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OCfd 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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