The quiet ones
Just about every classroom has a number of shy students who would be perfectly happy to never open their mouths. Some of those students genuinely live in fear that the teacher will call on them and they will be mortally embarrassed by their lack of verbal wisdom. Teachers should be sensitive to these types of students and they should not go out of their way to single them out or make them feel all the more hesitant to speak. Still, speaking in front of people is a necessarily part of many professions and it can be a key skill to general success. Therefore, here are a few thoughts on teaching strategies for helping shy students become more confident to speak up.
A teacher that wants to encourage shy students has to, on some level, let the students know that their hesitancy is normal and nothing be ashamed about. Sometimes teachers work so hard to encourage speaking up that the student may feel that their adverse feeling towards speaking is abnormal. The teacher doesn’t necessarily have to tell the student that they can stay silent for the rest of their lives, but they can acknowledge that speaking is a tough challenge for some people and that they understand some people will struggle with the practice.
There may be times when the teacher can ask the student on a one-on-one basis to talk about their shyness. Granted, a shy student may also be hesitant to speak in a person-to-person situation so teachers should not assume that they will “open up.” However, some students may be more open to chat if they feel they are not being scrutinized by their peers in a public setting. Talking about shyness may not lead to immediate confidence, but sometimes people are able to deal with problems a little better when they can talk about some of their fears.
Sometimes teachers can give students something to focus on when they speak in front of people. It may be a mental state of mind, or it may be a particular thought that people go ponder if they get nervous. Some people jokingly encourage nervous speakers to picture the whole audience in their underwear, but this is probably inappropriate for students, particularly in a society that is sensitive about some things. Instead, the student might picture the room as empty, or they can pick out a few people who look at them in an encouraging way so that they feel some affirmation.
At some point, shy students have to get up in front of people and walk through a speech of some sort. Some people will never get to a point where they are truly comfortable being in front of people, but practice can help them to control their fears and get used to the experience. Teachers can start with speaking opportunities that are short in length, or they can let people speak with a partner or a small group. This may give them some level of comfort so that they do not feel so alone and isolated.
Sometimes encouraging people to speak up is about giving them appropriate subject matter that is interesting to the student. People often are more comfortable when they can talk about their favorite subjects. Granted, school can’t just be a leisurely set of discussion points that are interesting to the student. However, if the teacher conducts discussions or lets students present on material that is more to their liking, they may see the student be more engaged in the experience and less shy about expressing themselves.
Encouraging students should also be about moments of affirmation so that students start to build their confidence and feel good about their speaking ability. The teacher does have to provide some level of critique so that the student also learns, but they can do their best to be encouraging of the student, particularly those who are typically nervous when they speak. Encouraging shy students can be a very individual teaching experience as the teacher must assess people’s strengths and weaknesses and make necessarily adjustments. As mentioned, some people may never become totally comfortable with speaking up, but they may get to the point where they are at least functional and can interact with a classroom discussion.