It is heartbreaking to see that some language teachers favor confident, outspoken students and see with a critical eye students who prefer to sit back and be quiet. These teachers think that language learning requires some kind of oral engagement on the part of students. Otherwise, learning and communicative competence cannot be measured. But is quietness that evil?
Is students’ quietness an evil?
Scott Thornbury refers in his post S is for Silence to a book by Claire Kramsch (2009: 209) where she states:
We like lively classes, we want to see the students participate, speak up, take the floor, contribute actively to class discussion. Communicative language teaching puts a premium on talk and thus often rewards students who “do” conversation and self-expression rather than those who reflect and understand in silence. But words have no meaning without the silences that surround them…
Silence has meaning:
- Reflective students use silence to get awareness and understanding of language points.
- Silence can be communicative. It reveals an attitude or a judgment. Through silence we may agree or disagree; we may take a stand; we may accept or refuse an idea…
- Silence represents respect, kindness, and acceptance.
- Introverts are silent because that is how they learn best. Learning may take place in spite of absence of overt engagement.
Reasons for quietness
Many reasons for quietness can be mentioned. The following factors may overlap:
Introverts manifest a reserved and solitary behavior. They take pleasure in solitary activities such as reading, writing, using computers, hiking and fishing. Many students in your class may have this personality trait. While introverts are less outspoken/outgoing and more reserved, it doesn’t mean that the are not learning.
Some students are a kind of reflect-before-speak students. They may favor to be silent till they grasp what is being taught. They just need to receive thinking time; otherwise, they don’t speak. They prefer to sit and listen and get the work done.
Some gifted students may get bored and prefer to be silent rather than get involved in something that is below their level.
Individuals differ in how they learn. Each individual has his or her own natural patterns of acquiring and processing information in learning situations. Some students may prefer to work alone and use self-study guides. They are inclined to learn efficiently by being quiet and reflective.
Shy students may prefer to remain in their comfort zone for fear of being ridiculed by their peers.
Quietness may be due to personal or home issues
Lack of motivation
Some students get bored because they are not interested in what being taught.
What can teachers do for quiet students?
In order to get quiet students involved, the teacher may want to use the following strategies:
Variety is the spice of life
Because routine is boring, varying teaching activities may be a good start. Because learners differ in the way they process learning, some may feel excluded. The teacher’s mission is to try to engage those students by giving them the opportunity to do what fits their interests.
Motivating the unmotivated
There are many ways to motivate the unmotivated students. This may include making them curious and challenge them. Another way to engage them is by devolving responsibility…
Talk to the quiet student
You may want to have a talk with the quiet students to get an idea of why he prefers to keep silent.
Teachers have to work hard to foster a supportive atmosphere, and be non-judgmental during error correction. Reducing high affective filter may encourage shy students to participate in class activities.
Some communicative activities can be helpful in making quiet students talk.
This involves giving students thinking time engaging them to think about a topic of interest. When students become confident that they have grasped what the topic is all about and jotted down enough ideas that will help them in the discussion, they are willing to engage in a peer-to-peer discussion. At this stage, misunderstandings about the topic are often revealed and resolved and the student is ready to share his findings in a whole class discussion.
This activity works well when there are multiple answers to a question and all learners can then cooperate. It prevents students dominating group discussions or not participating in discussions. It involves providing students with an equal number of coins and then when they make a point they put their coin in the middle of the table. When they have no more coins they may keep silent. The whole class may engage in a general discussion later.
Circle of voices:
Students work in groups and are given time to think about a topic. Each is given a limited time (e.g. three minutes) to have their say. When every one has made a point a general discussion is opened.
In role-plays students are encouraged to speak by putting themselves into somebody else’s shoes, or by staying in their own shoes but putting themselves into an imaginary situation. This may open the door for shy students to participate as they will have to pretend that they are acting a social role which creates amusement and a lot of fun.
Quick writing tasks
This may be extremely helpful to students who prefer to be silent and engage in writing rather than in speaking. Teachers may design pre-task or post-task writing activities either to prepare learners for the following activities or to summarize what has been learned.
Students may be allowed to draw a personal experience or an imaginary situation. When they have finished the teacher asks them to write a comment about their drawing and share it.
Kramsch, C. (2009) The Multilingual Subject, Oxford: Oxford University Press.