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What “quiet students” have to say

What is going on in the minds of the “silent majority” of students who rarely (if ever) ask questions or contribute to class discussions?

If you’ve wondered as I have, you would be interested in this article summarizing some of the author’s findings in her study of “quiet students.” Her intellectual journey begins with a well-intentioned but simplistic desire to “get students talking.”  What they would talk about and to whom, how they would talk to be productive, and how it could affect their learning didn’t seem to be a part of the thinking. In her extended set of interviews with students, she developed a deeper understanding of the complex set of influences that affect students’ level of participation and their learning.

I am not highlighting this article because I think that the author has THE answers, but because she asks (and at least begins to answer) a good question. I suspect it’s one that every instructor has had to face when their attempts to stimulate student interaction are met with the sound of crickets.

I myself was surprised that the utility of online discussion boards was not addressed — they can be an excellent way to provide space and time for everyone in a class to contribute and to be “heard.” Online discussions allow time for reflection and careful composition of comments as well as a buffer from the possibility of a critical response from peers or professor. In my experience, the quality and quantity of individual and collective student discussion online has been quite impressive — including lots of insightful thinking previously hidden in “quiet students'” heads.

Here’s the story:

Chronicle of Higher Education
September 5, 2010

What’s the Problem With Quiet Students? Anyone? Anyone?
By Mary M. Reda

What are your thoughts about the article? About your “quiet students”? Click the “Comments” link just below this to add your comments — it’s easy and we’d love to hear from you!


I like Professor Reda's point about taking one's self out of the discussion. I like to have students discuss points in groups so that it is more of a peer to peer experience. Students are much more comfortable talking to each other.

I also agree with her point regarding grading participation. I haven't done this in quite some time. I found that I just gave points to the students who had bubbly personalities.

That said, I am not willing to completely give up the "verbal quizzes." I can break down a problem into its basic elements by asking the student a series of questions. I can show them how to tackle a problem by asking them a series of questions. If one is in a field such as English composition -- where opinions matter -- then silences can be expressive. With a more analytical subject such as music theory, however, verbal quizzes are necessary.

This is my first comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and tell you I genuinely enjoy reading your articles.