The silent minority : developing talk in the primary classroom
Language is central to children's emotional and cognitive development and the first language skills to be learned are listening and speaking. Class or group discussions are, however, often dominated by a small number of confident, not necessarily articulate children. Many other children remain silent, frequently showing reluctance to speak either to pupils or to teachers. The teacher is too often in the position of having to respond to the vocal and potentially disruptive pupils with the result that the silent minority are ignored. This study focusses on a group of twelve habitually quiet pupils - all originally in same class at primary school - who seemed unable or unwilling to communicate freely in school with either teachers or peers. This study: explores ways in which quiet pupils are educationally disadvantaged by an inability or unwillingness to talk to pupil and teachers in school; examines underlying factors which may have contributed to a child's reluctance to participate in class lessons; recommends teaching strategies which enable teachers to develop pupils' self-esteem through positive relationships, thus empowering them to take a more active role in their own education. Data were collected over a three year period: through a series of semi-structured interviews (with pupils, parents and teachers); observations of classroom interactions; transcripts of group discussions; detailed case studies and a teacher's journal. The data was analysed following ethnographic principles. Drawing on a review of Attachment Theory, the study concludes that much habitually quiet behaviour witnessed in schools may have its origins in anxious or deviant attachments in early parent-child relationships. The study also provides evidence that enlightened teaching strategies (for example, cooperative small group activities) are effective in empowering quiet pupils to participate fully in the social and academic life of the classroom.