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.
➤ Help Shy Kids - Don’t Punish Them | By @SusanCain
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.
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…
I liked your response to the article, Susan. Thanks for sticking up for the introverts and shy people.