Last week, @TheAtlantic magazine ran a piece called “Introverted Kids Need to Learn to Speak Up at School,” by Jessica Lahey.
They have graciously agreed to run my response, which includes five suggestions for how shy kids can be encouraged to speak up for themselves in the classroom.
Obviously this is a very complex issue. How do you think shy kids can be encouraged to speak bravely in the classroom?
Great response Susan, I love the article! I agree with all your ideas about how to help more students feel comfortable participating.
I think one of the best ways to help shy kids is by asking them to participate in small ways, with short interventions. As the class moves on, shy students who have already participated will be more confident and willing to speak up again. When I was in college I sometimes knew the answer to what the teacher was asking but I just couldn’t raise my hand, it was so frustrating.
I strongly agree with the article, Susan.
As being an introvert, I often find it challenging to raise my hand in a class room–especially a huge class room that accommodates more than 400 students–and speak up. I have been trying to seat right in front a professor so that he can immediately recognize me when I raise my hand, but still, it is intimidating to do so.
Even in a small group with like 10 people, if I don’t know them well, I still feel intimidated to speak up as I may say something that can go against their beliefs/thoughts or say something that may not be taken into a full consideration due to an irrelevancy to a topic.
For example, I once in a while get invited by a professor and have a chance hanging out with his family members and friends. However, I always feel less confortable speaking up/talking in front of them because I obviously share less things in common, such as age, experience, hobby, ethnicity/race, culture, and so on. I try to find things that I may be able to share with them, but while doing so, they may already start discussing a different topic by when it’s too late for me to bring up what I try to share with them.
However, when it comes to a very small group with only two or three persons whom I know well, I feel much more confortable in speaking up, sometimes with more convincingly rational thoughts.
Oh Susan, you fell into a trap by suggesting that shyness is introversion or in equating the two.
Shyness is rooted in fear or anxiety. Introversion is not. Lots of people are introverted but are not shy. All shy people may be introverts (and they probably are), but not all introverts are shy. Shyness is a social phobia that potentially can be overcome with therapy. Introversion is not ‘curable’ however, because it is not a phobia. It is an innate, immutable trait. The distinction is an important one. Almost half of the population is introverted. Relatively few people are actually shy.
If someone is told by those in authority that he is shy or that he is deficient in some way, the condition known as ‘learned helplessness’ can set in. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Learned_helplessness
That is how introversion can be turned into shyness.
Also, beware of suggesting that grading for class participation be issued as a
“character grade”. That’s a potentially demeaning label, as it implies that one who is shy or reticent to speak is deficient in moral character.
It burden enough that one may suffer from a social anxiety or phobia. But please, let’s not let such a handicap be considered bad character.
Yes, if contributing to discussions is a prerequisite for this character grade then that’s just a participation grade by a MORE damaging name. I believed that I was a bad person for being introverted for YEARS, so my first reaction to this was “What the HELL?!”
But I wonder if Susan is actually talking about a system like they had at my middle school. Our grades for each subject were divided into aptitude and attitude, and while the kids who contributed meaningfully to discussions would have been rewarded for it in their attitude grades, the quiet kids like me also got high attitude grades if they were conscientious and well-behaved. If she’s talking about that kind of grading then that sounds good.
you are bringing a revolution, hope in the life of kids and awareness among people.God bless
“All shy people may be introverts (and they probably are)”: not true. As a therapist in training, I heard that one of the signs of introversion was not becoming more outgoing once helped to overcome the anxieties underpinning shyness. Shy extroverts are common. In some ways they suffer more than shy introverts, because withdrawal into solitude does not work as a solution.
It seems logical that introverts would be more likely to be shy than extroverts. Assuming that your claim that shy extroverts exist is valid, it strongly supports the point that introversion and shyness are two different things, with a different basis or underlying cause.
My son who went through his entire school life being unfairly labelled shy. He is a wonderful introverted personality who excels when working independently and in small groups. He will never be the stand up guy or outgoing presenter but he is a successful young man who is confident in his own ability without requiring a label like shyness. As many have written, the label ‘shyness’ can inadvertently stick like mud and I for one, as a mother and a teacher believe that differences in personality are uniquely given traits that we should not endeavor to heavily labour over. Children grow into adults and eventually, in most cases, find their feet in the real world, introvert or extrovert.
I have to admit I couldn’t even read the original article; the title alone made me so mad (not a rational response, I know) that I knew exactly how the article would be laid out. But thank you for your reasoned and quite reasonable response.
I have a niece with anxiety issues and my sister spent weeks making sure she didn’t get the teacher who only works in group projects. On the first day of the semester, guess who had the wrong teacher? I still don’t get the focus on group work, since it rarely mimics what you see in the “real world” anyway — and it doesn’t work too well there either! Hopefully, we will start to see the light and value the quiet children in the classroom for who and what they are.
