The Power of Silence
This week we’ve been thinking about silence. As our company name suggests, we think that a loud lesson can be one in which pupils are engaged and learning.
Education can put too much of an emphasis on the importance of ‘quiet’ classrooms. The assumption being that quiet = well-behaved = productive learning environment.
Don’t believe us? Look at the current first page of search results for ‘Noisy classroom’ in Google. After our website, all of the other suggestions are articles/webpages with titles that are some variation of “ways to quiet a noisy class”.
However, we also think there is a place for silence.
Our Noisy Manifesto emphasises that noise in classrooms should be controlled, considered and deliberate. A successful Noisy Classroom is not one in which everyone is talking, all of the time. Silence has its place too.
Talking just for the sake of talking is pointless. So is calling on the one or two confident pupils to give a speech, or demonstrate a rhetorical technique, while everyone else in the class sits in mute silence.
Delivering our workshops, working in schools across the UK, often with pupils I don’t know, I know the temptation of allowing those who always put their hands up to speak. They’ll answer my question, take part in a game, and I can mentally ‘tick’ that activity as complete and move on to the next one.
Teaching public speaking and debating means teaching it to all pupils. Sometimes those who are more confident need to learn the value of listening. By this I don’t mean ‘listening until they can next interject’, but learning how to actual hear and understand what others are saying. Those who are quiet may need a little push, to express thoughts they’ve had but are reluctant to share in front of a group. Sometimes the biggest ‘win’ of a workshop can be persuading a particularly shy student to just introduce themselves, or join in with a big, loud, group activity.
We also need to allow room for everyone to be silent. Lots of primary schools use the ‘think, pair, share’ talk partners model and this is something I insist on in my debating workshops. Once teams know the motion and their side I then call for a minute of silent thinking. Students have to sit and think about the topic. Of course, some minds will drift and for others, discussion will prompt the best ideas. Nevertheless, having that minute where they can begin to develop their initial ideas, means that everyone is prepared for the discussion. The confident few are less likely to dominate if everyone is given a chance to properly have a think before they are called upon to contribute.
Finally, when teaching public speaking and presentation skills, I emphasise how powerful silence can be. A pregnant pause keeps the audience on the edge of their seats, demonstrating how powerfully you have captivated your listeners. Waiting a moment after an important thought allows judges to digest your idea during a fast-paced debating speech. Whenever speaking in public, I always suggest waiting a moment before speaking. Tactical silences on the part of a speaker can be a great way of silencing an audience and making sure they are really ready to hear what you have to say.