Saturday, 14 April 2012

Speaking Up for Quiet Learners

Recently, much has been made of the need for education to embrace personalized learning and 21st Century learning competencies. Networking, collaboration and the ability to work in groups are held up as skills to be taught to, and embraced by students. At first blush these competencies may seem like universally good ideas.  "None of us are as clever as all of us" proponents of cooperative learning, like to say. And yet in an ever increasingly loud and busy word there remains a significant number of quiet learners for whom the rush to group work and collaborative learning is difficult to downright painful. Sometimes labelled shy, quiet or retiring, such students must not be overlooked, neglected, or worse, forced to learn in manners that work against their natural talents and tendencies.

If schools are a reflection of the real world then its little wonder that the spotlight now seems to be on students who are out going and charismatic. The cult of celebrity is everywhere, as news and entertainment media bombard us with images of what successful people ought to be like. The reality is that the vast majority of us are more quietly normal than remarkable. According to experts like Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking well over a third to half of the students we teach are introverts. Such students preferred learning styles involve introspection, quiet thought and reflection, and time to process ideas on their own. Techniques such as group work, brainstorming and collaboration do not come easily to them.

Teachers need to take care not to label quiet and introspective students as shy, withdrawn or stupid. Such labels have a negative connotations and are hard to live down. The internet and self help sections at book stores are full of titles offering to help people overcome such shortcomings as shyness and being too quiet. Instead its possible, even likely, that the quiet student just learns differently and needs less interaction and stimulus in order to ponder and process lessons. It has been suggested that creativity is more likely to emerge from quiet solitude than from any brainstorming or group activity (see creativity @ http://zenhabits.net/creative-habit). Of course its important for creativity to eventually be shared with others but at least initially, it is important to honor all students learning styles and not force group participation too quickly.

Fortunately, the new BC ed plan with its emphasis on personalized learning and child centered education outlines that teachers, students and parents will work together to make sure every student’s needs are met, passions are explored and goals are achieved. This means student-centered learning that’s focused on the needs, strengths and aspirations of each individual young person. As we move to implement this plan it will be increasingly important to remember that quiet can equate to strength and creativity too.

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