QUIET CHILDREN IN THE CLASSROOM ON HELPING NOT HURTING

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QUIET CHILDREN
IN THE CLASSROOM:
ON HELPING
NOT HURTING                                                        James C. McCroskey

Most teachers enter the profession to         people, the quiet ones.! After working
help students. Yet. with the possible ex-     with over five thousand            in-service
ception of parents, teachers have an          elementary and secondary teachers over
unparalleled       potential   for harming    the past eight years, I am convinced of
young people. Unfortunately, that po-         two things: (1) most are not consciously
 tential is realized far more often than we   aware that there are significant numbers
might think.                                  of quiet children, and (2) their "com-
    Almost without        exception kinder-   mon sense" leads them to employ
garten teachers tell me how delightful        methods of "helping" quiet children that
the little ones are when they first enter     have a much higher probability of pro-
school. I am tOld that almost all of them     ducing harm than help.
are warm, affectionate, and anxious to           Several years ago Daly and I reported
learn. On the other hand, many secon-         a study that indicated the extent of the
dary teachers tell me how miserable           negative perceptions that teachers have
many of the young people are by the           of quiet children.:! Since then we have
time they reach their classes. They are       replicated that study time after time as
described as cold, unresponsive, and          a classroom exercise in our graduate
                                              classes for in-service teachers. The results
hostile to learning. The consistency with
which these comments are repeated has         are always the same. The striking thing
led me to pose a question to students in      is that the teachers do not realize why
my graduate classes in instructional          they respond as they do. This does not
communication:        "What have we as a      deny that the teachers have negative
profession done to produce this change        expectations of quiet children, but it
in young people?" Although blame is           does indicate that, for the most part at
cast at many factors-society in general,      least, these negative expectations exist
                                              below the level of conscious awareness.
TV, peers-almost everyone has to con-
                                              This suggests that teachers' behavior to-
ceed that the teaching profession must
                                              ward quiet children probably is habitual
admit to a major share of the blame, at       rather than adapted to the individual
the very least.
   'While there are many things that              1 For additional information concerning the
                                              problems of quiet people, see James C. Mc-
teachers do that harm children (for the       Croskey and Virginia P. Richmond, The Quiet
most part unknowingly, not malicious-         Ones: Shyness and Communication           Apprehen-
                                              sio1l (Dubque, Iowa: Gorsuch Scarisbrick, 1980).
ly), I want to restrict my comments here      For specific applications     to the classroom see,
                                              James C. McCroskey, Quiet Children and the
to things that teachers can do or avoid       Classroom Teacher       (Falls Church, Va.: SCA,
doing to help one portion of our young        1977).
                                                 :!James C. McCroskey and John A. Daly,
                                              "Teachers' Expectations of the Communication
James c. McCro.fkey is Chairperson and Pro-   Apprehensive Child in the Elementary School,"
fessor of Speech Communication at "Vest
Virginia Uni\'ersity.
                                               -
                                              HUlJ1anCommunication Research, 3 (Fall 1976),
                                              6 -"
                                               '-I-.
COMMU~ICATIO~      EDUCATION,    Volume 29, July 1980
240-COMMU~ICA   TlON   ED UCA TlON
                                             late developing language and/or        speech
child. When asked what one should do
                                             problems. Others may have adequate
to help a child that is quiet, the most      language and speech production but are
frequent suggestion of the teachers with     severely deficient in social communica-
whom I have worked is to "give them           tion skills. Many are verbal during the
 more speaking experiences." While this       pre-operational stage of their develop-
 approach may be helpful to some people,      ment but become quiet as they ap-
 it is very likely to be harmful to most.      proach adolescence because they become
 Not all quiet children are alike.             sensitive to their communicative     in-
                                               adequacies. If not overcome, this may
 TYPES OF QUIET        CHILDREN                become a life-long problem.
 All quiet children have only one thing
 in common-they are quiet. Beyond that,        SOCIAL INTROVERSION

