Silent Teaching

A few weeks ago or so, the GSA (Gender and Sexuality Alliance; formerly GBSA) club at my school held a day of silence to highlight the experience of being silenced, and to show support for gay, transgendered, and questioning students. Students who wanted to participate could wear a sticker saying they were participating, and for those teens who couldn’t keep their mouths shut, there was even a sticker for “vocal supporters!”

It was great. I had a few students come to the front of the classroom and write their ideas on the whiteboard, and I made an effort to keet everyone engaged.

It made me think that next year, I would plan a class where I wouldn’t talk at all. Some classes naturally lend themselves to have the teacher fade into the background: group work/investigative activity, student presentations, etc. But I was thinking: what an interesting exercise to think what a class would look like if I was teaching something routine (e.g. logarithms, completing the square) but I couldn’t speak. Can one teach as effectively without a voice? How important is our voice to the teaching process? What are alternatives to talking? What other means of communication do we use without knowing it?

No good ideas yet, but I’ll keep on thinking. Just a gedanken experiment (thought experiment). Could be fun for a us to all try this out on the same day next year. You know, as a lark. It’s not like we have anything better to do with our time other than baffle our students with even more nonsensical actions.

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3 comments

  1. I’ve actually done this before… to teach Completing the Square. It worked well, and having the students work on individual mini-whiteboards, everyone was really engaged trying to figure out how to solve the problems.

  2. I have done this a few times. At first the students got a bit frustrated, but when they figured out what I was doing, it allowed them to really focus on what I was doing and not on what I was saying. It seemed to work better if I was trying to get kids to see certain patterns and discover the general rules. Completing the square may be an interesting place to try this. If you do it, let us know how it goes.

  3. I have also done this and the opposite of this. One of my stated goals in calculus is being able to communicate math. So, we do a silent day and are only able to communicate through writing. Another day, I have them only communicate through talking. I have two students sit back to back and give one of them a set of practice problems. They have to tell the other person what to write without looking at the paper. They don’t have to keep it all in their head, they can say, “read back the last line,” for example. Later we switch, so each partner has the chance to be the recorder and speaker. It gets them more comfortable with the vocabulary and better able to “speak math.”

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