Saturday, April 20, 2013

Silent Teaching

Yesterday was the first day I participated in the Day of Silence--a day to recognize bullying against the LGBT community--and the often passive silence that occurs around it. I have known about this day since I began teaching seven years ago, but I never thought that I would be able to actually participate and still teach.  This year, I decided to try, and I found my experience was one of the most valuable thus far in my teaching career.  I thought I would resurrect my blog from its long hiatus to share three of the major things that I learned:

1. Silence can often generate a more meaningful discussion in the classroom.   I never realized how much I talked--until I forced myself to be quiet.  Suddenly, rather than answer my own questions because of the frustration associated with hearing crickets, I just waited for someone to say something.  And the results were quite surprising.  Sure, some of my more vocal students still generated more comments than others, but many of my shyer students were much more active.  As a teacher, I know how important it is for students to process information, but now I am even more aware of how much I need to sometimes just stop and allow students to think.

2.  Showing can often mean much more than explaining.  Let me make this clear--I did not choose to be silent so that I could "just push play" (read: screen a documentary).  I taught all but one of my classes that day--the one exception was a class that already had a test scheduled.  So, clearly, I needed to get creative with the way that I presented the material.  I am fortunate that I have a projector in my classroom as well as a huge whiteboard with many different colored markers.  So I had them look at things--maps, charts, photos, etc.  And I communicated by writing.  I still allowed myself to write on the board or type on the projector.*  I noticed that when I showed things rather than explain them verbally, there were many more nods of comprehension throughout the classroom.

3. If you actually want to listen, be quiet.  While it is so often tempting to chime in to a conversation stressing similarities ("well, I have three brothers too..." -- you know what I mean), I got so much more out of just listening to those around me.  I knew that remaining silent during lunch would be difficult, because lunch is a time when faculty members usually sit and chat together.  Since everyone around me knew I was silent, I did not have to explain myself.  If I really wanted to say something, I had a pad of paper and a pencil to communicate.  Since writing something down takes much more effort than just saying it, I limited my comments much more than I ordinarily would.  Perhaps if I ever have a day where I am suffering from "foot-in-mouth" syndrome, I can remember this strategy...

Clearly, I could go on...but I think that three main themes that articulate my experience will suffice.  I encourage my fellow teachers to be more open to possibly participating in this event in the future, and seeing how valuable of an experience it can be.  I know that I will continue to implement some silent teaching tactics in the future, solely because they worked so well yesterday.

So thank you to those of you that humored me yesterday and allowed me to do this.  I know that for some, it was probably frustrating to interact with me, but I promise to only do this once a year.  Until then, I will continue to observe rather than simply comment on my experiences, both at work and at home.

*While some would argue that this is not absolute silence, this was very necessary to be able to teach that day.

1 comment:

  1. This is a really fascinating experiment! I think a lot could be learned doing this in the workplace as well. Might have to try it sometime!