Some years ago, I visited The Blue School in Wells, Somerset where quiet children had made a team to promote better understanding of their situation, and make the school a good place for them. Members, meetings, plans and activities are determined entirely by pupils. Together, they produced the following guidance for teachers about the experience of quiet children in school. It contains insights and tips about how best to respond:
ALL ABOUT QUIET CHILDREN
By the Quiet Team at the Blue School in Wells, Somerset.
Why are some children quiet?
- Some children are quiet because they prefer to be. Not everyone chooses to be talkative and sociable. They enjoy their own company, or spending time with other quiet friends, and prefer a calm and ordered environment. They look for peace and calm.
- Others are quiet because they are shy and easily embarrassed in a large group. They don’t like to speak in front of the class. Sometimes this is because they are worried about making a mistake in public, and sometimes they do not have the confidence or experience of speaking in large groups.
- Quietness can conceal problems. There are children who are holding in their anxieties, or their anger, or difficult problems at home. Some quiet children are damming up anger; they worry that if they speak, their anger will come pouring out.
- Another type of quietness belongs to children who have not made friends yet – new arrivals, very shy people and loners.
Are there benefits in being quiet?
- Some children keep quiet because they don’t want to run risks. They feel anxious they might say something out of turn or make a mistake in public. Staying silent means they are free from the stresses of contributing, they find they are free to learn by listening. In fact, many quiet children are good observers.
- Quiet children are also sensitive to the way some teachers prefer quiet, positive behaviour to loud and difficult behaviour. They feel they are helping, and it suits them.
Disadvantages of being a quiet person
- Quiet people can find it harder to make new friends.
- Quiet people often find it hard to join in lessons which need lots of talking, such as drama.
- Quiet people don’t like to ask questions out loud when they don’t understand; they wait for the teacher to help them individually afterwards, so learning can be slow.
- Quiet people tend to bottle up their problems and keep them to themselves.
- Quiet people are not well understood; people who are confident don’t appreciate what it’s like to be shy or less confident.
- Some quiet people have problems at home which makes them sad.
Should teachers be concerned?
- It’s not bad to be quiet, and it’s okay to choose to be quiet.
- Some teachers, in any case, say they want quiet, calm classrooms.
- But it’s hard for teachers to ‘read’ quietness – it may be because the pupil is shy, stuck, muddled, unhappy or just prefers to be quiet. Quiet children are all different.
- Also, teachers notice when talkative pupils go quiet, and ask what the matter is, but they take it for granted when a quiet person is quiet.
- Quiet children tend not to get much attention.
- Many quiet children do have ways of helping themselves. They ask questions of themselves. They think things through instead of talking things through. They have inner dialogue, and this is good for learning.
What should teachers do if they have quiet people in their class?
- Sitting in a circle can help.
- Breaking into smaller groups can help.
- Sometimes use writing to share ideas rather than talking e.g. sticking post-it notes up on a wall. More people join in this way, and more ideas come out.
- Teachers should pay more attention to what quiet children do rather than just how they talk.
- To relieve tension, it can help if you allow very shy people to doodle or do things during the lesson.
- Provide thinking time before taking answers to questions, so quiet pupils are more ready to contribute.
- Make a little more time for individual or group work with quieter pupils.
- Some teachers are good at activities and games which encourage quiet people to join in without getting tense or embarrassed.
- Organise the groups; quiet children often get left out if it’s left to the class to choose their group.
The ‘Learn to Lead’ programme at The Blue School is helping other schools to replicate the same level of student participation and has now been adopted by over 150 schools.
You can see an animation created by young people to explain how Learn to Lead works:
Also visit http://www.learntolead.org.uk/ to watch the opening video as well as other films and case studies to see the impact of the programme.