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The introverted and the invisible

Introverts are finally getting their (quiet) voices heard.

Susan Cain's recent book, Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can't stop talking, suggests that schools may be wrong to panic about every introverted child who does not raise his or her hand in lessons. These pupils may not actually be shy, and can often be high achievers. They simply do not believe in talking for the sake of talking, or blurting out comments that they do not believe will really add anything to the discussion.

In an era when everyone is constantly urged to have their say, this reticent attitude actually seems noble. Instead of forcing these young people to stand up and speak, perhaps we should be questioning why we insist on making classes conform to the loud-mouthed values of the extroverts.

But the quiet pupils in class are not all the same. Some may be confident introverts, but others may be selectively mute, some even scarred into silence by experiences outside school.

The introverted students are also not necessarily the same as the "invisible pupils" - the subject of today's special report. The invisible pupils are the ones whose faces teachers can forget when they meet their families on parents' evening, the ones who can slip through lessons receiving little attention.

In a report published by the government in 2007, they were defined as those who "keep a low profile" and are "quiet and undemanding". They may put their hands up, but are careful to do so a few seconds behind their keenest classmates, to avoid being picked.

These pupils can be the inbetweeners - the students who are neither jocks nor swots, neither troublemakers nor academic stars. But it takes more than just being average to count; they have to be the pupils who are overlooked and falling behind.

The ones to worry about most are not the natural introverts, but the ones who are, as researcher Dr Janet Collins puts it, "playing truant in mind". It may be yet another duty to add to your list, but please listen out for the quiet ones - they can be quiet for different reasons.

Michael Shaw is editor of TESpro, @mrmichaelshaw.

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