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)?