How Teachers Can Help 'Quiet Kids' Tap Their Superpowers | KERA News

How Teachers Can Help 'Quiet Kids' Tap Their Superpowers

Jul 6, 2016
Originally published on July 6, 2016 11:51 am

When Lily Shum was little, she dreaded speaking up in class. It wasn't because she didn't have anything interesting to say, or because she wasn't paying attention or didn't know the answer. She was just quiet.

"Every single report card that I ever had says, 'Lily needs to talk more. She is too quiet,' " recalls Shum, now an assistant director at Trevor Day School in Manhattan.

She doesn't want her students to feel the pressure to speak up that she felt.

That's why she joined more than 60 educators in New York City recently at the Quiet Summer Institute. The professional development workshop was based on Susan Cain's best-seller Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking.

The book has been a national phenomenon, and it's the inspiration behind a curriculum developed by Heidi Kasevich for teachers.

"It was a lens through which I could view my entire life, and really feel the license to be myself," says Kasevich, a teacher for more than 20 years who now works for the company Cain co-founded to promote the book's message about introverts.

This training workshop uses this book — and Cain's latest book written for middle-schoolers — to help teachers notice, and serve, those quiet kids.

"There are expectations on our kids to ... be a charismatic extrovert," says Kasevich. Even if it's unconsciously, she says, teachers tend to give more attention to the louder students.

Kasevich admits she did it too: calling on the kids who raised their hands first.

The two-day course started with reimagining class participation, which in some schools can count for a big portion of students' grades. Kasevich would prefer it be called classroom engagement.

"Being present and connecting doesn't have to take place through lots of speech," she says. Why not try drawing, writing or working in pairs?

Or, Kasevich suggests, have students walk around the room, writing ideas on tacked-up pieces of paper. They can respond to each other's ideas — like a sort of silent dialogue.

Educators at the summit heard from Cain herself and also Amy Cuddy and Priscilla Gilman — writers who've touched on the subject of introverts.

Principals and administrators mixed with school psychologists, guidance counselors and teachers. They met in small groups to discuss ideas and tips.

At one session, Erica Corbin, the director of community life and diversity at a private girls' school in Manhattan, told her team that focusing on introverts also means reining in the extroverts.

She offered up this tip for handling students who dominate the discussion: W-A-I-T. Sure, it means wait. But, Corbin explains, it also stands for: "Why Am I Talking?"

Below The Surface

With shy kids, says Corbin, it's not just about paying attention to them. Teachers need to think about why they're quiet.

"Personality might be some of it," she explains, "and we also might have kids who are quiet because they have been shut down. We might have kids that are quiet because they anticipate being shut down whether they have been or not."

Shutting down for all kinds of reasons, she adds. Stereotypes. Biases. Trouble at home: "When we're thinking about students who are quiet, how does that also connect with their race ... their gender ... their sexuality?"

By understanding how to reach introverts, she said, teachers can get at those other issues. Because if they don't start to look past the students with their hands up, "we're all gonna miss out on a lot of brilliant ideas."

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Think back to your days in elementary, middle and high school. Do you remember this student?

LILY SHUM: Every single report card that I ever had said, Lily needs to talk more. She is too quiet.

GREENE: Or maybe that quiet student is your kid. Or it was you. Elissa Nadworny of the NPR Ed team spent a few days with teachers learning how to make sure those quiet kids don't go unnoticed.

ELISSA NADWORNY, BYLINE: When Lily Shum was little, she hardly ever raised her hand. The teacher would call on her, and this was usually her answer - yep, crickets. Lily Shum dreaded that moment, and not because she didn't know the answer. She was just quiet. Years later, she became a teacher. At school, she keeps an eye on silent kids like her.

SHUM: It was a pressure that I don't want to put on any of my students.

NADWORNY: That's why Shum, now an assistant director at a lower school in Manhattan, joined more than 60 educators in New York City, at the Quiet Summer Institute. This gathering, it's based on Susan Cain's bestseller, "Quiet: The Power Of Introverts In A World That Can't Stop Talking." Heidi Kasevich devoured that book.

HEIDI KASEVICH: You know, it was a lens through which I could view my entire life.

NADWORNY: She calls herself an introvert. She's also a historian, and she's worked as a teacher for more than 20 years. Now, she's using Cain's book as a roadmap to help train teachers to notice and serve the quiet kids.

KASEVICH: There are expectations on our kids to - to, honestly, be a charismatic extrovert. And oftentimes, our schools don't have sort of the nooks and crannies that allow introverts to recharge.

NADWORNY: Even if it's unconscious, she says, teachers tend to give more attention to the louder students.

KASEVICH: It's altogether too easy for a teacher to call on the kid who's raised their hand first. I mean, it's so easy to do. I tell you, I've been there.

NADWORNY: The training this summer offers teachers different ways to include quiet kids. That starts with re-imagining class participation, which in some schools can count for 50 percent of the grade.

KASEVICH: Being present and connecting does not have to take place through lots of speech.

NADWORNY: Why not try drawing, writing or working in pairs? Or have students walk around the room, writing ideas tacked up on pieces of paper. They can respond to each other's ideas, like a sort of silent dialogue. Erica Corbin, one of the group leaders, says focusing on the introverts also means reining in the extroverts.

ERICA CORBIN: The acronym I wrote up there, W-A-I-T, for WAIT - but what - what we like to reference as why am I talking.

NADWORNY: And with those shy kids, it's not just about paying attention to them, but thinking about why they're shy.

CORBIN: Right, because personality might be some of it. And we also might have kids that are quiet because they've been shut down.

NADWORNY: Shutting down for all kinds of reasons - stereotypes, biases, stuff going on at home.

CORBIN: When we're thinking about students who are quiet, how does that also connect with their race? How does that also connect with their gender? How does it connect with their sexuality?

NADWORNY: By understanding how to reach introverts, teachers can get at those other issues, because if they don't start to look past the students with their hands up, we're all going to miss out on a lot of brilliant ideas. Elissa Nadworny, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.