Group projects help children learn to work as teams. Typically, such projects end with a presentation, which leads the bolder ones to take centre stage. The others have little choice but to be quiet. If a teacher notices this and gives the quieter student a chance to speak, tension builds, as the child has to compete with the more ‘confident’ speaker in the team who has in all probability covered every bit.
A chance for all
Establishing upfront that whole class conversations are meant for everyone’s voice to be heard is crucial. This can be done by asking the class to come up with ideas to ensure that everyone gets a chance to speak. Whole class conversations could be in the form of group presentations or a group discussion based on the subject being taught.
While this can help recognise that everyone’s voice matters, it must not be assumed that the more vocal students have it easy. They have multiple ideas coming together simultaneously and tend to think aloud, trying to make connections between the thoughts to arrive at a meaningful contribution. The result is a long-winded speech that makes a group discussion dull and boring. During this time, the quiet ones wonder what they can contribute and, in all probability, give up easily thinking that the bold speaker has covered everything.
Giving the bold speakers time to think before the group discussion begins helps them assimilate their thoughts and ultimately come up with a crisp contribution. Encouraging them to write down thoughts briefly helps retain what they want to say and not worry about forgetting. This approach also helps them listen actively to others in the classroom. They slowly begin to observe reactions and, when this happens, they are likely to take the initiative to offer support to a quiet student with a friendly “Hey, it seems like you have something to say.”
How does this help the quiet students? Being asked to contribute by a teacher and by a peer are two different things. Children often look up to their peers. Being in a group of supportive peers goes a long way in boosting confidence.
Having time to prepare for discussions also helps the quieter ones brainstorm and come up with original ideas. Even then, there will be times when the quiet children may shy away from sharing their ideas as someone else in the group may have already mentioned it. Letting them know that commonly suggested ideas are actually good, as they indicate a larger support base. Perhaps, the class can explore the shared idea further, thus adding value to the whole class conversation.
Over time, the quiet students begin to feel that their voices matter. They find ways to express themselves in different ways in a supportive classroom situation. Given repeated opportunities, these children eventually step out of their shells. Being heard and listened to, after all, is a great feeling.
The writer is Founder, TalkingCircles.in