miércoles, 9 de marzo de 2016



Does shyness inhibit learning?

By Flor de María Vila A.





When we teachers think of the ideal attitude of students in the classroom, probably the first desire that comes to our mind is to be blessed with students who are collaborative, outgoing, and eager to interact with other students, since this way our work will be easier and the pupils will have more opportunities to learn. But, what about shy students?  Will they have the same chance?

WHAT IS SHYNESS?

There are many definitions. One of them is Buss´s (1985) who defined shyness as an inhibition of expected social behavior, together with feelings of tension and awkwardness. This delineation regards shyness as a social phenomenon, and a form of social anxiety. Another scholar defines it as an excessive self-focus characterized by negative self-evaluation which creates discomfort and/or inhibition in social situations and interferes with pursuing one's interpersonal or professional goals.  

Regarding our everyday context in classes, we could say that somehow part of our students show these traits: they are shy students. They are self-conscious and lack confidence when they must face new or socializing situations or when the focus is placed on them. They may eventually become socially rejected and subsequently develop low self-esteem or worsen their current low self-esteem.  This is not beneficial for the learning process at all.

ARE WE REACTING TO THE SYMPTOM OR TO THE SOURCE?

Shyness has multiple causes. Some can be handled by teachers; some cannot. With regard to what we, as teachers, can and should do, we need to be aware of the emotions that are hindering our students´ full involvement in the learning process. We need to identify what are those obstacles that do not allow students to take advantage of the opportunities they have to improve their performance and learning. It is necessary to identify the barriers that do not match with the way students are expected to learn.

According to studies, shyness is not related to intelligence; however, the “display” (evidence) of their intelligence is expected to show in the classroom in some pre-fixed ways according to the teaching method used. For instance, many times teachers’ perception of students who never raise their hands in class is that they are less competent. Not volunteering themselves to give an answer when the teacher asks questions to activate previous knowledge may be a symptom stemming from the “source” of the problem and not the problem itself.  For example, the reason for the scarce or non-existing  participation may be that they are afraid of making a mistake and won´t venture to say anything, even if they know the answer to the question asked. In that case, we should help them make sure that they have the right answer before sharing it with the whole class. We can do this when they work in pairs exchanging their answers. This would create a safer learning environment and procedure for shy students and would eventually help them gain confidence and motivate them to try other ways to improve their learning. 

Shy students need to understand that their inhibitions are natural and common and that it is natural to be exposed in some way when showing evidence of the use of the language; in the same manner, they should be aware that nothing or nobody is perfect, so everybody is “allowed” to make mistakes, and they should try again and again until, with the practice, they improve.

WHICH IS NOT FITTING: YOUR SHY STUDENT OR YOUR METHOD?

The communicative approach calls for real-life situations that demand communication. The teacher sets up a set of circumstances that students are likely to encounter in real life and in which learners communicate in meaningful ways about meaningful topics. Students are expected to interact frequently in order to practice and improve their performance.

Shy students find it extremely difficult to overcome the feeling of embarrassment whether because of low self-esteem or due to their tendency to feel awkward, worried or tense during social encounters, even if they are simulated. Alternatively, “shy” students may be just perfectionist students and won´t say a word unless they feel they are going to sound perfect both phonetically and grammatically. This last type of “shy” students monitor too much (correct) their utterances before expressing  them.

Shy students will also learn, but they may take a while to become aware of the importance of using the language more actively to accelerate their learning. As mentioned before, they need to be shown that they can do it and will work in a safe environment, an environment created by the teacher, an environment in which the teacher guides them little by little using scaffolding strategies to ensure their success.

By all means, teachers must take into account one of the most important foundations and tenets of teaching: know your students and be acquainted with their characteristics; even further, meditate how these individualities match with our teaching and how both merge to achieve our main goal: students´ language learning.

Have you identified the shy students in your classroom? 
Can you describe them for us please?
While you are delivering your class, what impasses does a student’s shyness introduce at the moment of developing the lesson? What actions can be helpful to solve such impasses?
What should never be done in these cases?


Further information
Kalustskaya, Irina N y otros (2014) Shy children in the classroom: From research to educational practice. Translational Issues in Psychological Science, Vol 1(2), Jun, 2015. Special Issue: How Psychological Science Can Help Improve Our Classrooms. pp. 149-157.


BIODATA
Flor de María Vila. M.A. in Cognition, Learning and Development from PUCP, B.A. in Education with a major in English Teaching. Ms. Vila is currently Pedagogic Advisor and Member of the Research Team at Centro de Idiomas de la Universidad del Pacífico and Academic Director of International Contacts (test training & foreign applications advisory). She is official Examiner for several University of Cambridge tests, freelance consultant with Universidad ESAN, experienced speaker on diverse English teaching issues for prestigious institutions, and senior international examinations trainer (GMAT, GRE, TOEFL, IELTS).

