Do unto students…

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Ramkarthikblogger

I recently read the article, “Introverted Kids Need to Learn to Speak Up at School“,and I will have to be honest, it made my skin crawl.

Next week marks the beginning of parent-teacher conferences. I can count on a few issues to come up: how I calculate grades, the degree to which I am willing to chase students for late work, and individual parents’ expectations about the flow of information between school and home. But this year, I am hearing lot of questions about how to best educate introverted students and, specifically, the fairness of class participation grades.

I have experimented with many different grading strategies over the years, but class participation remains a constant in my grade book. It counts for a lot because we spend a large percentage of our of class time in dialogue.

I know that the teacher that wrote this absolutely is trying to figure out what is best for kids, but I think it is fair to question the method.  The reasoning behind why students need to learn to communicate for themselves is actually quite sound, but where I have the issue is how they are being brought out of their shell.

Also, what if the teacher is the problem?  What happens when conflicting personalities occur?  I remember having one student who was brilliant yet was really tough to deal with in class.  When I asked other teachers about how they dealt with her poor attitude, they told me that she was actually great.  When her parents came into interviews, they wondered why her participation marks were extremely low in my class but were perfect in others.  That was the last time I used marks as the “carrot and stick” to get a student to talk.  Sometimes our own personality makes certain people uncomfortable.  My job as a teacher and leader is to find what works for you, not make you adapt to work for me.  Isn’t that how we wanted to be treated by our principals/superintendents?

Here is a question…what if a kid is really shy and now you implement participation marks to bring them out of their shell.  What if it doesn’t work?  The student may already have anxiety about talking and NOW you are punishing them extra for their lack of participation.  That is a HUGE double whammy.

As a teacher, if you believe that you need to teach communication skills to a student, find a way to give them a voice. Coercing them is not going to build a strong culture in your classroom.  Think of it this way…as a principal I had many great educators on my staff who said very little in our staff meetings although they would have had a ton to share where others could have learned.  Them speaking up would have been beneficial to our entire staff but they didn’t.  What if I decided that, based on my judgment, if they did not speak up in meetings they would be docked pay?  Nothing much, maybe ten dollars a meeting.  How do you think that would go over?  I could maybe get them to talk but how do you think the culture would be in the school?  I am guessing their would be (and should be) a mutiny.

My job as a principal would be to try and find what works for them, not for me.  If I am able to do that, and try to find a way for them to have a voice on staff while also having them feel comfortable, how do you think the culture would be then?

What I have really learned in the past few years is that we too often do things to kids that we would never want done to us.  If we want society to get better, doesn’t it start with creating an environment in our schools that models for our kids what organizations could be as opposed to what we would hate?

19 thoughts on “Do unto students…

  1. Bill Oldread (@Dandysdad)

    Great thoughts George. There are many ways to communicate and the spoken word is but one path. Punishing students for their personality is plain wrong. This is one of those educational topics that I now view through the lens provided by Kirsten Olson in her book, Wounded By School. Kirsten will be with us in Bangkok in November.

  2. Graham Gallasch

    George, Have you read “Quiet:The power of introverts” by Susan Cain? Supports your comments above.

  3. Michael

    Maybe the platform too. Know many students and teachers who will not “speak up” during class, but give them an alternate platform such as backchannels & social media and the ideas/content flow out for many more, than those present in the moment, to see.

    Read this article as well and thought about “the double dipping” that vocal students must receive because they are in-line with the teacher, not necessarily the content & essential questions. Chalk one up for another problem with certain grading policies…

  4. Connie Farrell

    I agree that it is our responsibility to find ways to get kids to communicate, but as educators we have to be willing to differentiate the type of communication methods and find ways to scaffold students so that they are successful. Docking marks is not the answer. I teach one block of English a week to grade 9 K&E students. These students are very shy and not confident in their expressing their voice. Each week I focus on finding ways to engage them in communication and writing which is not intimidating to them. For example, one week we did 4 corners using superheros as the topic, another time I used your idea of the “Identity day” within the classroom and allowed them to present on the topic of their choosing. My students have come to see that it is a safe place to speak up and it is okay when they don’t want to also. Deducting marks for these introverted students is wrong on so many different levels. In any case, I am glad you bring such topics to the forefront as these students need us to be their voice as they are often afraid of speaking up for themselves. Thanks again for another great post.

  5. Tracy McCormick Mayhue

    Well said! I’m so happy to see someone else responding to that article. I posted it to my facebook page and listed a few issues I had as well. Not only is it punishing, but the very thing the author claims to be trying to do – teach certain communication skills – isn’t accomplished by requiring this type of participation. I’ve read “Quiet: The Power of Introverts” and I posted this article to Susan’s facebook page, asking for her take as well. Thank you!

  6. Sonja Willier

    Thank you George for your insights. It is just as important to advocate for the voices of our colleagues and all educators as it is to advocate for the voices of our students. Awareness of learning styles, communication styles, and other factors to consider regarding voice (culture, gender, etc.) are also important. As an adult I still find myself confronting my anxieties when meeting new people in new situations….and it takes time foe my nervousness to subside and my voice to become strong. I think all kids….whether introverts or not….need time to feel safe and comfortable before finding their voice.

  7. Crystal

    I appreciate this part “I know that the teacher that wrote this absolutely is trying to figure out what is best for kids, but I think it is fair to question the method.” As there are some teachers in different places on the continuum. Thanks for starting a discussion that can help change minds! :)

  8. hollychesser

    I addressed the same topic on my blog:

    The comments, especially one by Bo Adams, highlights in my mind the real issue at the heart of Lahey’s article: the use of grades for motivation. While I recognize that the teacher used multiple methods to draw her quieter students out, she seemed to equate participation only with speech.

    One of the least verbal students I ever taught hopes one day to be a journalist. When she writes, watch out – she has quite a lot to say.

  9. Jennifer

    When I taught lit, I always had a hard time dealing with “participation grades.” It seems so random and not concrete like a test or project. I was a quiet student myself and would dislike being penalized for just not over volunteering to give answers orally.. All a student has to do in many cases is bring in a note from a counselor stating he/she is “uncomfortable” and feeling ‘anxious” about participating in class.

  10. teachertrishu

    As educators we are to motivate, inspire, and engage students. We have a huge range of personalities and learning styles in our classrooms. I believe it is important to be empathetic to your students’ individual learning needs/styles and work with that.

    I have a boy in my class who is VERY shy. The more you encourage him verbally the more he hides inside his shell. With this boy, where he is more comfortable is blogging. It provides a platform for him to share what he knows with his teacher and fellow students in a way that fits his needs.

    I think participating & sharing with others is very important – we just need to be open to a variety of ways which this can be done.


    Introversion and shyness are not the same. Introverts often choose not to speak because they need more time to process or they just prefer listening.

    I teach online and try to take advantages of all the ways people can connect and learn from one another. All I ask is that they document and share their learning. They choose the method and space. It’s becoming a problem when people try and replicate online experiences to classrooms. They don’t necessarily translate. One reason many like online interaction is because they have more control.

    If the issue is shyness, it may need to be addressed but I’m not sure grading them on it is the best method. It’s basically grading someone’s personality, not there ability. Again, maybe it’s something to work on but as someone’s already said, through grades.

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