Throughout my years as a student my parents would inevitably hear the same thing at every Parent/Teacher conference. “She’s a spirited one!” or “She has no problem participating in class.” My mother’s personal favorite, “She simply needs to stop talking”. Her usual response, “Tell me something I don’t know.” I was the youngest of three, the only girl and nothing like the rest of my family. They often wondered where I came from. I liked to talk to anyone about anything. I loved to learn about anything and everything. I was easily engaged and loved to be a part of the action. I was the student that you wished would just stop raising her hand and give another kid a chance. Yes, that was me.
For those of you who know me, not much has changed. I am still the one who is not afraid to try new things, my hand is still the first one up when a volunteer is needed, I jump into conversations without hesitation, and love to chat it up and play the happy hostess. My husband, daughter and I are boisterous, silly, and love a good adventure. But not my son. He is quiet and introspective. He sits back, watches and listens to everyone and everything. He is the serious one. He is never the one to try new things or start a conversation. During holiday celebrations (which can include over 20 family members) he is most often found in his room just hanging out or quietly sitting amongst the craziness taking it all in. At every Parent/Teacher conference I hear the same thing, “He needs to participate more.” or “He is a smart kid but I would like to see him add to class discussions.” My usual response, “I am well aware. He’s a quiet kid. Maybe try to find another way for him to contribute.” What I found most interesting about many of these conversations over the years is that no teacher ever asked why he doesn’t raise his hand. Why he prefers to not speak in front of the whole class. They just saw it as a deficit that needed to be pointed out, needed improvement, and kept it moving. It wasn’t until his year in 4th grade and a teacher who truly cared about his kids for my son to come out of his shell. This teacher took the time to talk with my son. Get to know him personally. Made an effort to find ways for him to contribute without being the center of attention. I was truly grateful for his efforts and that year was a turning point for my son. He is in 7th grade now and he’s still my shy guy but he may actually raise his hand a few times a year without prompting. Progress!
By now you are probably wondering why I am sharing this personal story. It is the beginning of another school year and a new class of students sit before us. The grade level or the content that you teach doesn’t matter. You have them sitting in your room. The quiet kids. They are often overlooked. They don’t cause trouble and for the most part they earn good grades. These are the kids that tend to fade into the background and don’t require much attention from the teacher. They slip through the cracks. They may be shy like my son. But more likely there are other things at play. Kids shut down for all kinds of reasons. Many of our students come to school with the weight of the world on their shoulders. They are hungry or tired. Have parents who work multiple jobs so they are left with the responsibilities of the home and younger siblings. They may be experiencing social issues at school or just don’t understand what is going on in your class. Take the time to talk with them. Get to know them as people – not just students in your class. Maybe eat lunch with them or invite them to play a game of chess. Ask them how they would prefer to participate in class. Come up with a plan together. It is not enough to just pay more attention to them. We, as teachers, need to think about why these kids are being quiet.
Once you figure out the why, here are some ways you can include the quiet kids in your classroom.
- Take advantage of digital tools that allow kids to have a voice without having to speak up in class. Voxer, the Google Classroom Stream, and Today’s Meet are just a few I have used over the years to accommodate the shy kids.
- Increase wait time. We all know the benefits of wait time but how many actually use it regularly. If you do, try waiting a bit longer to give the quiet kids a chance to formulate their thoughts. I know it can be painful to wait 5 seconds or longer after you ask a question but trust me it will pay off in the end. I tell my kids to put their hands on their heads when they have a response. This way there are no waving hands, no shouting out, and no noises from the kids like me!
- Use Exit Tickets or Do Nows for kids to show what they know. You can do this simply and easily using index cards, pre-printed slips of paper, or for those who are more techie – the Ask a Question feature in Google Classroom, Poll Everywhere, Google Forms, or Answer Garden.
- Host a monthly “lunch bunch”. Provide a safe atmosphere for kids to eat and get to know each other. It’s also a great way for you to get to know them and for them to become more comfortable with you!
One final thought, I hold a special place in my heart for the quiet kids. If we don’t look beyond the waving hands we are all going to miss out on a lot of brilliant ideas!