Getting the best out of those quiet ones

Getting the best out of those quiet ones

‘Shyness is nice, but shyness can stop you from doing all the things in life you’d like to.’ - some of 80s pop irritant Morrissey’s wiser words. Here are our top three tips for helping your shy learners to thrive.

1. Is The Child Shy, Or Introverted? The term ‘introverted’ is often used to mean ‘shy’, and vice versa, but the two are different concepts. The reason a shy person doesn’t want to interact with people comes down to fear – they’re scared of the unfamiliar, whereas an introverted person is more concerned about the cost to them in terms of how much it drains their energy. While there can be an overlap, introverted people aren’t always shy and shy people aren’t always introverted. If everyone understood this, the world would be a much less stressful place for us introverts!

Some of the ways you can spot an introverted child include: they’re likely to prefer to express their ideas in writing; they will need some time to think before they answer a verbal question, and, while they might be fine with working in pairs and groups, they will often be happier working on their own. As an introvert myself, who has watched introverted children suffer at the hands of the extrovert-centred education system, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen reports worded along the lines of ‘X is a bright student, but needs to put their hand up in class more often’. As teachers, we want our children to act like extroverts because they are fun – and easier – to teach: if they’re talking to us, we know what they’re thinking and we can show that they’re making progress. Society is geared around extroverts, so it’s no surprise that school is too. But here’s the thing – if the child is paying attention and engaging with the work in their own way, then they should still be making progress. Not all of the children you teach will want to publically engage with you or large groups of their peers – and that’s OK. Some ways of getting the best out of your introverted kids could be opportunities for independent work which involves writing. Why not try a silent debate?

2. Think About Your Space. Use your classroom layout to support the shy learners. You might put them in an unobtrusive location on your seating plan – not in the centre of the room; perhaps near to an exit, or end of a row, or somewhere they could form very small groups if needed. You might put them next to encouraging students who are less shy (but not overwhelming). Also, think about the way you as a teacher use space. Instead of towering over a shy student as you’re looking at their work or talking to them, crouch down so that you’re on eye level with them. Also, if they’re doing a presentation, think about ways in which your space can contribute to that – do they have to be at the front of the room? Do they have to be stood up? Do they have to be on their own, or can others be with them? All of this can help you to develop your students’ self esteem, and make your classroom environment as non-threatening as possible.

3. Help Them To Feel Valued. Shyness can be a natural tendency, but confidence goes a long way to helping a child to feel at ease. For some students, every activity in your lesson is a potential failure and embarrassment, so praise your students for what they’re succeeding in. Going back to the importance of space, make sure you have encouraging signs and posters in your classroom – these can be about learning attitudes, or simply signs which make the students know that they are welcome and valued in your classroom.

You can also make students feel valued by giving them control over as much of their learning as possible. Create roles wherever possible which put the shy child in a pivotal ‘support’ role, e.g. judging a debate, or timekeeping on a speech, and give them the option to elect to be in these roles. In class discussions, target shy students for questions which you know they will be able to answer, so that they feel secure in risking a response. Praise them in public and/or in private, depending on that child’s preferences, and make the praise as specific as possible for a maximum confidence boost - ‘that was a really good development of PEE’, ‘you used some great adjectives there’, ‘what I love about that example is how detailed it is’, and so on.

Make your learners feel valued, safe and heard, and you should soon enjoy the perks of teaching wallflowers.

Written by Kate Knight. Kate is an English teacher, lexicographer, Oxford University graduate and Gifted and Talented consultant. She lives in England with her partner and enjoys healthy cooking, writing and improv comedy.

For more ideas on how to boost the self-esteem of your learners, why not try our Tes Recommended resource of the week?