Silence As A Pedagogical Tool Part 2

Our discomfort with silence is persistent.  The last discussion highlighted the origin of that fear.  Most relevant to our discussion is the unrelenting stimulation that we experience on a daily basis.  Overwhelmed with constant input, our brain is playing catch up with a hyperactive environment. 

Our students fear silence because they rarely experience it.

Rather than trying to beat the beast, let us tame it and use it to our advantage.  We can use silence in the classroom to improve our teaching. 

This article outlines two powerful implications brought about by appropriately using silence.

1. Cognitive Rest
Silence is a break from incoming auditory stimuli.  Without incoming auditory information, your brain can pause and take a break.  Just like a muscle, it needs to rest after being used.

Picture a lecture hall filled to the brim with undergrads.  A veteran professor inundates the poor freshman with every ounce content they can muster for 60 minutes.
The students feel overwhelmed and trickle out shell shocked retaining little.

Sprinkle in a few mental breaks throughout the lecture and the results might be different:

Frequently lecturing any level of student for a period of extended time is wrong, though direct instruction is sometimes necessary.

We understand that most students have a miniscule attention span lasting 7-11 minutes.  Try incorporating small, 60 second break if the duration of your direct instruction exceeds the 7-11 minute mark.

Structure the pause into your lesson and communicate your expectation during the silence.  The students can sit quietly with their eyes closed, reread their notes, doodle etc.

Make it clear that they are not to interact with their neighbors and that the silence is finite.  Upon reaching the 60 second limit, the lesson will restart.

As you lift weights, you pause between sets to rest your muscle.  As you exercise the brain by teaching content, a brief pause gives the brain a necessary rest.

2. Body language

How you say something, or don’t say something is your body’s way of talking.

As a case study for the power of silence, we’ll look at John D. Rockefeller.
John D. Rockefeller, arguably the most successful businessman in written history, used silence to his advantage.  From Chernow’s masterful biography of John Rockefeller, an associate describes his lengthy pauses:

“His (Rockefeller’s) long silences, so that we could not locate even his objections, were sometimes baffling.”

Rockefeller prided himself on being thoughtful and quite, he equated it with strength.  Further, he often used silences to make his adversaries uncomfortable and to demonstrate that he was unwilling to budge.

More from Chernow:
“The quieter he was, the more forceful his presence seemed, and he played on his mystique as the resident genius immune to petty concerns.”

A pause during a lesson can do several things:

-builds intensity and suspense for a culminating statement

-diffuses and lessens the anxiety of a situation

-shows dominance and communicates power

-indicates you are listening and mentally digesting a student question or comment

With management a cornerstone to successful classroom practice, adding small changes in body language could have amplifying effects.

Silence is something that we are innately inclined to avoid.  It is only when we understand the power silence as a body language tool and as a means to rest the mind do we fully comprehend its use in education.

Are you already a practitioner of thoughtful silence in your lesson?  Connect with the Pragmatic TV Teacher to share your ideas.

Thanks for reading.

Photo credit: Ed Gregory from Stokpic

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