Monday, August 4, 2008

Shhhh! Quiet Learner at Work

Have you ever spent a week or even a month with a group of students/residents and when it comes time to complete their evaluations you are not at all sure of what they know or don't know. Sure they show up on time and complete their work, but whenever you try to engage them in discussion to see if they really understand, the most you get for your trouble is a short response. You perceive no interest, no passion... It is frustrating!!!!

The dilemma of the "quiet student"!

I've often wondered "Who's problem is it anyway?" Maybe it is just me? The more reflective quiet student or resident seems fairly content handling their learning. Or do we do them a disservice by not challenging them?

How do you all handle "quiet students?" Has anyone found a way of engaging these reluctant participants and getting a good sense of their knowledge and understanding?

Please "comment" if you have an idea.


Anonymous said...

I like to try to engage quiet learners in two ways. One is to assign the quiet learner a specific question or task and to have them report their answer back the next time the we meet. Another tactic is to use "Think-Pair-Share" if the group is large and there is time to break-out in smaller groups. "Think-Pair-Share" allows everyone a chance to participate, even if it's just with one other person.

Anonymous said...

Try making them the "teacher". Ask them what they would say to offer themselves guidance. This is part of the "ask-tell-ask" technique, but you can go even farther with role-playing if it brings their needs to the surface.

Donald Ford, MD

Anonymous said...

I often wait and see if the quiet student makes observations re cases to peers and then join into discussion to expand the dialogue. Towards the end of the first week of a rotation I would invite most students but particularly the quiet ones to discuss their goals for rotation individually and look for a special interest they may have and direct them to papers so they can briefly present on rounds and be "the expert" for the day. Kathy Quinn, MD

Christine said...

I was one of those active "talker" learners and I still learn best when I'm thinking out loud with other learners and a teacher, but I bet someone who is reading this is or was one of the "quiet students" Should we challenge or just leave you alone?

Neil Mehta said...

Still waters often run deep. I feel if we are evaluating a person, it is our duty to do that job right. A mid rotation sit down one-on-one session with each person on the team can be extremely revealing and essential.

In some cultures it may be considered impolite to speak up unless specifically asked.
Organizing rounds and learning activities to make sure each person gets an opportunity to participate can help.

Group dynamics can be very interesting. Presence of a very vocal person in the group may make the others less likely to contribute unless we set the expectation early on that every one will have to contribute/participate.

Anonymous said...

I see two different questions emerging from the dialogue. First, How to handle quiet students, in which contributors offered excellent "methods" to engage students(Think-Pair-Share; Expert for a Day; etc...) These methods can be helpful with all "types" of students. Second, How do we assess the quiet student, meaning "why" are they quiet (Are there cultural/normative assumptions we are making when someone is silent?) Silence can mean many different things (Some potential examples: I feel I won't be listened to, so why talk; I don't understand the material and can't contribute meaningfully; I know the material but don't feel the need to contribute, etc...)
Do we first need to understand the reasoning for being silent?

Gerri said...

It is difficult to add anything to this diaglogue, because all of the comments are great and ones I wish I had said.
I guess I would re-iterate a few of them:
1.) learning why the student is quiet is important as was mentioned. I initially want to find out if they are quiet because they do not know or understand the material because they have not done their homework alternatively, they are could be very diligent but they are struggling with understanding and/or communicating ideas.
If the "quietness' goes on for more than 4-5 sessions with the student, I suggest discussing it with them--obviously privately. let them know that you are worried that you will not be able to evaluate them if they do not contribute; ask about how you can help. Open up the discussion. Sometimes that has been all it takes.
2.) If you have debriefing sessions or process sessions at end of the exercises, you as facilitator/faculty could suggest to the group that engagement of all members is a group function; suggest the student leader, if there is one, work at doing that without naming specific quiet students--make it a group effort.

Alan said...

I spend most of my teaching time one-on-one which avoids most of these problems becuase there is a natural discussion. I think shy students, students who don't want to get interrupted again by their overbearing colleagues, or are concerned about giving a wrong answer in front of their peers find the one-on-one easier. In an ongoing group situation is there any way to carve out quality time one-on-one with each student?

Also I need to make notes for the student assessment as we go along which I'd probably also use if I was in a group teaching activity as well. The notes would help identify students who were quiet becuase I won't have much about their performance.

Tom said...

I have used a number of techniques previously described, but the most successful technique, that kills two birds with one stone, is to enlist a more dominant speaker to help me by soliciting opinions from the quiet student. Often the quiet one responds more enthusiastically to a peer, and it rewards the dominant one for listening (for a change). Tom Abelson

Ricardo said...

Athe other side of the equation has to also be consider. There are students that become quiet in the presence of teachers who have an intimidating approach. I have had students and residents labeled as quiet by others and found them very engaged when they interact in a more relaxed coloquial environment. Often times the "talker" peer may be the one intimidating others turning them into a quiet student/resident. Not every technique works for every student. Applying certain techniques for group teaching may still not get you to engage these quiet students. Often times you have to apply more than one technique to reach everybody.