April 4, 2018 at 11:15 PM #47041
How should I respond to my first-grade student who won’t/can’t talk? She is very conscientious, super intelligent, and is way beyond her grade level. Frequently, though, when I ask her a question, she just sits there silently without responding. She does ask me questions if she has to, and will sometimes answer me in a very tiny whisper. If she accidentally gives the wrong answer to a question in class, she will sit there and cry silently. I guess she does it because she is embarrassed – I certainly don’t scold her for saying the wrong thing! At the beginning of the year, I had really hoped that she was just shy and would loosen up eventually. It hasn’t really happened! She does interact somewhat with the other students her age. So far, I haven’t made a big deal of it one way or the other. I just treat her the same as I treat the other students. Maybe I should be telling her things like, “If you’re thinking about my question, say, ‘I’m thinking,'” or other general conversation skills. I am concerned that she develops conversational skills, but I am also quite concerned that she isn’t a tangled ball of fear and anxiety. If there’s a way for me to get into her little world and soothe some fears, I’d like to. (She comes from an excellent, stable family. I’m not worried about that.) Should I try writing back and forth with her to try to understand what is going on inside? Should I try to imagine all the things she could be scared of and tell her comforting things? Shall I just not worry about it and let her figure out how to interact with people on her own? I’d love to hear how other teachers dealt with similar issues.
April 5, 2018 at 9:18 PM #47057Becky Bollinger@beckybollinger
You have some valid concerns here! I assume that you have been in communication with her parents about this? If not, I would highly recommend it because they may have some valuable insight. Is she this quiet and shy at home or is it something that shows up only at school?
It sounds like she is a perfectionist and struggles with the fear of failure! A book that I have recommended to parents is What to Do When Mistakes Make You Quake by: Claire E. B. Freeland. It is a book that is written on a child’s level and intended for parents to sit down and read through with their child. Parents have told me that it is a helpful tool to give them ideas about how to approach the subject of mistakes/imperfection with their children.
This is the kind of thing that takes a lot of experimenting and trial & error. 🙂 You have some good ideas for things to try! Here are some additional ideas:
1. When she won’t answer a question orally, ask her to write the answer on paper. This may give you an idea if she is still thinking about the answer or if she is just fearful and doesn’t want to say it.
2. Develop a private reward system where she gets a sticker or a smiley face on a chart on her desk every time she audibly answers a question in class (whether it is right or wrong). If this is motivating in itself, you’re set! If not, find something simple that is motivating to her. Reward improvement.
3. Does she ever raise her hand to volunteer an answer? What if you privately came to an agreement with her that you won’t call on her unless she raises her hand (until she is feeling more confident)? This may help her relax instead of worrying about being called on (if that is what’s happening).
4. Consider the atmosphere in your classroom. How do the other students respond when one of their peers makes a mistake? Do they laugh or ridicule? Is it a safe place? (This may not be the problem at all, but something worth considering!)
Hope this helps a little!
April 8, 2018 at 6:09 PM #47204
Thank you all for your input!
@beckybollinger, she is quiet at home as well. She cries frequently and won’t always talk to her mom either. I think it is more severe at school, though. That book sounds very interesting. I might have to get it and let her read it. The sticker chart idea is one I haven’t thought of. I wonder if that would help her! She does raise her hand if she knows an answer – if she feels very sure of the answer. She’s almost always right. 🙂 I would say the other students are pretty accepting. Earlier in the year, they had started laughing a time or so when someone said the wrong answer. I gave them a stern lecture and they haven’t had much of a problem with it since. I feel like our classroom is a safe place, but it still might not feel like that for her.
@bettyyoder, thank you for your prayers! You are so right – things like this remind me of how much I need God’s wisdom as I teach!
@jonas, I appreciate your response. I like your ideas of trying to help her to forget herself, and trying to make conversation more of an easy, enjoyable thing. I’ve been thinking that I need to do more interactive reading to help them learn to use good expression when they read. This could be a good way to help her feel comfortable with using her voice, as well.
I feel like I have some new things to try! Thanks for giving me a boost with some good ideas! 🙂 I wasn’t sure what more to do, and this gives me some help. Thank you for your responses!
April 6, 2018 at 8:15 PM #47192Betty Yoder@bettyyoder
I don’t know that i have much more to offer — Becky gave very insightful input. I affirm all she suggested. And, Rhoda, I am praying for you. This is a deep concern. How we need the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
April 7, 2018 at 10:51 AM #47196Jonas SauderModerator@jonas
She’s likely too self-conscious. A general goal for beginners is to get the individuals so involved with the group that they are pulled out of themselves and engage with the activity without being self-aware. I suggest you find ways to engage with her by…
a. visiting her at home if that’s appropriate. Invite yourself there to join in to some active work such as baking with her and her mother. Find a way to have her give you a guided tour of her domain, from the new kittens to her collections to her favorite books.
b. Invite a group of your students (including her) to stay after school to do something together, such as refreshing the wall/bulletin board display, organizing supplies or books on the shelf–anything that gets the group actively involved with each other and you in engaging but non-threatening ways. You could also take them on a walk or do some other activity they enjoy doing together.
c. Find ways to encourage her, by little informal encouragements, to speak out in class without thinking of it as such a BIG DEAL. Questions and answers should be able to flow in somewhat of a conversational tone rather than the child feeling that her life depends on giving the one correct response to a BIG SCARY QUESTION.
d. Find ways for her to have her voice heard in the classroom other than answering questions. Oral reading, describing a picture the class is looking at, reciting, show and tell… If at all possible, draw her out when you accept some of those first graders’ hand wavings to tell little stories about what popped into their minds when you discuss something.
