So why the concern?
Pol doesn’t talk enough in the classroom. She sits at the back and is “too quiet”. Who says? Some pastoral staff, like Ms Limpet the Freudian. Her sin seems to be silence. Introspection. She’s too often “elsewhere”.
Pol is shy. It used to be a virtue. Ask her a question and sometimes she blushes like a poppy and gets all flustered. She’s not keen to join group discussions or being conspicuously spontaneous all over the place. The buzzword is “interactivity”. It seems that we’ve all got to be loud and assertive and interacting like billy ho. Inside and outside the classroom, we must endure the tyranny of the garrulous, histrionic clots, shrill opinion and unreflecting noise. Extroverts Rule. Pol’s not keen on this Babel. The world seems to her to have gone Tourette’s. So she sits at the back, still and says nothing.
I can’t see the problem.
Ofsted can. Silence irks them too. They zoom into classrooms with their 20-minute hit squads seeking some cheap pedagogical theatrics, a lot of that whizzo “interactivity”. It ticks their boxes. If Pol doesn’t speak, how can she be measured? And how can the teacher be measured?
The teacher must be seen to deliver some learning and Pol must be seen to have acquired it. But how do you measure silence? How do give a level to reflection?
You can’t. So we fail. I once failed a lesson I thought was pretty good. I just read a story. The class just listened. Rubbish. The lesson had displayed “insufficient interactivity”, said Man from Ousted. You can’t measure pleasure or “passive learning”. So next time, we discussed the story.
“Ten per cent are still off message!” pronounced the beady, inspecting fellow.
He should have seen me on a bad day, 80 per cent was more like it. Off message! Some were off the trolley. Hugo, a ferociously intelligent pupil, elected himself mute. Like Pol, he just stayed schtum, immune to my thrillingly open-ended questions. He may have been bored, depressed, homicidal, day-dreaming, snoozing, “elsewhere” – or shy.
That was his privilege. And Pol’s. Many of my best students have been introverts. They are often excellent writers. There’s nothing wrong with Pol, there’s nothing wrong with shy. Keeping quiet keeps her sane. We should just let her be.