Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Quiet Learners

We all know those "rough and tumble" kids, the ones who come into the room loud and boisterous, taking charge and bounding around. I often talk with teachers who want to know what to do with these challenging bundles of energy. But I never hear anyone talk about the quiet kids, the ones who don't make much of a splash when they arrive. But we need to think about how we can teach those kids, too. After all, just because they are quiet doesn't mean they are learning.

Today (in this post from the archive) let's think about those quiet, reflective learners and how our environment can help them.

One of the boys in my class comes into the room quietly. He moves from place to place, seeing what is in the room. He pauses for a few minutes, watching kids build a tower or work a puzzle. He stands near one wall, apart from everyone else, and quietly takes in what is happening throughout the room. I ask, "Would you like to play this game with us?" and he silently shakes his head no. When he does choose something to do, he often finds a quiet activity that he can do alone. He typically chooses a drawing or writing activity, so he can express what he is thinking. He works diligently and smiles when I comment on what he is doing. Rarely do I hear him speak, and when he does, his voice is not much beyond a whisper.

My friend is a reflective, introverted learner. These learners take in lots of information and think about what they see. They enjoy working alone, or maybe one-on-one with an adult. They usually do not enjoy group games or talking with others. They think about how to apply learning to themselves personally and look for ways to process and express their learning...usually through pictures or writing.

Use these ideas to support your reflective learner:
  • Allow a child to watch rather than participate. Reflective learners may learn more through watching a game than doing it. Don't force a child to join in. This can be challenging for teachers; after all, if we see a child not joining in then he's not participating. But quiet learners are participating, just in a different way.
  • Provide quiet activities that allow a child to work alone. Provide areas of the room that allow solitary play. Create spaces for more quiet play.
  • Deliberately find time to spend one-on-one with a reflective learner. Work a puzzle together or talk to him while he draws. Ask questions or make comments but be content if he just smiles, nods, or just continues working instead of responding verbally.
  • In group time, ask a question and allow time before requiring an answer. Say: "Don't tell me yet. Just think about what your answer is." This time allows a reflective learner to process the question and formulate an answer.
  • In a group setting, ask a reflective learner if he would like to add something to the conversation, even if he has not raised his hand or indicated he wants a turn to speak. Often more introverted kids feel unsure about jumping into a conversation. But also accept his choice not to contribute.
  • Play quiet music to create a more contemplative atmosphere.
  • Ask questions or pose problems that allow deeper thinking.
Often these learners can help other children see things in a new way. When they speak, they may offer insights that are original and surprising. Thank God that He has made some of your learners as reflective and introspective. One day these learners may become researchers, philosophers, or inventors. 

What ways can you encourage the quiet learners in your classroom?

This post originally appeared on Brick by Brick on May 28, 2009. It has been edited and updated.


  1. I will quietly comment...this is so lovely :) I have had a number of very very cautious students over the years and your tips are right on! I agree that it takes a whole different attention and focus to connect a quieter student versus "calming" a busier student. Intentional teaching - well done!

  2. Yes, yes, yes. Thank you from a 'quiet learner'. I have never forced a child to participate... I think that's quite abusive, actually. Some of us DO learn by watching and considering.

    I think the 'child with no friends' is another one to handle with care. Some children would simply rather do things alone, and I respect that. Peer relationships are a tricky thing and can't be forced.

  3. Nice article - it goes right along with my post yesterday -
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts - I am sharing this on my wall! :)

  4. Thanks for another great blog, Scott. I often find myself having to reassure parents that because their child likes their own company does not mean they are unhappy. Now thanks to you I have a new term to give them 'reflective learner'.

  5. I think you just described me as a child beautifully Scott ... Nice post and good advice!
    Donna :) :)