Listening to their silence : the learning experiences of quiet students in a middle school environment.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Education
The purpose of this study was to listen to the experiences of a group of quiet students who may struggle with some widely accepted classroom practices, and it explores their perceptions of these experiences in terms of wellbeing and inclusiveness. It used qualitative research with an interpretivist, or phenomenological approach, recognising the need for a subjective dimension that values the perspectives of children in context. It focused on six students who identified with some of the characteristics commonly associated with introversion, such as a preference to reflect and think before they speak or act, an aversion to over-stimulating situations, and a preference to work alone or in small groups with familiar people. Another group of seventeen non-focus students provided their own perspectives. Semi-structured interviews were used to record the lived experiences of the participants and explore how they perceive these experiences. The study revealed some incompatibilities in the way different personalities operate in the classroom, particularly in group settings, and it raised questions about the need to use cooperative learning techniques. Some students expressed frustration with dominating behaviours in groups, arguing, and high noise levels. They may feel stressed by expectations to process ideas quickly when giving a response, and they often prefer to work alone or with selected group members. These factors sometimes exclude them from participating fully as class members. The findings affirmed the importance of teachers listening to student voice, understanding the diverse needs of their students, and actively creating conditions, adaptations and options that promote inclusion and wellbeing. The Ministry of Education requires New Zealand schools to be “inclusive” of all students, removing barriers to learning, and promoting wellbeing. The present policy acknowledges diversity, recognises that learning needs are not specific to certain conditions, and calls on teachers to know and respond to their students’ needs. While numerous studies suggest that the majority of students achieve more and enjoy their learning more when working in collaborative or cooperative groups, this is not always the case.