When ’empowerment’ emerged as a theme for the #DailyWritingChallenge, I thought long and hard about it. I feel as though I have been empowered by this blog, sharing pieces of myself with every entry I post and making connections with new people who have been affected by the things I have written. But this time, I’m keen to live up to the fact I tell people I’ve got an education blog! Here is my first attempt at writing some advice for teachers.
I was a Quiet One at school. It wasn’t the fault of my teachers (something I remind myself of when faced with quiet pupils of my own!) but their actions as a result of my quietness had an impact on it, I think. I remember feeling distinctly put out, when some of them tried to force a little loudness from me! Hopefully, some of these strategies will be useful to you in the classroom, to give a voice to your quieter pupils.
Think / Pair / Share
It’s a classic strategy, and can be used with all age groups (with my Y1 class I omitted the ‘think’ stage usually.) It’s benefical for pupils no matter where they fall on the loud/quiet spectrum: the pupils who might otherwise blurt out their first idea have time to articulate and refine their thinking, and those reluctant to participate have a much smaller stage on which to speak, which make go a long way to easing their worries.
In terms of empowerment, having that rehearsal time can encourage lots of quiet children to share their thoughts with the class. Additionally, you might pose the question “Who can tell me what their partner said?” In this case, you may hear from the quiet ones as they may be happier to share ideas that aren’t their own, or you may hear the ideas of the quiet one, verbalised by the more talkative partner! (I will admit to being the oft-silent talking partner at university, regularly saved by my chattier partner in crime!)
One important thing to note: never assume q uiet child has, is going to or has any intention (or need!) to get over being quiet. These strategies may help put them at ease, but they are not ‘cures’.
I made that naive mistake in my first teaching placement – I’m not sure why! But I listened in to the paired conversations and happened upon some brilliant ideas from a very bright, shy girl. When it came to class-wide sharing, I called on her to repeat her ideas to the class. She looked at me, appalled that I would put her on show like this. Her rabbit-in-headlights expression has stayed with me, and now my practice is quite different.
In this way, I make sure good ideas are heard and valued in the whole class forum, while minimising discomfort. Let the record show that I do recognise that sometimes it is better to push a child from their comfort zone, to speak up a little more. You know your children best.
This can be great for boosting confidence and for empowering quiet children by making them feel valuable in a class full of more extroverted others. Of course, displaying the work of more confident is entirely appropriate too – it boosts the self-esteem of all children. Never underestimate the lift it can give, for a pupil to hear their teacher tell their class that their piece of work is to be admired.
I’ve done with with Year 5’s and Year 1’s; it was effective with both. A Y5 boy who largely kept himself to himself positively glowed when I asked his permission to read out the opening of his story to the class. The rest of his work met the same high standard, and his confidence remained in subsequent writing tasks. In Y1, I spent a long time explaining and demonstrating how the children would be expected to show their thinking in a maths journal. When I gave the class time to practice on a whiteboard, one girl stood out. She was one of the shyest in the class, but her introversion was to her advantage: her thinking was clear. She was a neat worker too, and her board clearly showed all of her workings to find the answer. When I showed it to the class, I didn’t name her at first, but after a moment, she proudly proclaimed ‘That’s mine!’ with a slightly embarrassed smiles as heads turned her way.
This can be brilliant for getting to know your class, addressing current issues, and helping children learn how to discuss their feelings. The very premise of circle time can be empowering to some children: they feel safe within clear structures such as “you may only speak if you’re holding X” However, the feeling of having all eyes on you, waiting for you to speak, can have the complete opposite effect on others, producing a nightmare scenario for them.
This is why I sometimes followed up circle time discussions this year with colouring or a wordsearch. These relaxed, quiet activities allowed me to move between froups of children and open up the circle time topic afresh in a smaller forum or even on a individual basis. Having your voice heard is so important when you don’t enjoy speaking publicly. There are ways around it for shy/anxious/introverted children, so make time for the smaller voices in your class!
It’s not a secret that praise is good for all children. It can sometimes be easy, though, for extroverted teachers to make thoughtless comments when praising quiet children. “It’s good to finally hear from you!” “Now, was that so hard?” These remarks aren’t meant maliciously, but they give a perhaps unintended message: that quiet pupils are only valuable when they speak up. There is of course huge value for any contribution made in a class discussion, but is there not space in a classroom too, for the thinkers, the reflectors, the note-takers? Don’t assume that lack of participation equals lack of engagement full stop.
Praise your quiet ones as you would praise any other child. They may not appreciate having attention drawn to the fact they’re not the chattiest in the class! Once again, you know your children best – it might be appropriate for some to have a reward chart to commend contributions, others will simply follow the same reward system as the rest of the class for a really great idea shared.
Private praise cna also go a long way. I taught a bubbly but very shy girl this year (an odd combination of adjectives, I know, but there’s no other way to describe her!) When she plucked up the courage to join in class-wide games, she received Dojo points like the others, but I also took care to speak to her individually on the playground later that day. “I’m really proud of you for being brave and playing the number bond game today. I know you don’t find it easy, but you did well today.” A well-timed praise message to parents never goes amiss either.
Silent Answer Jars
These can be a great way to open a topic and ascertain prior knowledge, to collect pupils questions or as a plenary activity – the practical applications are pretty much endless! (Secondarily, they are also a great excuse to raid the art cupboard / have a good rummage in the craft aisle of your local shop of choice, because decorating the jars is all part of the appeal!)
I used answer jars as part of a project in my second year at university (see the picture above, I’m sure you can imagine the fun we had with piles of craft supplies in the uni library!) We delivered a week-log project on gender inequality, and used the jars to measure opinion and changes in opinion during the sessions. We gave the children squares of coloured paper (because it’s infinitely more exciting than writing on white or lined paper) and invited them to deposit their thoughts in the jars. The answers were anonymous, which empowered even the shyest children to be honest and open with their thoughts.
Hopefully, some of these ideas will help to empower the quiet children you teach.
Above all, remember that empowerment and confidence-boosting will happen at their pace, not yours. Don’t try to force anything. If you have never felt the pain of being put on the spot and wishing the ground would swallow you up, then lucky you, because it can be an agony like no other. If you’re not capital-q Quiet yourself, then please try to understand your quiet pupils, even if their behaviour seems totally alien to you.
It only takes one teacher to change a child’s story. Let it be you.