An Illustrated Guide to Handling Class Participation

Q: My fourth-grader just got his report card—straight As! But at the bottom, his teacher wrote, “He’s very quiet and needs to work on classroom participation.” I’m so upset, how should I handle this?

A: It sounds like you’re raising a smart, hard-working kid. I understand your irritation with the teacher’s comments. Here are a few suggestions that might help:

1. Share information with the teacher. It’s probably most productive to assume the teacher has your son’s best interests at heart and that her comment stems from lack of awareness. Use this opportunity to share books and articles on temperament and its impact on learning styles.

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2. Make a plan with the teacher. Start by determining the end goal, then identify steps to achieve it. For example, if the end goal is for your son to demonstrate engagement, he can do so by taking notes rather than raising his hand. Or if the goal is to be part of the classroom team, he can contribute by tutoring another student one-on-one.

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3. Coach your son to express his ideas. It’s perfectly okay for your son to be quiet most of the time, but it’s also important for him to feel comfortable speaking up when he has something to contribute. Here are some suggestions for making participation less stressful:

Write & Share: The teacher writes a question on the board, then give the students “silent time” to jot down ideas. Students can then share verbally. Your son might be more willing to voice his thoughts if he’s given the opportunity to process them first.

Jumbo Notes: Students are encouraged to scribble ideas on large sheets of paper, then hang them on the board. This gives students the opportunity to phrase their ideas clearly. It may also reduce the anxiety some students feel when writing on the board in front of the class.

Sleep on It: The teacher assigns a “question of the day” at the end of class. Students then ponder or research it on their own and come back ready to share the following day. This strategy might appeal to your son, as many introverts love to delve deeply into a subject.

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4. Continue providing positive affirmations at home. Your son will likely encounter many people who initially misunderstand his temperament. Help him realize that although others may try to label him, he doesn’t have to let negative labels stick. He has the power to replace them with a more positive interpretation.

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Your son’s situation is certainly exasperating, but it has the potential to become an empowering experience. As you include your son in parent-teacher discussions, he will learn strategies for initiating a positive dialogue about his introversion. That knowledge will come in handy long after class is dismissed!

Share your thoughts.

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  • Dave Bartell

    Do not worry – introversion is rapidly on its way to the next fad – like Mindfulness. Humans Resources departments will no doubt soon offer classes in how to channel you inner version. The work place is a giant 3rd grade classroom with endless rows of desks.

  • Magda

    This is so me!! I was always quiet – in my high school years (my education was in Eastern Europe) I got famous for my notes – I never raised a hand or said anything out loud in class but once one of my teachers noticed my notes and went around the school showing everyone how the proper school notebook should look like – OMG that was so scary for me because I was always so quiet and after that everyone knew me!!! but in the end I met lots of people asking to borrow notes especially towards year 12 – and all my teachers knew not to ask me much but just to check my notes 🙂
    My son now is very similar – but I noticed (especially now that he is in high school) teachers here love class participation and he is very quiet, I talked to his teachers about that at the parent and teacher interviews and most of them said it wasn’t a problem that they noticed that he knew a lot and put a lot on paper – only one teacher said he wanted to hear more from him and out loud in class otherwise it makes him think he knows nothing (?!)…

  • I wrote about this on my Facebook page this week, alongside Susan’s quote about carrying a shell around. I was that child too. I had excellent grades and every form teacher would say ‘needs to speak up more’. I hated classroom participation, in fact I hated most of school because it involved being forced to speak up. I developed a speaking phobia as a result and I am still in recovery from this. Instead of focusing on my strengths they focused in their summary of ‘me’ with what they perceived as a weakness. Unfortunately, much of the education system is set up to get students to improve upon weaknesses instead of increasing strengths.

  • Vivien

    I have the pleasure of being introverted and shy. And being the only Asian in my class of all white kids with an odd old lady name of Vivien didn’t make school any easier. Lol. I was a good student, but I never raised my hand even if I knew the answer. Or the times I didn’t know the answer were when I would get called on. Paralyzing. My mom would be embarrassed by us kids that we were not extroverted and alpha female like her and would reprimand us when our report cards repeatedly said we needed to participate more in class discussion. I enjoyed school but hearing this made me feel like a failure even though I got almost straight A’s. She would make reference to our more talkative friends and say we should be more like that. Damaging.

    When my kids were in school, I didn’t make any judgment on their participation. I really don’t recall it being a struggle for them. As long as they were respectful and did their work that was all we asked. I think being an introverted parent has benefits. My kids feel comfortable having heart to hearts because I listen and don’t judge.

  • Teto85

    Excellent article. Thank you very much. Love your art.

  • James Harp

    This is a great article. I wish I had it years ago.

  • delicate_dream

    I was a quiet and introverted kid and had no problem participating in school because I was/am confident in academics. I had more issues with social interactions outside of learning. I think it is important to remember that introversion is not the same as social anxiety, and so the teacher may not be “ignorant” about anything, but recognizing the student needs help developing certain skills that will aid him in the future a LOT (ie at work as an adult). How do you know the teacher is not introverted too? Kind of tiring to see parents getting angry with teachers & not taking responsibility for their part in teaching their child life skills….

    • Um… “Straight As but ‘very quiet and needs to work on classroom participation'” isn;t social anxiety. It’s a quiet, studious kid.

      “recognizing the student needs help developing certain skills that will aid him in the future a LOT” – you’re (also) making a lot of assumptions.

      Lay off the parent.

      • delicate_dream

        Making assumptions is what the article is doing. Why assume the teacher is “ignorant”? Maybe a teacher actually has knowledge about topics such as, oh I don’t know, CHILD DEVELOPMENT?
        Social anxiety is NOT introversion – thanks for furthering my point.

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  • Quiet Revolution

    What’s your experience with class participation? How did you negotiate participation strategies with your teacher or your child’s teacher?