Quiet pupils lose at school

New research shows that quiet and shy pupils in junior high schools in Norway achieve below their active classmates in oral, practical and esthetic subjects.

In their article "Social passivity and grades achieved among adolescents in junior high school" assistant professor Erik Paulsen and professor Edvin Bru at the University of Stavanger conclude that quiet pupils face problems in obtaining a fair evaluation in several subjects.

In the classroom one is supposed to be active. The silent and shy students are often perceived as being less interested, motivated and participatory, says Erik Paulsen who has a doctorate in the subject.

Unfair grade
Around 500 students between 13 and 16 have been informants in the investigation carried out at two Norwegian junior high schools.. The two researchers see a clear challenge for the school.

The problem for the socially passive pupils is that they are not able to show what they know. For a teacher to give a fair grade in a subject he must know the student and help him prove himself, Paulsen says.

Silent pupils have problems establishing a closer relationship to the teacher which again makes the teacher adapt situations of evaluation to the pupil. For shy pupils performance for the class or activity in the groups are difficult.

Quiet pupils spend much energy on cooperating with others and have little left for learning. They often choose the less challenging tasks they know they can master, Paulsen explains. He believes that quiet pupils know more than they seem to do.

Worst subjects: Music and physical education
The shy pupils make themselves scarce in order not to make fools of themselves. Performance in class may be experienced as threatening and many of them are sick the day the song is to be rehearsed or skill to be tested in athletics.

When the teacher grades pupils in subjects like music, physical education or oral Norwegian he has to base his judgment on performances, participation and achievement. For pupils who are evasive, the basis for the grade obviously becomes wrong, Edvin Bru says.

His worry is that the society may lose talents when the grade in several subjects is based on how active one is instead of on what knowledge one has.

In mathematics there is no difference in grades obtained by active and passive pupils. Mathematics is a subject where evaluation is based in individual written work. Consequently, being extrovert is of limited value, Bru says.

Not being seen
Researchers think that active student are being given preference in school. When the teacher struggles to evaluate the quiet pupils, they become losers when the report card is filled out.

Failing at school has serious consequences. You will have a harder time getting a job, and you get a low self esteem.

Teachers must be better to see the quiet pupils. Too often it is the stormy and noisy ones that are seen.

Paulsen thinks that many teachers recognize the problem and that they sincerely want to do something about the forms of evaluation.

It is a pity if quiet pupils get lower grades because they are silent. The big question is how we can evaluate quiet students justly, he concludes.

The article "Social passivity and grades achieved among adolescents in junior high school" will be published in the journal School Psychology International.

Text: Silje Stangeland
Photo: Elisabeth Tønnessen