Silence is Golden
We’ve all experienced it at some point in life and we’ve probably experienced it as teachers more so than those who aren’t.
The moment when you ask a question to a class or when training colleagues and nothing happens. Well I say nothing happens… physically in the room nothing happens. However I could swear I’ve seen tumble weed rolling around my classroom and I’ve heard several pin drops inside my head.
When I first started teaching this would often send me into a tail spin. I would either end up answering the question for the students or provide enough hints and suggestions that the students were none the wiser of the answer to the original question.
However, I now see silence as precious and valuable learning opportunities. When posing a question with sufficient enough challenge I don’t expect students to be able to answer it within milliseconds. As my practice has developed I’ve become more comfortable with the concept of wait time. Silence truly is golden, particularly when posing open and problem solving questions to students. Think time is your friend.
Now though I’m starting to see silence as more than just ‘wait’ or ‘think’ time. Silence can often mean something more. It can be evidentiary of a students need for only the correct answers. Silence can represent a student’s fear or unwillingness to take risks. Sometimes this can suggest a lack of trust and poor relationships within the full class. There could be many reasons for silence but the fear of taking risks is the one that concerns me.
We need our students to be able to take risks and be independent. Students deserve more than a teacher filling the gaps of silence to avoid the awkwardness that may bring. Students need to be pushed and challenged to be comfortable working outside of their comfort zone.
So to me silence is truly golden and through the silence is where the true lifelong learning can often happen. This is something I’ve started challenging myself to be more conscious about this year.
Here are the top three things I have found make a difference.
Ignore the guide to structured lessons and spend some time truly getting to know your students. Make them feel important and invest in your students and put the person first. This really does pay off, little things such as learning student’s names, taking note of the local football match scores or always wishing students a nice weekend and asking the occasional students if they did anything nice over the weekend can often go a long way in showing the students you care.
Build the Silence
I’ve found using strategies such as ‘think pair share’ and ‘pose, pause, pounce and bounce’ have helped to improve students confidence in answering challenging conceptual and problem solving questions. These allow you to build up the lengths of time you stretch the silence for and challenge students to think for themselves.
Praise for trying
Three rules I have in my classroom, particularly my lower ability year 7 class, are
- Be kind
- Support each other.
This concept really has paid off and has allowed us to access maths I would have never imagined we would at the beginning of the year. Praising effort rather than achievement I’ve found really does have a positive effect on a class’s motivation to answer questions.
Don’t be afraid of the silence, it truly is your friend and can lead to great learning moments. Prepare your students with strategies to allow them to take risks and to use the silence to enhance their learning.