 they are as different from one another Socially introverted people prefer being
 as any other group of human beings. If alone to being with others. Social
  we wish to help quiet children, then, introversion    appears to be a fairly
  we need first to be able to determine firmly established element of an individ-
  why they are quiet and whether they    ual's personality which is developed in
  need help. Let us consider some of the the preschool      years and continues
  factors that result in a quiet child.  throughout adult life. Social introverts
                                         typically can communicate when they
                     S
  Low INTELLECTUALKILLS                  want to but more frequently choose to
  The research that Daly and I have re- remain quiet.
  ported indicates that teachers perceive
                                                   SOCIAL AUENATION
  quiet children to be less intellectUally
  capable than their more verbal peers.            Some young people, particularly as they
  Essentially this is a stereotypical re-          reach the secondary sd1001 years, be-
  sponse. Like most other stereotypes, it          come alienated from their society and its
   has some basis in fact, but not enough to       values and goals. They are likely to be
   justify the general expectation. While          quiet in the classroom (or absent!) be-
    there is no meaningful general correla-        cause they see no rewards forthcoming
    tion between quiteness and intellectual        from communicating. These young peo-
    ability, some children who are verbal           ple are, by far, the most difficult for the
     when they enter school become more             teacher to help.
     quiet as they discover that they are not
     as good at school work as most of their        ETHNIC/CULTURAL      DIVERGDICE
     peers. It is quite normal for Johnny to        The    North   American    society   encom-
     refrain from volunteering to read before
      the class if he knows he is a poor reader.    passes a wide variety of ethnic and cul-
                                                    tural groups. Among these there is great
      Nevertheless, this factor accounts for
                                                    diversity in communication norms, lan-
      only a small part of the variability in       guage, accent, and dialect. When a
       verbal output of young people. Re-
                                                     young person is placed in a classroom in
       member, there still are a lot of stupid,      which he or she represents a minority
       verbal people in the world!                   culture, the person is likely to become
                                                     very quiet. While such persons may
     SKILL DEFICIENCIES
                                                     have adequate or even superior com-
     Many children have inadequate com-              munication skills to survive in their own
     munication skills. Some of these have
                                                       PRACTICAL     TEACHERS'    SYMPOSlUM-241

                                                     person is to try to discover why the per-
subculture,  they may be extremely                   son is quiet. Ethnic/cultural    divergence
deficient in the skills needed in their              probably is the easiest reason to identify.
new environment.                                     Communication        apprehension    also is
                                                      fairl y easy to' diagnose.-! Some skill
COM~1UNICATlON       APPREHENSION                     deficiencies are easy to diagnose, others
Communication apprehension is an in-                  are more difficult. Degrees of social in-
dividual's level of fear or anxiety asSO-              troversion and social alienation are very
ciated with either real or anticipated                 difficult to ascertain without formal
communication with another person or                    personality testing, which usually is
 persons. As many as one young person in                beyond the classroom teacher's author-
 five may experience           communication            ity. Low social self-esteem can best be
 apprehension,       generally, across all or           discovered in a private interview, if the
 nearly all communication           situations.          teacher has a good relationship with the
  ~Iany others have apprehension about                   young person. Presuming we can de-
  one or more specific communication                      termine the factor or factors that are
  situations, the classroom being but one                 causing quietness, let us consider what
  environment which can produce this                      we can do to be of the most help.
   feeling. People who are anxious or fear-
   ful about communicating generally be- THE SKILL DEFICIENT
   come quiet or avoid the situation              The obvious answer to a problem of
    entirely if they can. Although some skill deficiencies is a skills -training pro-
    young people enter kindergarten with a gram. Unfortunately, not every teacher
    high level of communication apprehen-         is prepared to develop such a program.
    sion, the number of highly apprehensive        Problems of delayed language develop-
     young people does not reach adult             ment and speech pathologies must be
     norms until around the fourth or fifth referred to the. appropriate specialists
     grade leveLs                                  elsewhere in the school system. Serious
                                                   harm can be done by well-meaning but
      LoW SOCIALSELF-ESTEEM
                                                    unqualified people trying to help young
      ~Iany young people, particularly during       people with these problems. Similarly,
      adolescence, feel that they are incapable     few teachers are qualified to develop a
      of relating successfully with others in training program for young people who
      their environment. This feeling is most have inadequate social communication
       probably generated by a combination of skills. Specialists in interpersonal com-
       the factors we have discussed above. munication are needed to guide such
       Such young people typically consider          programs. Not even speech and English
        themselves to be "shy" and remain quiet      teachers, unless they have had special
        in most social situations, ,the classroom    training in interpersonal skill develop-
        being a social situation for people of ment, are in a position to help. The
         this age group.                              answer, then, is to do nothing unless you
         ON HELPING                                   have the necessary special training. Refer

