Some children find school a thrilling experience, and some not so much. Shy or introverted children can find activities and attention overwhelming. They may hesitate to speak out in class, hesitate in joining the group or prefer to keep to themselves.
While class participation is not particularly important for student success in grade school, it becomes increasingly more and more important as students move on to higher levels of education. In college, in particular, class participation is a requirement in many classes, so it is advisable to ease students into it as early as possible.
In an effort to engage students, you as a teacher create questions that elicit a class conversation. More often than not, you have those one or two students that try to avoid your gaze, shrink into themselves and generally appear nervous, and seem to panic when attention is drawn to them.
Shyness is a combination of emotions. The root of it lies in fear, anxiety, apprehension and embarrassment, not always all at once. It is okay for some of the students to display all these emotions, while others only show only a few. Self-conscious students, those who lack confidence and suffer from social anxiety, get stressed when presented with new situations or when they are the focus of attention.
It is essential that teachers implement various strategies that will support various types of children, as well as, do their best to create an environment where each child feels accepted by other children and the classroom teacher.
These are some of the existing strategies that can be used in the classroom to help shy students become more comfortable and willing to speak up in class:
- Introverted students often need the chance to process their ideas and thoughts before expressing them to the rest of the class. That is why allowing students time to prepare, and even rehearse, can make them more comfortable, confident in their answer and willing to participate.
- While it is often required that all students participate at some point, a teacher can give students the permission to decide the frequency and timing of participation. Giving students a choice makes them feel that they have some control over the situation, thus giving a boost of confidence to speak up.
- You can explore alternative methods instead of simply speaking up. Online discussions, podcasts, pre-recorded video/audio, powerpoint presentations. You can make your students simply write their answers down, too.
- Recognize that active listening is also a part of participation in a class activity. There are other ways of checking whether the student actually listened or not without calling them out in front of everyone.
- Never overtly criticize students opinions or answers; gently correct them. Reserved students are often very sensitive to criticism, especially in front of others. While you don’t want to applaud a response that’s completely wrong, don’t completely dismiss their response either. If the student is wrong, find a way to correct them without being insulting or discouraging, while also pointing out what they did right.
- Recognize the small steps! It can be a real trial for shy students to even gather the courage to raise their hand to answer a question or participate in class discussions. Giving recognition when appropriate to these small steps will help encourage shy students to continue to take positive risks and overcome obstacles.
- Give them an out. While participation is expected in the class, there ultimately will be a few students who simply refuse to talk in front of a group. Realize, though, that this is not an act of defiance. It is fear. Do what you can to make the students feel comfortable to speak up. However, in the long run, know that a student can only find the courage to speak up on his or her own will, and all you can do is gradually help them find the motivation to do that in a nurturing environment.
Schools should have the room for adapting the system to match students needs better rather than requiring students to change who they are to fit the system. By exercising your flexibility and open-mindedness, you can create in your classroom a safe place for introverts of all sorts to speak up. It won’t always work out or be comfortable, but it is definitely a step forward in the right direction.