I define a "quiet" student as someone who has difficulty responding to questions orally before writing. For this type of student, I use a less common strategy of “writing before speaking.” The student’s name has been changed to protect his privacy.
The majority of the students I tutor are highly verbal, and prefer discussing their ideas with me before setting pen to paper. Consequently, my default practice is to first brainstorm ideas with them orally and then proceed to drafting. For some students, however, this “oral rehearsal” is not only difficult, it can also hinder the prewriting process. For these students, I take a different approach.
Several years ago I worked with Ryan,* a high school junior with strong visual/spatial competencies who had difficulty expressing his ideas orally. His mother told me that Ryan excelled in his 3-D computer class but needed extra time processing verbal cues and extra support in the organizational aspect of writing. A reserved young man, Ryan consistently arrived to tutorial quietly but prepared to work. I found the best way to work with Ryan was to ask him to respond to my questions in writing before beginning to discuss them.
During one session, Ryan wrote a written response to a pre-writing question for a paper on Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. His forty-word answer provided a springboard for our discussion and allowed Ryan to move forward in the writing process.
In a later session, I asked Ryan to select a short passage from the same book and write about it in a few sentences. Ryan’s written response gave him the words and confidence to make him feel comfortable speaking in session. I continued to provide Ryan with opportunities to express his ideas orally, but always first offered him the option of expressing his ideas in writing.
About a month into my work with Ryan, his mother wrote: “As you have probably figured out, Ryan is an incredibly non-verbal kid, and takes a very long time to process verbal cues. As I have said many times, he could easily draw a replica of something much more quickly and accurately than he could describe it. So, your approach of putting things in writing, and giving him a lot of time to respond is spot on. Thanks for your help.”
*name has been changed to protect the student’s privacy