Yes, I’ve been a bad blogger again and haven’t posted in two months. So, happy New Year, everyone (it looks strange to write that in February)! I hope 2017 is going well for you so far.
I’ve started my second, and final, semester of University. It’s going to be my busiest semester, as I went against advice last year and chose to do four modules this semester and two modules last semester (I have to do a total of six). Why? Because I found there were more interesting and helpful (the latter in terms of teaching) modules in this second semester, and since the two modules I were interested in in the first semester were both quite heavy in terms of reading (Shakespeare and Jane Austen), I thought it might balance out okay. The modules are fascinating, and I’m really excited to complete my dissertation (I’m going to enjoy the process along the way).
What am I writing about today? Well, I’ve had a few ideas for posts which aren’t fully developed yet, but it struck me that I could write about engaging the ‘quiet’ students. I’m not trained in teaching yet, so you might want to take this post with a grain of salt, but I am writing conjecturally, and from my own experiences and observations. If you do teach, and if you don’t, please feel free to comment and let me know what you think – you might agree or disagree with me, and I like hearing (or, rather, reading, in this case!) different perspectives, as it helps me to learn.
Without further ado, let’s consider the engagement of ‘quiet’ students.
What is going on in the minds of quiet students?
They could be thinking any of the following (or similar):
- ‘Okay. This is okay, I’m content with what we’re doing, and I don’t really feel the need to say much.’
- ‘I don’t know what I’m doing. Everybody else seems to be getting on okay, maybe I just need to think a bit more, look back at my notes.’
- ‘Ooh, I have an idea/ response to the question the teacher just asked! But what if it’s wrong? What if I raise my hand, and then everybody turns around, and then I mess it up, and turn out to be wrong anyway? Even if I’m right, why would I draw attention to myself? I’m just going to write it down, and when the teacher marks it I’ll get to find out what they think – that’s okay, isn’t it? I’m still engaging, just not verbally… I wish I could be more confident.’
- ‘I’m just going to try to get through the work, never mind saying anything.’
- ‘What does it matter? It’s not like anything I say matters.’
Why might students think like this?
- They might just be naturally quiet people. This doesn’t mean they won’t have numerous thoughts whizzing around their head.
- Something, e.g. bullying, their home-life, their mental health, hormonal fluctuations (in teenagers), their previous experiences in class(es), has affected them, their self-esteem, and/ or their ability to engage in class.
What could we do about this, to make sure students are coping okay with their work, and progressing?
- Keep a check on how they’re doing – both academically and personally. Liaising with support staff, other teachers, personal tutors, and family/ carers (if possible) should help in this respect.
- Remind your students that there is no such thing as a stupid question. No matter if a student asks the most basic question, they deserve your patience and encouragement. If you’ve just told them the answer to their question five or ten minutes ago, it can be frustrating, but instead of giving in to the frustration, you may want to consider their concentration level, or the possibility that they may like to ‘double-check’ something, for fear they’ll do their work wrong.
- Create a culture of positivity and acceptance within the classroom, and around the school. This can help their confidence to flourish. In class, some students will think ‘I really hope the teacher doesn’t ask me a question’, and squirm when you do, but by encouraging their self-esteem, and working on easing them into class discussions, they may eventually become a student who volunteers to give an answer/ answers.
- Potentially run, or encourage students to join, an after-school club. For example, if a student shies away from reading aloud in class, running a reading club, which might not be attended by many, and encouraging them to read a section aloud, even for a little bit, and even if it’s just to you at first, might eventually help them to feel more comfortable reading aloud in front of multiple people.
A little anecdote: When I was ten years old, I remember my Year 6 teacher talking about a Maths and Literacy class she was going to run after school. I suffered from low self-esteem through primary school, and though I loved Literacy, I hated Maths, and I remember thinking something like, ‘Well it’s optional, I don’t have to go, and so I don’t have to do extra Maths!’ As I worked alongside my classmates in an IT room, the teacher was in a corner going through who she was going to send letters home with, to let their parents know about the after-school class. I thought, ‘Aha, she’s not going to say me’, and then she eventually called down to me, ‘Jessica’. I thought ‘Oh no,’ and went up to her, and we talked about how it was my confidence with Maths that was affecting me. So I started going to the after-school classes, and you know what? I started getting more comfortable with Maths, and I eventually started feeling a bit more excited to answer Maths questions during the school day. If my teacher hadn’t encouraged me to go to those after-school classes, what would my confidence with Maths have been like by the end of primary school? During secondary school? I only wish I could tell her I chose to do Maths at A-Level – the primary school me would never have dreamed of doing Maths post-compulsory! It just goes to show the effect you can have on people.
What do you think? Is there anything I’ve missed? I’d love to hear from you.
Thank you for reading!