Guest Post: By Mariana Ashley While class participation may not be particularly important for student success in grade school, it becomes increasingly critical as students progress to higher levels of learning. Especially in college, when class participation is actually a requirement in many classes, it is advisable that students start learning to speak up in class as early as possible. For shy, but nonetheless intelligent students, class participation can be especially difficult. As a teacher however, there are several things you can do to bring a shy child out of his or her shell. Here are a few tips.
Lead shy students through discussions until they can handle it on their own. During classroom discussions, some teachers set up participation on a volunteer basis, while others will call on students randomly. Both methods have their drawbacks. Volunteer discussion groups allow shy students to hide, while on-the-spot discussion groups can be intimidating. The best way is to mix both. Have the floor open to volunteers, but if you see that a shy student looks like she wants to say something, call on him or her, and ask her gentle questions about her responses. The eventual goal is to have every single student participate by the end of the semester.
Never overtly criticize their opinions or answers; simply correct them.
Shy students are often very sensitive as well. While you don’t want to applaud a response that’s completely wrong, don’t unequivocally shut down a response either. If the student is wrong, find something to praise about her answer. Then explain the more correct or valid answer in a rational way.
Create a classroom environment that is warm and open to discussion. For some shy students, it’s not so much the teacher that is intimidating. Rather, it’s the students. Some students can be very argumentative and have a tendency to “gang up” on a student who is unsure of his own answers. As such, it is absolutely essential that you devise classroom rules for participation in which everyone gets equal say and interrupting someone else is prohibited, as are ad hominem attacks. Try to foster an environment in which students respect each other.
If nothing works, call on all students in a systematic manner. The best sorts of classroom discussions are ones in which everyone provides well thought out arguments for a particular position. Of course, in earlier grades this may not be possible, especially for shy students who have trouble formulating opinions. Another way to get shy students used to the idea of participating is to ask one, very specific and straightforward question and have every student answer. This method helps shy students "get their feet wet," so to speak, which prepares them for more fluid, less structured discussions later. Of course, getting a shy student to speak up in class isn’t ever going to be easy. The key is to be as encouraging as possible so that quiet students will eventually develop the confidence they need to succeed later in life. Good luck!