Silence As A Pedagogical Tool Part 1

Cole destroyed his basal ganglia, the cells in his brain responsible for many important fundamental operations when he was crushed under a 4-wheeler.

18 months later and after intensive therapy, Cole entered his sophomore year of high school and is dependent on an adult for his daily needs.  He came back to school because he missed his friends and is determined to walk across the stage during graduation.

It is truly enjoyable spending time with Cole and I sincerely look forward to it. The last time he stopped by my classroom, he named my new turtle "Ricky".

As a result of his brain injury, there is a delay in communication which makes interacting very uncomfortable.

After his last visit, I began feeling poorly about myself because I felt uneasy around Cole.  It is the delay that I’m struggling with.

The delay translates to a silence lasting, what seems like, eons.  In reality, the time between exchanges is only about 20 seconds.

Why am I uncomfortable with delays between spoken exchanges?

Why are we so impatient to receive responses when in conversation?

Why are silent pauses so awkward?

As with every perplexing question, The Pragmatic TV Teacher dove into the realm of literature to find an answer.

There is an answer, and also a way to use silent pauses to our advantage while teaching.

This article describes why silent, extended pauses are uncomfortable.  The second part to the article discusses how we can use silence during lesson implementation.

Why are extended pauses uncomfortable?

Believe it or not, there is a fear of silence called Sedatephobia.

From an evolutionary perspective, being afraid of silence is understandable; it is associated with darkness and the unknown.  Losing the ability to perceive our environment rightly makes us nervous.

Like many phobias, Sedatephobia is often caused by a traumatic event in childhood.  Many psychologists are seeing an increasing number of cases.



In other words, kids grow up with constant stimulation and expect it.
They (read we) fear silence because they developed in an over-engaging environment.  People get anxious when they don’t get the stimuli they are used to receiving.

However, most of us do not suffer from Sedatephobia and we still find extended pauses awkward.

A conversation with a friend, colleague, or family member has an observable flow to it.  During the exchange, we feel connected and our relationship to the other person strengthens.

Pauses during the conversation make us feel uncomfortable because the flow is lost.  We feel rejected and immediately try to fill the silence with filler.

During a pause, our brain goes crazy over-analyzing the situation and generally feels like the underlying relationship is beginning to fray.

This is untrue of course, pauses are natural and inevitable.

As with everything, there are two sides to the uncomfortable pause coin and the advantageous side has implications that can strengthen our lessons.

Part two of this article discusses how silence can be used to communicate nonverbally, encourage cognitive rest, and facilitate student responses.

Connect with The Pragmatic TV Teacher: why do you think pauses are painful?

Thanks for reading.

Photo Credit: Ed Gregory from Stokpic

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