The Value of Silence
Silence often makes people uncomfortable. In my last few years in an elementary setting, the school started the day with all students in the gym for announcements, a lesson on social skills, and the pledges. Texas does both the United States Pledge of Allegiance and the Texas Pledge of Allegiance. Then, as required by law, the students have a Minute of Silence in which they my pray if they choose.
One student, a rather rambunctious boy in one of the lower grades, seemed to be allergic to the Minute of Silence. Every day without fail, he would sneeze or cough loudly during that minute. The moment the Minute of Silence ended he was just fine. Unable to stand the silence, he felt the need to break it with a fake allergic reaction.
Adults are often no less allergic to silence, although they show their discomfort by filling the void with talking rather than fake sneezes. Teachers are not immune to this problem. Too often, they ask a question, wait a moment or two and then either prompt an answer, answer the question themselves, or ask a different question, thus violating the five-second rule for wait time (University of Texas, n.d.).
Although conversation in class is necessary to come to consensus or challenge assumptions, silence is also valuable. During moments of silence, students have an opportunity to consider how their own opinions and prior knowledge fits in with the current information. Without making those connections, the learning is incomplete (Palmer, 2007).
In collaborative learning situations, the teacher is no longer the source of information. Instead, the teacher directs the learning and provides feedback on the students’ progress. There are many techniques teachers can use to facilitate their lessons, and time must be allowed to process the information without distraction.
Lakey, G. (2010). Facilitating group learning: Strategies for success with diverse adult learners. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Lane, D. R. (2008). Teaching skills for facilitating team-based learning. New Directions for Teaching & Learning, 2008(116), 55–68.
Palmer, P. J. (2007). The courage to teach: Exploring the inner landscape of a teacher’s life (10th ed.). San Francisco, CA: Josey-Bass.
Pratt, K., & Palloff, R. M. (2005). Collaborating online: Learning together in community. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
University of Texas at Austin. (n.d.). Four S team discussion activities. Retrieved April 6, 2012 from http://www.utexas.edu/academic/ctl/largeclasses/#4sactivities