time to practice helps reduce anxiety. Having them practice in small groups can also ease them into larger groups before they eventually have the confidence to present to the whole class.
This strategy gradually exposes quiet students to larger audiences in a way that won’t cause them to be overwhelmed by anxiety and shut down.
Connecting with Quiet Students
By developing a strong relationship with your quiet students, you can build a more trusted environment in which they feel safe to share. One way to build trust comes from English teacher and tutor Lauren Ringdahl. She explains that when her students weren’t willing to answer questions outright, she resorted to telling stories about her own past. This helped break the ice and introduce a level playing field between the students and their teacher.
Additionally, fostering personal interests is a great way to get kids talking. Introverts often enjoy talking about the things that they love, writes Lee Watanabe-Crockett, founder of Global Digital Citizen Foundation. Teachers who can engage students in artistic and creative thinking activities, or other projects that they might enjoy, can provide room for natural discussion. At the same time, he suggests pairing students with like-minded peers who might also have the same interests.
Images by: Burst, Prashant Sharma, Sarah Pflug