One of the joys of being a beginning teacher is that you get to do a lot of observations of other teachers doing their thing. While it is awesome seeing master teachers doing their thing, it can also leave you feeling a bit stink.
For most of last year I was convinced that a quiet classroom is the way to go.
Certainly the media reports about sound Traffic lights and noise being hazardous to teachers health would make it easy to equate silence with learning.
And yes those classrooms with kids quietly hunched over their desks is oh so appealing as beginning classroom especially in contrast to your own class which is loud and active.
However are quiet classes really great places for learning? Why do assume that in order to be productive learners students must sit in silence. After all tests are taken in silence yet when you look around you’ll often find students unengaged and bored out of their brains. Does a noisy classroom indicate off task behaviour and a lack of learning?
Because we also know that learning is a social and active. Collaboration requires talking and might require you moving to collaborate with different people depending on your needs.
As with everything in education a bit of a balance.
Some kids thrive on active, noisy, social learning while others prefer quiet, individual forms of acquiring new knowledge. The classroom has to have room for both and every shade in between.
Moreover learning to change your behaviour depending on the situation is actually an important life skill. That there’s times when you can be loud and boisterous and others when you take your volume down a few notches. It’s those lessons within lessons that we often overlook in schools.
In my class the Daily 5 tends to be quiet while topic work tends to be louder group work. Last year the class watched the TED talk and it actually led to a really interesting discussion about how there are kids in the class who find social learning exhausting and do need periods of solitude in the day to renergize.
The extroverts in the class might not fully understand the needs of the introverts and vice versa yet.
But learning to bring out the best in others in a skill everyone, not just teachers, need.
While I like a classroom at times, I would much rather have a classroom where the students talk too much. I love the interactions between students, and between myself and my students. In Korea, a quiet classroom is a “perfect classroom”, one where the teachers talk and the students listen. I can’t do that. I always ask my students questions, but so rarely do they answer. The ones that do love to talk, but I like to pick on the ones who are naturally more quiet. Like you said, learning is a collaborative effort from both the teacher and the students. If the students don’t do their part, they won’t see any improvement, and neither will the teacher.
Quiet times or noisy times, I love the way you ask your students to reflect on how everyone learns. Your last sentence says it all: “But learning to bring out the best in others in a skill everyone, not just teachers, need.”
So much easier to make space for all learners when everyone in the room is working on it, not just the teacher.
There are times where noisy is important, then times where quite is important. Then there is that fantastic space in the middle which reminds me of a bee hive in sound and activity as that hum is the engaging conversations between children about their learning and they are all on task like worker bees.
We moved into the old library building last year and the dynamics changed dramatically. With no class next door we could make as much noise as needed. Our opportunities for discovery increased as did conversations around learning.
I’ve never liked a silent classroom, it’s eerie! It also feels awkward to me so I often put music on so that the students are more relaxed and don’t feel like everyone is listening to them when things become a bit quiet. Of course, if they are doing an individual assessment then I will expect silence.
Students often can tell you the volume level they would prefer to have an activity or work time. And, when they disagree, consider partnering with a teaching partner so that one room is a quiet room and another is a verbally collaborative room.
I like for my students to be engaged in learning, so for me that means having an environment where there can be open dialogue. I think a lot of time we associate having a quiet classroom as students being productive, but this is not always the case. I know that some teachers are resistant to change and are not willing to let go of the control of having students control their own learning environment, but most times we need to let go.