April 13, 2018 at 5:08 PM #47409Peter Goertzen@petergoertzen
Good thoughts from Becky, Betty, and Jonas. Here’s what comes to my mind—
I believe that the things you’ve observed are signs that something is wrong in this child’s life. It could be some type of trauma or mental illness, or just the normal difficulties of growing up. There’s nothing abnormal or shameful about this; we all live in a fallen, broken world, and it’s inevitable that each of us, in our own ways, will be impacted by this brokenness. That’s what this child is experiencing. It’s not always (although it sometimes is) our job as teachers to pinpoint and solve the problems our students face, but we do need to offer care and support as they struggle with life’s difficulties.
I’ve found that the harder I try to do the right thing for students, the more likely I am to do the wrong thing. Instead, I must be the right person, and right actions will result. It’s the difference between calculating and caring; it’s impossible for my calculations to take every factor into account, but care for my students will lead me to better actions towards them and will even soften the impact of my mistakes. When I concentrate on doing, it’s as if I’m telling the student, “You are a malfunctioning machine. I’m going to try a bunch of things to see if I can fix you.” When I concentrate on being, I tell the student, “I care about you. I am on your team. You have value. It is my goal to help you, even when I do something you don’t like. These things will always be true regardless of your actions or performance.”
I’m NOT trying to discount the suggestions given in this thread. I just want to emphasize that any action must be done in the context of loving concern for the student. I do sense this loving concern in your posts, and am confident that you will continue to cultivate it.
April 24, 2018 at 10:35 PM #47635
@PeterGoertzen, Thanks for your input. I’ve been mulling over your comments on being the right person, instead of trying to DO all the right things. I thought about how it can be frustrating to ask questions and receive no response. Yet, if I allow myself to become frustrated & upset about the situation, all my ‘strategies’ for her won’t do much good. Feeling compassion for her is so important. I think that’s a big part of “being” versus “doing.” Thanks for sharing!
April 21, 2018 at 9:39 PM #47602Carolyn Martin@carolynmartin
Here are a few things I’ve done over the years to encourage the child who is timid/fearful because of insecurities, perfectionism, or sometimes stubbornness.
Get to know the child on a personal level. Hold informal conversations with them before school, at lunch, during recess. Ask about their puppy, or their baby brother, or if their rabbit had its babies yet. Tell them you saw their mom in town yesterday. Converse with the child outside of school (like at church) if this is appropriate. I believe that all children enjoy the recognition this brings even if they find it hard to reciprocate.
The other year we were working with a child who did not like to be wrong. They also found parts of school difficult. Socially they were a little awkward. When confronted with a hard part in their school work, they would sit frozen, stare in space, and refuse to work. The teacher gently insisted that they at least raise their hand and request, “Can you help me please?” We also held private conversations with the child and let them know that they cannot be helped if the teacher doesn’t know what is wrong. It took a while but with gentle pressure, the year ended with a much more confident child.
If fear of being wrong/making mistakes is a big part of the problem, let the child know that making mistakes is part of who we are. I make plenty of mistakes in the classroom and I sometimes will actually call attention to the fact that I made a mistake–just to let students know that even grown-ups don’t have it all together. Helping a child realize this is not a one time done deal. It is an on-going process.
I write this next part cautiously because I do not know all situations and I do not want to do more harm than good…but sometimes the “root” cause for shyness is stubbornness. Or maybe a better way to say it would be that because a child is shy, stubbornness (and pride) stand in the way of breaking through the shyness barrier. I say this from my own personal experience growing up. As an adult, looking back, I’ve been grateful for every time I was “forced” to go beyond my shyness and perfectionist tendencies.
However, you deal with this, deal gently, deal lovingly, and deal prayerfully.
April 24, 2018 at 10:48 PM #47638
Recently I observed her sitting at her desk for 15-20 minutes, not doing a thing. She’s usually quite ambitious, so I suspected that she didn’t know how to do something in her book. I really wanted her to ask for help, so I waited a long time, hoping she’d get up the nerve to ask. She didn’t. Finally I went over, just in case she was sick or something and couldn’t work because of that. Sure enough, she didn’t remember how to count by 25’s. I encouraged her to ask me the next time – that I’m here to help her, and it’s OK if she doesn’t always remember everything. 🙂 I think it has actually been going better since that incident. She seems more willing to ask for help.
I like your ideas about drawing her out, too. I am really trying to carry more (one sided) conversations with her, just chatting about this or that. I actually think it might be working. She’s still not chattery, but it’s better than total silence.
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