17 comentarios:

  1. Thanks for this article. According to the question number 2. I think you are never going to face with a quiet, active and collaborative class. Obviously it might be the ideal class. In fact teachers don´t usually know what to do if they encounter with shy students. Being honest most of teachers think that students who never raise their hands in class, are less competent. Regarding this article, it teaches us to be aware of the emotions that each student feels in class and how can I motivate our shy students to participate gaining confidence. One example could be, making sure that shy students ‘answers are right before sharing their answers with the whole class. They need to know when they make mistakes, they can try again and again. : )

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    Respuestas
    1. Thank you Elena for your comments. It would be great if you know well your students or at least as much as possible to help them achieve their goal. As mentioned above, creating a safe environment will help but it is necessary to know what´s impeding them achieve their goal or if their "shyness" is related to something different from being competent. Keep in touch!

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  2. Thanks for this article. According to the question number 2. I think you are never going to face with a quiet, active and collaborative class. Obviously it might be the ideal class. In fact teachers don´t usually know what to do if they encounter with shy students. Being honest most of teachers think that students who never raise their hands in class, are less competent. Regarding this article, it teaches us to be aware of the emotions that each student feels in class and how can I motivate our shy students to participate gaining confidence. One example could be, making sure that shy students ‘answers are right before sharing their answers with the whole class. They need to know when they make mistakes, they can try again and again. : )

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  3. I totally agree with you. I consider that every single teacher has a shy student in her/his class.
    For instance, one way to find these students is, in my case, when I plan strategies to help my students to break their language barrier. It is interesting in seeing how the students try to face theses situations. Shy students have problems here, however if there is a good classroom environment, his classmates help these shy kids to face and handle the situation. When they feel that they are not alone, their self-teem will be better. In addition, the lack of confidence will disappear.
    We, as teacher should show our understanding, patience and support to everyone in class. In this way, we teach our students to work together as a team. When a team is together, it reaches higher goals.

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    1. Thank you Nataly for sharing your experience. Definitely, a committed teacher wil find the ways of creating a special classroom environment whichi will help to strengthen the students´ confidence.

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  4. We always have some shy students in our clases. They never raise their hand or probably they don't want to talk in front of the class. What can we do to help them? One thing that I always do with my students it's that they have to respect to each other and if you make a mistake, no problem because this is the begginer of the new knowlege. I always said: "You can do it". When they feel more confidence, step by step they try and finally they understand the importance of using the language. His/ her classmates are the support. They give the classroom environment, the safe environment.

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    1. Thank you María Victoria for sharing your ideas. It´s satisfying to see how you help to build your students´confidence. Asking the rest of the class to support their "shy" classmates shows how important it is to develop a sense of community.

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  5. All teachers have a duty; to identify what kind of students we have. There are always students who participate and those who never do. As I read in the article are some students who do not raise their hands because of his shyness. This becomes a problem and it does not allow the student to achieve the objectives that the teacher sets in the session. As teachers we must apply strategies for the student who needs to be losing their shyness for instance hear first his answer before exposing it to the class and then tell him that he did it very well another could be working in pairs with a student who can help him or delegate him responsibilities during the class. Give confidence and give positive words will allow the student to acquire self-confidence. We must not be indifferent not all students have the same strengths in the other side we must focus on students with problems affecting their learning process; This is a rewarding challenge.

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    Respuestas
    1. Thank you Milagros for your ideas. Knowing the characteristics of our students is absolutely necessary. It is necessary to create an environment in which everybody feels encouraged to participate. We need to try different alternatives to make sure that everybody´s needs are covered.

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  6. Every time we have to deal with different kind of students and "shy students" are usually part of our groups.
    Sometimes it's a little difficult to change this shyness but as teachers we have a lot of strategies to do that.
    It's important that our students feel confident and comfortable in our classes.

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  7. Every time we have to deal with different kind of students and "shy students" are usually part of our groups.
    Sometimes it's a little difficult to change this shyness but as teachers we have a lot of strategies to do that.
    It's important that our students feel confident and comfortable in our classes.

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  8. Thanks a lot dear Flor for sharing this interesting article with all the teaching comunity. As you mention, shyness is one of the factors that prevent learning in our students and possibly the most important and dangerous of them all, because of the fact that is an internal situation that lays deep inside their personalities whose roots can range from personal characteristics to family problems, that are always difficult to deal with. In my experience as a teacher I´ve seen many of these cases and I consider rapport and motivation two important strategies to deal with it. Thanks.

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    Respuestas
    1. Thank you Raul for sharing your views. Definitely a good relationship with your students and the encouragement you give them will influence on their behaviour. In the end, students spend a lot of their time with us and we should take advantage of the precious time to help them out whenever it is possible. Keep in contact.

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