“Silence during the register”
“Silence in the corridors”
“Silence in the exam hall….”
Silence is often used (or attempted to be used) as a behavioural tool in schools on the premise that it encourages concentration and therefore learning, but we have to be careful: silence is a strategy that, if used unwisely, can create compliance – a very different result to focused learning – as the empty page will demonstrate at the end of the lesson.
Equally, silence does not automatically equal ‘good behaviour.’
In my forthcoming book, “Miss, I don’t give a sh*t” Engaging with Challenging Behaviour in Schools I discuss in detail the conundrum around the power of silence. Below are my 5 top tips on when effectively use it and how:
- Decide what silence is
“That’s it, silence means silence” – is not the most helpful instruction…for some teachers silence means quiet talking, for some it means don’t dare breathe – and if you’ve ever tried that instruction during the register it can backfire as pupils refuse to reply to their names…because it is such an overused instruction be clear for what you’re asking for and communicate your expectation.
- Decide why it would be helpful
There are several circumstances where silence might be helpful for learning; mock exams, national 2 minute silences, helping concentration for certain tasks.
If you decide firmly on the purpose, you can share that with pupils and help them understand why it is worth a try.
- Set boundaries
“That’s it, we’re going to spend the whole lesson in silence now” – it’s a tough one to maintain, and most usually sets us up for a fall. Instead, work with the pupils to work out certain times and places that silence will be maintained and what that means, for example: “we’re going to do 10mins silent reading, this is so that we can all concentrate, after that, we will discuss.” There is a clear set of achievable boundaries that can help build the ‘silence-muscle’ for longer periods in the future. Free Writing is a great activity to build in regularly to do this.
- Understand that silence does not equal learning or good behaviour
Silence is often referred to as showing students ‘on task’ – but this is not true – the doodles prove it. In fact, ‘silence in the corridors’ as a behaviour strategy may well provoke other, harder to spot, behavioural fall outs. Silence can also be a cover for lack of understanding, fear of failure or disengagement. Don’t be fooled in thinking that getting your class silent means that you have automatically progressed their learning, at worst they may be scared of you.
- Learn how to be silent yourself
“I TOLD YOU TO BE SILENT!” the stressed out teacher yells…
as with everything, if we expect pupils to meet an expectation, it is helpful to role model it ourselves – and we are far more likely to achieve the desired outcome.
Can you be silent?
Can you leave pupils to get on with a task without your intervention?
Does it make you nervous?
Especially with the SEMH pupils I work with, one common feedback point is that they find certain teachers ‘don’t give me time to think.’
These questions of our own practice with silence will give us many clues as to why or why not it is working in our classrooms.