Quiet kids need support


Yousuf El-Jayyousi

Nikol Slatinska

When looking at which characteristics make an individual successful, it makes sense for academic intelligence to be at the top of the list. But no matter how good one is at a certain subject, such as math or literacy skills, advancement in any facet of life is nearly impossible without the ability to communicate effectively.
A study conducted by the National Center for Secondary Education and Transition (NCSET) found that children with strong social skills are generally more accepted by their peers and form and maintain stronger relationships with parents and friends. This information may seem obvious and undeniable, but if so, how come being quiet can earn children marks of good conduct on their grade reports, while socializing too much during class often results in a scolding?
Ridgeway Elementary School teacher Windy Shull says there is a difference among kids who raise their hands to speak rather than blurting out their thoughts and those who prefer to never speak in class.
“Quiet students who never choose to speak to the class need gentle opportunities to build their speaking confidence and kind ways to find their voice,” Shull said. “I do not praise kids for not sharing their voice in class. I encourage kids to learn appropriate times and ways to share.”
That early guidance is imperative, not only because it sets children up to function in a world where building social connections with others is inevitable, but also because by primary school, kids use their relationships to determine how they fit in that world. According to kidsmatter.edu.au, preschool-age kids typically have high self-esteem and describe themselves based on their physical appearances and hobbies. By age five or six, they begin to compare themselves to their peers in order to determine their own social standing. The ability to do so allows them to form a strong sense of self-identity and awareness, as well as empathy for others.
Although she has many friends and a clear impression of who she is, junior Laura Scoville describes herself as an introvert and someone who isn’t particularly outspoken in class settings. She wishes her elementary and middle school teachers had been more insistent when it came to expressing herself vocally, despite the discomfort it might have caused her.
“I’ve definitely been praised for being quiet, since I usually sit and do my work quietly. Teachers have always said things like, ‘Oh, you’re such a good student,’ or, ‘You’re such a good example,’” Scoville said. “In high school, I learned that there are a lot of participation grades that I didn’t get my freshman year because I didn’t speak up enough. Last year I had to adjust and speak up more because it was point based, and I think that was a little harsh for me. In socratics for AP World, if you didn’t talk you wouldn’t get points.”
The change from lots of independent work time to full-on class seminars was sudden for Scoville, and she would have liked more time to ease into the new setting, perhaps with smaller group activities before whole class discussions. In order to prevent kids from being blindsided by participation-based grading, Ann Carlson, an early childhood coordinator at the University of Minnesota, believes teachers should incite socialization among children early on through active learning. Carlson characterizes this as activities that call for interaction between peers, such as group projects. She describes quiet classrooms that solely involve individual work as “highly overrated” and believes people learn more when they’re together rather than alone.
…We know that social and emotional development is not only key to a student’s success in school, but in long term life outcomes, as well. Teachers need to plan activities that encourage interaction with peers,” Carlson said. “Classrooms can be structured to provide a balance of both teacher directed and student directed activities. Younger children begin to lose focus after just a few minutes of listening to adults.”
Shull allocates time to let her kindergartners and first graders have opportunities to speak, such as during work time and share circles. In addition to that, she says it is important for teachers to be able to distinguish when students are cognitively engaged, or truly paying attention, and behaviorally engaged, otherwise known as compliance. It is her job to seek out kids who do not engage in conversations, respond to questions or ask for help and make sure they build those necessary skills.
In order to encourage class participation, University of Miami psychology professor Dr. Annette La Greca believes all children, introverted and extroverted alike, should be encouraged to share their thoughts.
“All youth should be encouraged to speak up in class and participate appropriately. Comments like, ‘That’s a really good question,’ or ‘Thank you for sharing your perspective,’ can help shy or quiet youth,” Dr. La Greca said. “Anyone who does not participate fully or feel free to ask questions runs the risk of falling behind academically.”
Knowing that some of her students are too shy to speak up, Shull has made accommodations to ensure that they’re still able to express themselves. One example includes what she calls “temporary assists,” which is when one student whispers in a friend’s ear, who speaks for them in front of a large group. Shull hopes that by doing this, her classroom feels like a safer environment for all of her students.
“I hope that I teach all students respectfully. I hope that I am patient, loving and safe in teaching each student,” Shull said. “I encourage quiet kids with an I-believe-in-you attitude and by giving many low pressure opportunities to try out their voice. I teach all students to be respectful listeners to each other, and sometimes that means allowing extra time and attention to hearing quiet kids.”