Is a silent classroom a better classroom?


Educators ask their students to complete tasks in silence for many reasons. Their reasons might include to allow for better concentration, to more easily monitor their students’ productivity, to save time and maybe even for some peace and quiet (I have been known to need some quiet time every now and then).

For an onlooker, a silent classroom can appear to be orderly and hard-working, however I believe (even though I’ve fallen into the trap many times) that silent classrooms can have an impact on the confidence of students and even limit educational outcomes.

I think that dialogue between students is extremely important in order for them to:

  1. a) Understand what is expected from a task.
  2. b) Feel comfortable enough to give a task a go.

The following scenario illustrates how a silent classroom can be detrimental to a student’s learning and confidence:

Miss Mack explains and models a particular task while her students sit on the floor in front of her.

At the end of her instruction Miss Mack asks: “Does everyone understand what to do? Please put your hand up if you are unsure.”

No one puts their hand up. Timmy is sitting up the back of the group of students.

Timmy: What was Miss Mack talking about? I don’t know what to do. Come on Timmy, don’t cry.

Miss Mack: “Please get out your English book and without speaking move straight to your tables.”

Timmy: “Pssst Sarah, What do w…”

Miss Mack: “Did you hear the instruction Timmy? I asked you to move silently.”

Timmy: “But I don’t…”

Miss Mack: “Silently please. You all had the opportunity to ask questions when we were on the floor.”

All of the students move to their tables and begin working silently. Timmy, however, sits at his table silently and stares at a blank page in his book.

Timmy: Maybe she meant that we need to practise writing the alphabet, or was it to write about the alphabet? Awww I don’t know. She’s coming and I haven’t done anything.

Timmy: “Ben, do we write…”

Miss Mack: “You’re too busy talking. Have you started Timmy?”

Timmy: “Waaaaaaaaaa!”

Okay so maybe the above scenario is a little exaggerated but my point is that if Timmy could have spoken to his classmates before commencing the task, or during the time allocated to complete the task, then he would have clarified what he was expected to do and felt more comfortable and confident about completing it.

When you think about it, are adults expected to complete tasks without discussing them with someone? I know that meetings commonly take place in workplaces and there a more than enough discussion boards that university students have access to.

I also know that I frequently ask my family and friends questions about even the most trivial of tasks before undertaking them. Questions like (… and please note that I do like to talk!):

  • Why is it called lipstick if you can still move your lips?
  • Should I buy the Finish Powerball Super Charged Quantum Max Lemon Sparkle Dishwasher tablets or the Finish Powerball Turbo Speed Millennium Fresh mint ones?
  • This says “do not microwave” but how else am I going to cook it?
  • Does green or purple better suit my baby’s complexion?

Anyway, I’m not suggesting that classrooms should become places where educators go mad because students are constantly talking about anything and everything. I am suggesting, though, that a little time is given to students to talk to their peers to discuss their interpretation of tasks and to clarify any issues they have as they arise. This is a normal practice that we all engage in on a daily basis after all. Some a little more so than others!

Credit to My Cute Graphics for the graphic.