Thank you all for this dialogue. Please let’s keep talking about these questions — they are so important for shy kids, for introverted kids, and everyone in between. (@Red Dog, I distinguished between shyness and introversion at the outset of my article! My piece was mostly limited to shy children.) @Vero, I love your idea, am going to add it to the list. What I will do with this list, I do not know. But something!
To Jessica Lahey, anyone who is not forward and dominant in speaking is inherently deficient. Ms. Lahey makes no distinction whatsoever between shyness and introversion. That is the crux of the issue, and initially I was inaccurate about this in my saying that Susan also made no distinction. Susan, in her response, recommended specific points that would address and help remedy shyness. Actually, what I had meant to say, and what I found disappointing was that she did not address the fundamental distinction between introversion and shyness to Lahey, nor take her to task for her methods. Not that this is tacit approval, but neither was it a firm refutation.
What is particularly disturbing about Lahey’s perspective is that she pays lip service to how much she supposedly cares about (all) her students, yet she is incapable of recognizing any difference between shyness and introversion. To her it is one and the same, and she sees it as a defect. Even worse, her universally applied remedy is to judge and grade non-participating students for their ostensible lack of participation. Obviously the grade that she would give for deficient participation will be a poor or failing one. This amounts to punishment through imposition of an official grade – in effect a declaration that one is considered a failure by the teacher according to her societal expectations. Testing and grading is easily imposed, but it is not a substitute for teaching, nor does it make one an effective teacher. It’s merely a rationalization for imposing social conformity.
This rubric of mandatory participation reminds me of the darkly humorous adage that “the beatings will continue until the morale improves.” Or, as was seen in Westerns of old, it amounts to the absurd notion that you will teach someone to dance by shooting at their feet.
As a teacher of young children, I find it abhorrent that a teacher would grade shy children differently due to their ability or lack their of to speak with confidence in front of small or large groups. All of us know adults who, if asked to speak in public go weak at the knees. Try taking a vote amongst your peers who feels absolutely comfortable speaking in front of others. For most, it is an uncomfortable experience unless they feel completely at ease with their peer group. In any class, this is not the case. I would not grade a child differently because they were the loudest and most outspoken so why ‘punish’ the quiet, introverted, ‘shy’ child who has not yet found their feet in front of others. We as teachers are here to enable students to be better, not to punish for what is essentially a personality trait.
Again, we may be going along with the assumption that those in the class who do not speak up are shy. Considering that approximately half of the general population are introverts, the same statistic should apply in any given grouping, including a classroom: probably roughly half of the class are introverts. What percentage of the class is genuinely shy? 5%? 10%? Probably less, or not even that percentage.
But the teacher is biased; she thinks all the quiet students are shy. And she thinks she can force them out of being shy or introverted by demanding that they participate in a manner of heightened arousal, through the threat of assigning them a poor grade if they don’t. When her strategy doesn’t work she will punish them for being reticent by giving them a failing grade for lack of participation. This regimen will actually INSTILL fear in introverts who may not actually be shy, even if anxiety or fearfulness were not previously present in them.
The fallacious assumption in this is that all those who do not speak up must be afraid to speak up or are deficient for not speaking up. If this were universally the case, it would classify them as genuinely being shy, for shyness is anxiety based. However, most introverts simply do not speak up constantly, and often it is not due to fear. Their quietness or reticence to blurt impulsively or be dominantly outspoken may be due to other reasons, if nothing more than it being their innate nature.
Indeed, this amounts to punishing students for an innate personality trait, and even worse, actually instilling fear in them through punitive methods of “teaching” (actually imposing testing and grading in lieu of teaching) that are detrimental.
Under this plan the extroverts will be rewarded for their natural forwardness and chutzpah, while those who are less outspoken will languish or be derided, even punished. Of course this will all be done with the sanctimonious pretense of helping the children…
Lahey assumes that all non-participating students in her class are shy introverts, when that population really consists of:
1. shy introverts
2. shy extraverts
3. introverts who didn’t do their work and don’t give a crap
4. extraverts who didn’t do their work and don’t give a crap
5. kids who wanted to say something but were cut off by a rude yapper and lost their train of thought
6. kids who need more time to gather their thoughts before talking, and the pace of conversation doesn’t allow for that
7. kids who genuinely had nothing to say on a particular topic and won’t talk just for the sake of talking
…and many other categories. It’s important to recognize that the last three categories include not only introverts, but some extraverts and kids who are in the middle of the spectrum who lost the fight for talk time to the even more outgoing.
It’s not even necessarily extraverts who dominate the “quantity over quality” model of class participation, but the MOST extraverted people in the room.
I liked your response to the article, Susan. Thanks for sticking up for the introverts and shy people.
I love your book. I’m currently on page 84.
I just wish I didn’t have to publish my comments in this public forum to tell you that. I hate public internet postings — I’d have preferred to send you (or your publisher) an e-mail.
Back to the book.
I read the original article and found it rather annoying; yet another reflection of a society in which “having a public song-and-dance-routine-that-looks-good” is perceived as more important than having “actual answers.” I do like your response to it.
