Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Don't Let Loneliness Take Hold of Students

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Don't Let Loneliness Take Hold of Students

Article excerpt

Whether a child is new to a school or just finds it hard to interact with others, there are plenty of ways to boost their social skills

It's lunchtime. And as any teacher who has supervised a lunch period even once knows, this is the perfect opportunity to observe the social activities of students. While on the lookout for food-throwing, roughhousing and other mischief in a room packed with children, we can also watch how the various groups interact.

After a morning of structure and regimented learning, we expect pupils to congregate together to let off steam. But although many seem keen to maintain noise levels to rival a busy airport runway, a few always stand out for their silence.

Let's take Jenny, for instance. She is the small, slight 12-year-old who reads quietly in the corner every day. She appears indifferent to the crowds and noise and rarely turns away from her book. In class she is similarly reserved, answering questions when asked but rarely volunteering. Jenny participates during group activities but would rather work alone if given the chance. She has not been diagnosed with autism or another communication disorder, her grades and behaviour are generally good and she shows no outward signs of anger or depression. It is unclear whether Jenny is a quiet child who is content to spend time on her own or whether she is someone who lacks the confidence to converse with others.

About 10 minutes into lunch break, 13-year-old Dingxiang, who prefers to be called Danny, heads into the library. His family arrived from China last summer and his limited English means he is reluctant to converse with peers. He rarely stays in the canteen for long. But on days when the library is unavailable, Danny will sit at a table with two or three equally quiet students and get started on his homework. He may develop more confidence over time as he settles in and his English improves, but he may also benefit from additional guidance.

Meanwhile, 10-year-old Brian ambles around the playground. He wanders back and forth, sometimes watching others play and sometimes lost in his thoughts. Occasionally he stops to speak to another student or attempt to join a small group, but he always continues on his way a few minutes later. Brian clearly wants to socialise and rarely experiences outright rejection. However, he does not seem to know how to connect with others.

What is your responsibility when you observe solitary students such as these? Should you intervene and, if so, how? …

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