      The first step in helping the quiet young                   4 For a measure for elementary and junior
                                                              high school students,    see McCroskey, Quiet
                                                              Children or McCroskey et al. For a measure for
          3 James C. McCroskey et al., "Teacher CoIIl-        older children and adults, see James C. Mc-
      munication       Orientations    and the Develop-       Croskey. "Validity of the PRCA as an index of
      ment of Communication            Orientations aIIlong    Oral Communication Apprehension,"   Communi-
      Elementary School Children: A Modeling Ex-               cation Monographs. 45 (Aug. 1978). 192-203.
      pi:lnation."    Paper presented at the ICA con-
      \'l"!,tion, Philadelphia,    1979.
242-COMMUNICATION       EDUCATION
                                             normal for that young person and what
the young person to someone who can          would otherwise be seen as disruptive
help. Otherwise, leave a bad situation       behavior (e.g., back channeling by many
alone. Don't make it worse.                  black students). This is not much to ask
THE     SOCIALLY INTROVERTED                 of any well-intentional teacher, but is a
                                             step taken by only a small percentage.
Most social introverts do not have a          The second step is to assure the young
problem. While those of us who are ex-        person that her or his communication is
troverted may think they do, they are         acceptable to the teacher. While it is
not likely to agree with us. Teachers         desirable for all students to learn so-
should take steps to avoid causing the        called "standard" American speech, a
social introvert a problem in the class-      young person's speech pattern is very
 room, steps we will outline later, but       central to that person's personality.
 they should not try to change the young       Evaluation should never be made on
 person's    personality.  Not only are        factors, such as accent or dialect, that
  teachers not qualified to engage in such     are not within the young person's con-
  psychological manipulation,    but also,     trol to change rapidly. Third, every
  if they try, they are treading on            effort should be made to encourage other
  dangerous legal ground and are likely        students to accept the communication
   to produce a very hostile young person.        patterns of this type of young person.
   The answer, then, is leave the social          Nothing can be more painful than jeer-
   introvert alone.                               ing by peers. The teacher should never
                                                  tOlerate such behavior. Finally, the
  THE    SOCIALLY ALIENATED                       teacher should consider the presence of
  It is virtually impossible for the class-       the ethnically jculturally divergent an
  room teacher to hel p the sociall y              opportunity   to broaden the education
  alienated. Professional help is needed,          of all of the students. Encouraging the
  but even that provides no guarantee for          ethnically or culturally divergent young
  success. Many socially alienated young           person to discuss an idea or issue from
   people have the potential to move from          the vantage point of her or his culture
   the point of being nonsocial to being           will strengthen     self-esteem and also
   antisocial.   A well-meaning    but un-          make the young person more socially ac-
   qualified teacher can hasten this transi-        ceptable to the peer grOUp,
    tion by inept interference. The answer,
    then, is leave the socially alienated          THE   COMMUNICATION      ApPREHE:\SIVE

    alone. They have a problem, but we             The young person with high communi-
    can't solve it.                                cation apprehension can be helped. The
                                                   method that has been found to be most
   THE ETHNICALLY jCULTURALLY                      effective and to require the least pro-
   DIVERGENT                                       fessional training for the teacher is
      Unlike the types of quiet young people        systematic desensitization.5 Programs for
      discussed above, the regular classroom        such treatment are low in cost and
      teacher can take positive steps to help       should be made available in all schools.
      this type of quiet person. The first step     Short of providing such a program, we
      is to become acquainted with the cultural
       norms for communication of that young           5 James C. McCroskey, "The Implementation
                                                    of a Large Scale Program of Systematic De-
      person. This will enable the teacher to       sensitization for Communication Apprehension,"
                                                    Speech Teacher, 21 (Nov. 1972), 255-64.
      distinguish between behavior that is
                                                  PRACTICAL TEACHERS' SYMPOSlUM-243

