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Do we expect less of shy students

Do we expect less from shy students?

4 min read
  • Cognitive Load Theory
  • The science of learning

Classrooms are busy by nature. Sometimes, it can leave students who are more shy and introverted in the shadows. It’s important to understand how shyness and educational expectations interact to figure out whether teachers may unconsciously set different benchmarks for shy students compared to their more extroverted peers.

So, let’s unpack these considerations – how does shyness impact educational outcomes? Read on to find out more about:

  • What the research tells us
  • The impact on teacher perspective and shyness on learning
  • 3 tips to help you engage shy students

What does research say about shy and introverted students?

Recent research has been pivotal in understanding the link between shy and introverted students and the influence of teacher expectations on these students. Research conducted with primary school teachers attempted to investigate teachers’ strategies and beliefs in relation to shy vs exuberant children. It was found that teachers anticipated more negative social and academic outcomes for shy and quiet students compared to those who were more extroverted. Interestingly, the way teachers identified themselves (whether they were shy or outgoing) was indicative of the way they would react to shy students. For example, shy teachers experienced “familiarity” with shy students, leading to a higher level of understanding.

Further research suggests that shy students might be doubly disadvantaged if their quietness is interpreted by teachers as a lack of interest or capability, thereby reinforcing a cycle of low expectations and underachievement. This means that shy students are usually underestimated in their ability to their quiet nature, meaning it’s easier for them to be overlooked.

But what do teachers really think of shy students, and how does this affect their achievement?

The impact of teacher perspective on shyness in learning

The impact of teacher perspectives on shyness within the learning environment is a multifaceted issue, with research illustrating how these perceptions can affect student engagement and achievement.

Research investigated the mediating roles of goal orientation and academic help-seeking among shy senior high school students, revealing that shyness can significantly influence students’ willingness to seek assistance and their overall learning adjustment. This suggests that understanding and supporting shy students’ needs can play a critical role in facilitating their academic success.

These findings underscore the importance of teacher awareness and adaptability to the individual temperaments of students, advocating for an educational approach that accommodates the diverse personality traits present within any classroom setting.

Further research suggests that teachers may subconciously perceive shy students as having lesser abilities than their more outgoing counterparts, leading to reduced academic expectations for these students. Such perceptions can hinder the educational achievements of shy students, as the expectations set for them do not encourage the same level of academic challenge and support found with their more extroverted peers.

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3 strategies to engage your shy students

Attempting to support shy students ensures that there is cohesion within the classroom as a whole. Here are a few strategies that could help your shy students come out of their shell…


Cold-Calling is defined as “active thinking during whole class questioning”, and consists in intentionally selecting specific students to participate in class.

It’s a strategy that emphasises the importance of every student’s voice and opinion, encouraging full participation and accountability. Research has found that Cold-Calling can significantly increase student preparation and participation in class discussions. As long as it is established as an expected classroom strategy, this practice was shown to create an environment where students feel their input is essential, thereby encouraging more thoughtful engagement and preparation.

Turn and Talk

This technique gets students to discuss the topic at hand with a partner before sharing with the whole class. It serves as an active idea-processing tool and a confidence builder, making students more likely to participate in larger group activities.

Turn and Talk has been found in recent research to facilitate peer learning and increase engagement. Students benefit from the opportunity to rehearse their thoughts in a low-pressure setting, which boosts their confidence and likelihood to engage in broader classroom discussions.

Creating a supportive classroom environment

Establishing a classroom environment that feels safe and supportive can significantly impact the participation of shy students. This involves demonstrating understanding, patience and encouragement towards all students, particularly those who are more reserved. A positive and inclusive atmosphere can help reduce anxiety and increase the likelihood of engagement from shy students.

For further insights into ways to support your shy students, have a look at our blog: Thinking and Participation Ratios: How to maximise cognitive engagement.

Final thoughts

Research has consistently highlighted the importance of developing a nuanced comprehension of shy students’ needs within the academic landscape. The evidence demonstrates that the perceptions and expectations of educators play a pivotal role in moulding the learning experiences and outcomes. It becomes clear that the challenge is not about lowering expectations, but rather about refining and adapting teaching methods to create an inclusive and supportive environment conducive to the growth and engagement of shy learners.

By doing so, we not only support the academic and personal development of shy learners but also foster a culture of inclusivity and respect that benefits the entire classroom community

About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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