On a broader level I feel like a lot gets “lost in translation” because so many people– even people (journalists, psychologists, TEACHERS and writers) who “should know better”– tend to use terms like “shy,” “introverted” and even “highly sensitive” interchangeably. And they are NOT the same thing… and (IMNSHO) we do ourselves a huge disservice by lumping them all together. On the whole, people make far more progress when we make room for “granularity” rather than “generalization.”
As an introvert, my level of class participation was always cut short by “that person” who’d just blurt out the first thought that entered their head– right or wrong– at
which point the time for rational discussion (participation) had pretty much ended. It wasn’t that I didn’t have an answer, just that my answer was “too late.” It seems this situation persists today (I was in school 30+ years ago). The IRONY of it is that the world often laments that “people don’t know how to think anymore” yet we have a school/education system in place that’s actually biased against “thinkers.” Choices have consequences… you get what you “pay” for.
Off to fire off a response to the original article…
“The IRONY of it is that the world often laments that “people don’t know how to think anymore” yet we have a school/education system in place that’s actually biased against “thinkers.” Choices have consequences… you get what you “pay” for.
Off to fire off a response to the original article…”
Good for you! (Or, as Theodore Roosevelt said: “Bully! Bully for you!”)
In those days, a century ago, society’s perspective on being ‘bully’ was somewhat different than now. But FWIW, any presidency always was, and always will be a ‘bully pulpit’.
Being introverted is not synonymous with being a wimp. Assertive introverts can be strong leaders when they rise to the occasion.
But here’s my favorite bumper sticker:
Critical thinking – It’s the OTHER national deficit.
I am filled with emotion right now after finding your TED talk and reading this post. Our 7 year old daughter attends a Waldorf private school and 9 days before the 1st grade year was to come to an end her teacher questioned whether she has the “emotional maturity” to move on to 2nd Grade. Upon questioning the teacher the reasoning was really based more upon her introverted personality traits versus emotional maturity. She has no difficulty keeping up academically but the question was maybe she needed to be with younger children in order to feel more outgoing. My question of course was, “What if she processes the world more from an introverted perspective?” The reply was that perhaps that’s another good reason to hold her back. My sweet, bright, thoughtful child who just started developing some deep friendships with her peers. The plan ended up being that she would go on to first but we would see how she “matures’ over the summer. Which would basically mean having her get out of her “comfort zone”. Now after reading your posts and listening to the TED talk I’m NOT going to push this lovely child at all! She’s perfect just as she is and we will be planning on a fun summer not one filled with stress.
“Our 7 year old daughter attends a Waldorf private school and 9 days before the 1st grade year was to come to an end her teacher questioned whether she has the “emotional maturity” to move on to 2nd Grade.”
You need to tell this teacher that your daughter’s move to second grade will be based solely upon her academic performance, and nothing other than that criterion.
“Upon questioning the teacher the reasoning was really based more upon her introverted personality traits versus emotional maturity. She has no difficulty keeping up academically but the question was maybe she needed to be with younger children in order to feel more outgoing. My question of course was, “What if she processes the world more from an introverted perspective?” The reply was that perhaps that’s another good reason to hold her back.
That’s a jaw dropping assessment. This is a classic example of a primary school teacher playing at being an amateur psychotherapist. Sadly, it is quite common. I too experienced it, more than once, many decades ago and my parents did not know how to respond to it. Actually, the teacher is reading, playing and trying to manipulate YOU, the parent. Your error here is that the teacher read you as being unassertive and used emotional manipulation to pressure you to come up with a better explanation for your daughter’s behavior and you own behavior. You offered a logical response (as an explanation) to a figure of authority who wants to hold your child back academically, for no valid purpose. As an adult, you need not explain yourself. ***You need to tell this teacher that YOU will NOT allow her to do that!*** Say it calmly and unemotionally, of course, but as a *non-negotiable* term.
“My sweet, bright, thoughtful child who just started developing some deep friendships with her peers. The plan ended up being that she would go on to first but we would see how she “matures’ over the summer. Which would basically mean having her get out of her “comfort zone”. Now after reading your posts and listening to the TED talk I’m NOT going to push this lovely child at all! She’s perfect just as she is and we will be planning on a fun summer not one filled with stress.”
Your child is not “perfect” (no child is), but at this tender age she does not need to be uprooted from her “comfort zone”, nor does she need to be held back to become bored academically, by being placed with younger children as a punitive action for this teacher’s ego gratification or convenience.
Before your daughter returns to school in the fall make sure she is not assigned to this teacher’s class. Be prepared to find another school if necessary. If you don’t stand up for what is in your daughter’s best interest, who will?
In your spare time, find and read a copy of “When I Say No I feel Guilty” by Manuel Smith, PhD. It will teach you how to become more assertive and how to deal with people like this manipulative teacher. He also wrote a book to help children learn assertiveness skills called “Yes, I Can Say No”.
Forewarned is forearmed.