should not expect the classroom teacher          municating     with others. While this
to be able to help a young person                type of classroom atmosphere also en-
overcome communication apprehension.             courages some conversations which are
Giving this type of quiet y.oung person          not directly conducive to learning, the
increased speaking experiences or even           overall impact is supportive of the
providing   communication-skills  train-         learning process for all students, not just
ing is more likely to make the problem           the quiet ones. An important considera-
worse than to be helpful. Both ap-               tion in this type of classroom is avoiding
proaches can be very helpful. but only           punishment     of communication.      Com-
after the fear and anxiety problem is            munication itself should never be the
overcome.                                        object of punishment.       Disruptive be-
   It should be recognized that many             havior, of course, must be controIled.
quiet young people are quiet for more            However, the teacher must make clear
than one reason. The most common                 to all students that it is disruption that
combination of causes is communication           is being punished, not communication.
apprehension and skill deficiencies. As          Otherwise, quiet students, particularly
we noted previously, such people are             those with high communication appre-
likely to develop low self-esteem and            hension, will observe others being
consider themselves shy. Helping these           punished for communicating and will
young people requires treatment for              learn that if they keep quiet they can
their communication apprehension (first)         escape this punishment.
and appropriate skills training. Either
one without the other will not overcome          E;\/COURAGE, NOT REQUIRE,
                                                 ORAL PERFOR:\!.fu~CE
the problem.
                                                 The use of oral performance in the
O~ j\;OT HURTING                                 classroom is a valid and important in-
Helping the quiet young person requires          structional strategy. However, what is
the active participation of the classroom        valuable and beneficial to some children
teacher. In situations where the teacher         is not necessarily so to others. Forcing
is unable to do what is necessary to help,       highly apprehensive, ethnicaIly diver-
it is still possible to take several s.teps to   gent, or skill deficient young people to
avoid hurting the quiet student. Harm            perform orally is harmful. It will in-
can come in two main ways: (1) making            crease apprehension      and reduce self-
the young person even more quiet, and            esteem. Thus, the teacher should permit
(2) aIlowing the quietness to interfere          and encourage oral performance but
with the young person's learning and             never require it from quiet students.
achievement. Below are several steps the
teacher can take to avoid these harms.           PROVIDE ALTERNATIVES TO
                                                 ORAL PERFOR:\!ANCE
DEVELOP A COMMUNICATlON-                         It is almost never necessary for a student
PER:\IISSIVE CLASSROOM
                                                 to perform oraIly to demonstrate learn-
If communication with other students             ing     (the notable    exception     being
and with the teacher is unrestricted, it is      oral communication      instruction). The
much more likely that a student, even a          teacher should develop alternative meth-
quiet one, will engage in communica-             ods for the student to demonstrate
tion. Such a climate is developed when           achievement. Allow students the choice
a teacher reinforces stUdents for com-           of oral or written forms whenever
244-COMMUNICATION       EDUCATION


possible. Even the teaching of reading        member: A student who is listening is
does not require oral reading in front        more likely -to be learning than a stu.
of peers. Many reading experts now            dent who is talking. Grading which is
argue that oral reading is ,the least         based on participation not only penalizes
beneficial element in the traditional         students who are afraid to communicate
reading program. The quiet student is         but also unduly rewards those students
placed in a very bad position when oral       who are very verbal. Evaluation should
performance is the only alternative to        be based upon what a student knows,
demonstrate achievement. Her or his           not how much a student talks.
inadequacies in oral performance are
interpreted, incorrectly, as low achieve-     A FINAL WORD
ment in other areas.
                                               Teachers want to help and to avoid hurt-
                                               ing young people. The special group of
AvoID RESTRICTIVE SEATING
                                              students we call "quiet" can be helped
AsSIGNMENTS
                                              and we Can avoid hurting them. The
 Classrooms have high, moderate, and          suggestions above are steps in the right
 low interaction areas. The highest are       direction. They are not panaceas. Our
 near the front and center. The lowest        field has come a long way toward under-
 are along the sides and in the rear. One     standing the problems of quiet people
 of the potentially most harmful things       and has developed a few par:tial solu-
 a teacher can do is to force a quiet stu-    tions. This essay has attempted to pro.
dent to sit in a high-interaction area of     vide advice based on our current state of
 the class. While the student is not likely   knowledge. Many more years of exten-
to talk any more in such an area than         sive research and field testing will be
if he or she were seated elsewhere, the       required before we will approach the
threat of communication will be felt          level of being able to fully understand
much more consistently. Under such            this problem facing so many of our
pressure it is more difficult for the         young people, much less being fully
young person to concentrate on the            capable of overcoming the problem. In
subject matter being taught, and learn-       the interim we must do what we can to
ing will decrease. Allowing students to       help and to avoid hurting the young
select their own seats avoids harming         people in our classrooms. We must con-
quiet students.                               stantly keep in mind that most of us are
                                              moderately to highly verbal people. We
AvoID   GRADING 0:-: PARTICIPATION            are different than the quiet people with
Class participation  should be sought         whom we work. 'Vhat makes good com.
and encouraged, but penalties for non-        moa sense to us may be the worst thing
participation should be eliminated. Re-       we could do for someone who is quiet.

				
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