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When & Why Is It Important To Have Silence In The Classroom?

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I definitely don’t subscribe to the notion that students have to be silent in the classroom most of the time. Part of the reason is because we do lots of partner work. Another reason is because I subscribe to General Douglas McCarthur’s perspective about never giving an order that you aren’t sure is going to be followed.

There are two times that I am pretty strict about it, though. One is during our “practice reading” time when students are reading books of their choice for the first fifteen/twenty minutes of classtime (of course, other time is given where they can talk about what they’ve read). The other is when they are writing — either an essay or a “quick-write” (though sometimes — if they whisper — I’m okay with some asking another student for help).

I tell students that quiet is important during reading and writing times so our minds can focus and concentrate. Generally, they respect those guidelines.

However, an article in this month’s Discover Magazine titled “What Do Urban Sounds Do to Your Brain?” got me wondering if there were any studies that I could actually share with students to show them that reading and writing in silence really does help learning. That same article has a link to a study — A Quieter School: An Enriched Learning Environment — but both primarily talk about the negative effects of environmental noise. The second one does mention another study that found that students who came from quieter homes were more academically ¬†successful, but I haven’t been able to find anything that specifically talks about the effect of quiet on reading and writing.

I haven’t gotten around to check any of my book on brain-based learning yet, but I thought I’d put it out to readers — Are you aware of any research on this question? When and why do you think it is important to have silence in the classroom (if you think it is at all)?

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

5 Comments

  1. There is a great piece in the Frontline series Digital Nation that’s available on their website, with an interview with a psychologist (I think she was at Harvard) who spoke about how important it is for students to have that time at school, since many are unlikely to get it anywhere else. I just wrote a short remembrance of a few minutes of silence while all my third graders signed “This Land Is Your Land” (after having sung it in Spanish and English), as being the highpoint of my classroom teaching.

    Thanks so much for bringing up the issue. I agree with your approach: Sustained Silent Reading as a school-wide initiative is very powerful, and quiet for writing is essential. Otherwise, there should be a lot of conversation in a classroom…

  2. Fred, I agree: at my school we do Silent Sustained Reading as a whole school from R-12 every day after lunch. It is scheduled into our timetables. However, many class teachers don’t expect their students to observe this quiet time sometimes making it difficult for the rest of us to read.
    The other time I expect my students to be quiet is when they are practicing typing. I explain to them that they need to be able to “hear” the words in their heads to help them learn to type. To reinforce this I often dictate to them so they really do “hear” the words.
    Ha. Whole school SSR, typing, and dictation. I sound like I’m teaching in the mid 20th century! Really it’s just a small country public school with strong community support and involvement :-)

  3. In response to your last question, I just wanted to add: during exam prep and test taking/exam writing. I think that it is very important to teach students step by step how to prepare for and write a test/exam.

    In general, I believe that quiet fosters deep and profound thought. I am also a TOK teacher (like you). When learning is based exclusively on class discussion, I have found that there can sometimes be a tendency towards superficiality in the final product.

  4. It’s a lot like life isn’t it~ we need times of silence and/or aloness; many people cannot spend time with themselves~

  5. I believe silence in the classroom is important for kids to be able to concentrate on their own work and not be distracted by some juicy tidbit of gossip (who likes who, etc.).

    As an art teacher I have found that if I allow kids to talk while doing art, that the talking becomes more important than the lesson. It is hard to get some of them back on task. I also do not want calls coming from parents saying their child was gossiped about in my class or other bad things, such as fights, or drug deals were planned during my class.

    On the other hand my students can earn good behavior points towards an art party where they can do art and visit, even choosing where they sit, as long as they do not gossip and say bad things about others.

    I have been reading about silence in the class and reseach has shown the collaboration does not work- one or a few students do all the work while the others in the group extend little effort or it becomes an opportunity to socialize and again, little is learned. I do have some collaborative projects in my class, but it is done with classes that can handle the group learning…if I see that a certain class wants to visit too much, then they do not do group work. It comes down to making judgement calls as to what fits a certain class better so they can learn what the state says they are supposed to learn in that class.

    I also teach much better in a quiet situation, which makes my teaching more effective as I can concentrate in getting the lesson across.

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