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Why Shy Kids Should Have to Speak Up

I recently read two different articles on the question of whether introverts should have to participate. The first suggested that teachers take away participation points from introverts and the second seemed to suggest that shy kids should be allowed to remain silent since that is simply another act of participation. Here are my thoughts:

My first issue is with the definition of introversion as shyness. It's not the same thing. A quiet kid is not necessarily an introvert (though that is sometimes the case). Introversion has to do with being interested in the inner world of one's mind and being energized by solitude. It has to do with the need for introspection.

It does not, however, mean that they are anti-social, shy or self-absorbed (all stereotypes about introverts). Introverts can be loud, relational and social as long as they get the time to recharge and reflect.

But suppose it's an issue of shyness. Should quiet kids be asked to speak up in class? Should teachers still call on shy kids even though it causes anxiety? Is it fair to the quiet kids?

I'd argue that, yes, quiet kids should still be asked to speak up. After all, loud students who are incredibly social are often asked to be quiet. We don't say to a loud student, "Hey, because silence makes you anxious, we'll just have you skip silent reading and blurt out whenever you feel like it during direct instruction." We don't say, "Well, she's just naturally loud, so we'll let her talk every moment of the school day."

Why do we do the same thing with shy students?

I don't believe in punishing shy students academically because they are silent in the same way that a loud student shouldn't lose points because he or she blurts out answers. I'm not even sure that a talker and a non-talker should be punished at all.

However, I do see a value in both shy and loud students learning social skills. Yes, it can be painfully uncomfortable for a shy kid to speak up (I've been there) but it can also be necessary for personal growth. Shielding students from discomfort of large social interaction is as dangerous as telling a loud student that it's okay to bulldoze over everyone. A shy kid should learn to express his or her voice just as a constant talker should also learn to listen.

It's hard to believe, but I was a generally shy student in class. I used to get physically anxious at the thought of having to participate in a class discussion. However, I had a few brave teachers who knew that my momentary happiness was worth less than my character development. They pushed me to speak up. A few times, I awkwardly remained silent for the start of class presentations. It wasn't pleasant to stand there, hands trembling, my voice unable to propel itself forward.

Eventually, the fear subsided. I realized that my voice mattered. I learned to articulate myself in large groups. I began to raise my hand and participate in class discussions. I grew to enjoy giving a presentation in front of a group. It's why I can do a keynote and still feel confident.

I'm still introverted, but I'm not shy anymore. And that is due, in large part, to the teachers who pushed me to speak up and see the value in my voice.

photo credit: bronx. via photopin cc


  1. Great post! This makes a lot of sense to me. I have a few quiet students who never offer to speak up--but when I do encourage them to share, it shocks me sometimes at the depth of their understanding. It reminds me that I MUST give them the opportunity to share their opinions--what they have to say is important and can be beneficial to other kids!

    1. Exactly! That's the power of having them speak up. True, it's uncomfortable. But it's worth it.

  2. I think this discussion is an iceberg, with a massive amount of depth under the surface. I know many people who have been diagnosed with medically recognizable anxiety as adults. They always thought they were just shy or introverted as kids, only to find out that, for their entire lives, they have been experiencing anxiety at an extreme that most people don't. The diagnosis is usually a huge relief, because by the time they've become adults, their self image has been shattered by the idea that they should always have been able to overcome the anxiety on their own through sheer determination. To have a professional tell them that it wasn't possible allows them to begin to shed the constant sense of personal failure they carried through school and work, every day, for their entire lives.

    There are a lot of shy and introverted kids who can be encouraged and overcome, but I strongly believe that the true scope of students who suffer with undiagnosed severe anxiety is astonishing.

    1. True, but isn't that also true of people who are diagnosed as ADD? And yet, we take loud students and ask them to learn coping strategies to stay quiet. I think the same is needed for extreme anxiety. I'm not a psychologist. I get that. I'm just saying that teachers are too quick to let a shy kid off the hook while punishing a loud kid.

  3. Yes, you are 100.000% right.
    But those poor shy kids must be made to speak up... slowly, carefully, gently, with compassion.
    They should not be bullied, but rather teased. They will need the ability to speak up later on in life.
    It will "hurt", a little... But they will benefit from it. And so will the rest of the class.
    And someday that teacher, if the teacher did it properly, will be remembered.

    1. I agree with you. As a former shy student who lost a lot of points for not participating, I can easily emphasize with my quieter students. I find that having them set small goals - I'll raise my hand once early on in the class - is very helpful. I also have kids set aside a visual cue, like a paper clip, to only be taken away when they've participated. Some are my most thoughtful students are the quietest, and I yearn for their participation. But it has to be done in a kind way and the culture of the class has to be one that is accepting and open to all students.

  4. As teachers it is our job to make a warm, welcoming and comfortable environment in our classroom so that all students are able to express themselves freely. This is not something that is always talked about in a job description or the media, but is an essential part to learning! Until students feel accepted and that their voice matters, they will have a difficult time sharing...especially quite/shy/introverted students!


John Spencer
I'm a speaker, author, and teacher in Phoenix, Arizona. I want to see kids embrace creativity. It's why I co-wrote Wendell the World's Worst Wizard and co-founded Write About. It's also why I want to think creatively about teaching and learning.I want to see kids embrace creativity. It's why I co-wrote Wendell the World's Worst Wizard and co-founded Write About. It's also why I want to think creatively about teaching and learning.


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