I am not a quiet sort of person, but I was when I was a student. I went entire semesters without saying a word in classes. I preferred it, actually. And now, while teaching, I work hard to try to keep students from having the option to do the same. I’ve considered, from time to time, the wisdom of my approach and the reasons for it, but I’ve never seriously considered it as anything other than justified, at least not until I read this article in The Chronicle last week.
In this research, I was most surprised by what had been missing in my conversations with colleagues and had rarely emerged in all the reading I had done about student silence. It came down to this: Student silence isn’t necessarily a problem. Some students choose silence because it best fits their learning style, culture, or history. Much contemporary pedagogy lauds the calls for “student voice” as empowering. But students who are, for example, visual learners, or whose home cultures have taught them to value speaking and silence differently than the contemporary culture of American higher education does, often benefit from the inclusion of silence in the curriculum. Recognizing that silence can be an active, generative space, those students agree with a small group of theorists who argue that silence can invite meditation, contemplation, and engagement. In other words, silence—along with dialogue—fosters learning.
I know it’s true, and yet, again and again, I return to evaluating the quality of my class at least in part on the basis of the decibels generated (noisy equals good). When it comes to content, I am a “more is more” kind of teacher, packing it in because I get access to their minds for “only” 16 weeks. I always have a little fear (suspicion) that if I were to devote an hour of classtime to silent, meditative journaling or reflective consideration of a question or text, that my students would think, judgmentally–look at him: taking the day off, and yet, I know that at least one challenge that our students face with an intensity unknown by many other college students is that of finding the time to muse on a subject in quiet, in peace, without the expectation of turning out a product.
I don’t use silence enough in my classroom–I’m positive of that, and so, I ask you how you use it and why?