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Classroom Intervention Helps Shy Kids Learn

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Shy child

If your child is the shy one in his class, this recent study would interest you. A program that is intended to help teachers modify their interactions with students as per their child’s temperament can effectively help shy children and make them more engaged in their class work. This will in turn help in improving their math and critical thinking skills.

It is seen that children who are shy are often at the risk of poor academic achievements. This study led by NYU's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development, offers an evidence based intervention to help shy children. The same was published in the Journal of School Psychology.

There are some characteristic traits that are found in shy children; they are anxious, socially withdrawn, fearful and isolated. When in a classroom, they are unlikely to call for the attention of teachers or be engaged with other classmates. As a result, they often face difficulty in school and teachers may perceive them to be less intelligent or poor in academic skills as compared to their smarter and more outgoing peers.


Sandee McClowry, a professor in NYU Steinhardt's Department of Applied Psychology and a senior author of the study said that the needs of shy children are important but, the irony is that they are often overlooked. Children with behavioral problem get more attention rather than shy children, who are just sitting in a corner quietly.  The key to addressing such issues in children is to engage them without overwhelming them.

INSIGHTS, an intervention designed to help teachers and parents match environmental demands with an individual's personality. This program recognizes shyness as one of the four temperaments that need to be addressed. The good thing about this program is that this program provides a framework for appreciating and supporting differences in kids, rather than trying to change them. The participants in this program, helps to recognize four temperaments namely – shy, social and eager to try, industrious, and high maintenance.

For this study, the researchers evaluated whether the program supports the academic development of kids like critical thinking, math and language skills, particularly of children from urban, low-income schools. As many as 350 children and their parents from 22 different elementary schools were followed during kindergarten and across the transition into first grade. Half of the schools participating in the program were randomly put to INSIGHTS and the other half, participated in a supplemental after-school reading program.

The transition from kindergarten to first grade is a big shift for kids. The classes are more structured and teacher-student ratio is higher. The research observed the high-risk kids, especially the changes that occur in them after they are out of school. It is seen in past studies that their skills decline when they are out of school. By providing them with extra support, they hope to maintain the skills of such students even after the summer break.

Erin O’Connor, an associate professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning at NYU Steinhardt and the study’s lead author said that the aim of their study is to support the creation of an environment that makes shy children feel safe and respected in order to support their development. It is imperative that our understanding of such children is reframed because most shy children do not come out of their shell on their own.

Teachers and parents who participated in the INSIGHTS program, over the course of 10 weeks learned to recognize the differences in children and learn ways to help and support them as per their needs. Also, children who participated in the classroom activities showed improvement in academic skills, especially the shy ones. Shy children also showed significant growth in critical thinking skills and stability in math skills. However, the researchers observed that there was no gains in language, arts skills among shy kids from this program, while those participating in after-school reading program showed improvements in that area.