The Silent Students

Have you ever wondered what to do about the students who never seek to participate in class discussions?

Today, teachers spend far too little time in eliciting participation from the silent students in the classroom. The tendency, more often than not, is to be preoccupied with the “attention seekers”— those students who talk whether or not they have anything to say.

This of course is not a case against students seeking to be noticed because they are definitely needed to initiate and keep the class discussion flowing.

The Silent StudentsMoreover, some of these students are knowledgeable and can provide real insights to the topic at hand or contribute significantly to problem solving in the classroom.

However, the point is, if one is not careful these students will not only dominate the discussion but also interfere with other students’ chance to speak and if left unchecked could possible lead to the disruption of the class.

That said, the more important problem, however, is getting reactions or feedback from students who fail to participate in classroom discussions.

Now, if students do not have the right to opt out of doing tests, assignments, or attending class which are all part of the learning process, one could argue that students do not have the right to remain silent or forego class discussion which also plays an important role in the learning process.

Therefore, how one engages the silent students and have them involved is of paramount importance.

First of all, one should recognize that not only does cultural differences exist among students, especially among those whose native language is not English, but also age as well as physical and learning differences.

It means therefore that opportunities for engagement must be created to facilitate the learning process of the silent majority.

This may involve employing a number of different strategies, such as creating small teams whereby feedback is solicited from individual group members, instilling some sense of self confidence in students by encouraging reactions to topics that are either important or of interest to them, placing emphasis on the need for engagement and critical thinking, varying instructional approaches that facilitate a more student driven learning process, and cultivating mentoring relationships with students.

Ultimately, the quest is to ensure that students succeed. Consequently, one should make all students feel welcome and moreover, be encouraged to see themselves as VIPs. This means honoring and including their perspectives and experiences by allowing them space for participation and interaction.

Davy Desmond, Readers Bureau,  Senior Fellow