Tuesday, January 10, 2017
Silence in the classroom
As we all start spring classes, I want to share an observation about the value of silence in the classroom. I am interactive with my students, even in my large class (Business Entities). One of the most fruitful questions I ask myself as I do my class prep is, "What questions would make a bright student who has done the reading think a bit before replying?" Those questions add particular value to the class experience because they're not something the students will get just by a careful reading of the assignment. They actually have to go to class to get that value. In turn, I feel an obligation to make the class time valuable to the students by asking questions that do more than reinforce a basic understanding of the reading.
But a necessary consequence of asking questions of that kind is that students pause before replying. Frequently they start a sentence then stop. All of that involves what can seem like considerable silence in the classroom. While the students are wrestling with a question, they are also dealing with the dynamic of silence.I am explicit with the students about this, telling them on the first day, and usually giving them a reminder later in the semester, that silence is a good thing in this context. That, in fact, it's a way to know whether I'm doing the job I'm supposed to be doing (i.e., doing more than just assigning pages and explaining what they've already read). Still, the silence itself has a tendency to unsettle some students.
If you're looking for a new technique for class or for class prep, I recommend finding questions that are just one step past what the students would think of on their own. The silence really is golden, but be aware that you may want to be open with your students about the value of silence.