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Parents evening - don’t drop the Q-bomb

Calling a pupil ‘too quiet’ can rouse up plenty of negative connotations, so what’s stopping us from dropping it altogether?

  • Parents evening - don’t drop the Q-bomb

What makes a great student? Irrespective of whether you are a teacher, student or parent there is a general consensus that great students have characteristics that support them to do well; that maximise learning by allowing the teacher to teach and the student to learn. 

We usually take this to mean those pupils that don’t disrupt the lesson, don’t restrict the learning of others, try hard, take feedback on board, are respectful, have high expectations for themselves, and follow instructions.

Similarly, we as educators make subconscious and even conscious decisions as we walk down the corridor about how good a class is – and how effective a teacher is – from a fleeting glance into a classroom. 

Loud lessons with students turning around chatting, or out of their seat, give an indication that learning isn’t focused and that the teacher isn’t strong (except perhaps in EYFS!).

In contrast, silent classrooms with students working hard indicate ‘proper’ learning and a teacher who is on the ball.

We all know that this isn’t necessarily true in practice, yet there it is, the little voice in the back of your head, judging that noisy lesson. 

Too quiet

So, where does calling pupils ‘quiet’ come in? If we view well-behaved students who work hard as the good ones, and quiet lessons as the best kind, why does the epithet cause so many negative feelings? 

We’ve all heard it – the parents or carers of the hardworking, focused, well-behaved and all-round lovely student sit down on parents’ evening, and amidst the glowing report, the teacher drops in “They are a bit too quiet”.

Panic stations! The parent suddenly falls into social concern mode and shoots a distressed look across the table – images of a disconsolate and anguished child lingering in the back of the classroom, unloved and unengaged, swimming through their minds. 

What a strange world this is. A pupil misbehaves and their parents get told they’re “too chatty”.

This doesn’t overly alarm them; their child is clearly having fun, making friends and – most importantly – getting involved in the class.

But then a child does everything they’re supposed to do in order to be a good student – head down, work hard, don’t fuss – and get harpooned with “too quiet”.

Let’s face it, the words are dogged by negative connotations. They conjure up a disengaged, lazy pupil who is uninterested in sharing their opinion or trying to find answers to questions – hardly what our busy, self-promotional world is set up to celebrate. 

So, why say it? Well… we shouldn’t. There is no reason to vocalise the fact that you think anyone is too quiet.

What do you mean?

Think about the instances where you’ve used this term. Is there a reason? Do you think they should share their opinion more? Fine, then say that. Be specific.

But ‘too quiet’ helps no one –quite the reverse in fact. It’s not developmental, but it’s also not a flippant comment that has no detriment. It can’t be worked on and it certainly isn’t useful. 

This parents’ evening, think about what you actually want to convey as an area of improvement, then say that, instead.

Or, bear with me here, maybe if we want chatty, engaged pupils, we should be more accepting of chatty, busy classrooms.

Times are starting to change, slowly – especially with younger pupils – to embrace the ‘controlled chaos’ of students actively learning.

But if we want to get rid of the stigma of ‘too quiet’, we need to reform our classrooms. This is obviously a much greater cultural shift than stopping our use of a certain phrase, so it’s going to take longer to become the norm.

Therefore, in the meantime changing the way we describe our more reserved learners will have to do. 

Ultimately, there’s nothing wrong with ‘quiet’. Some of the greatest minds are ‘quiet’, yet unfortunately right now, the label can still be damagingly negative for a pupil.

So, a plea from a ‘quiet’ child; if you don’t have anything specific to report then stay quiet – don’t say quiet.

Scott Pughsley is a teacher, teaching and learning coach, and head of geography at a secondary school in Accrington. Follow Scott on Twitter @ScottPughsley

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