I am thinking of taking a vow of silence

In my Tue/Thu section of Math, Art, and Design, the students tend to greet most things that I say with silence. There’s an occasional question, but other than that they give me nothing. The trouble is that that makes me anxious. So instead of doing something sensible, I keep talking at them. That doesn’t help them to learn anything and it doesn’t really make me any less anxious. So I am considering a vow of silence after I we back from break. What if I did a whole class silently? I could write down for them that I feel anxious in class, which has the result that I talk too much, and that I’ve decided to experiment with being silent for a week (or one class day) and see what happens. I could design their activities so that minimal directions are needed, and I could write those directions down. But what would I do once they need help with an activity? Perhaps I could get another student to provide some help, or I could write down all the help. I can’t tell if this is a good idea or a really stupid idea.


4 thoughts on “I am thinking of taking a vow of silence

  1. Cindy Blank-Edelman says:

    I think your plan may just end up making all of you feel more anxious.

    May I suggest an alternative? When you want student input, ask a question. And then wait silently for the answer, patiently and expectantly (not passive-aggressively and with annoyance 🙂 ). If you wait long enough (and it will seem like forever but really will be only a minute), someone will say something. Then you respond with interest and enthusiasm. Eventually, if students know that you really want to hear from them and you will wait until you do, they will probably start talking.

    Also, once when I was doing a workshop for international students, it became clear to me that the language and cultural barriers were completely stifling any class participation. What I did that worked was to ask them to participate in various ways that were easier. So I asked for a show of hands, or for people to stand up if they have experienced something, or for them to write or draw something to hand in to be read anonymously. I found that once we “broke the ice” the students did start participating more. I have no idea if this would work for you — and I’m not a professor, after all! — but thought I’d share it in case it would help.

  2. faroop says:

    Ah, the long drawn out silent pause after a question!! I admit that in this class my wait times keep getting shorter — it’s like they are bit-by-bit training me to lecture at them. If I’ve asked a question and I don’t get a response, I will have them talk at their tables until they’ve hashed something out, which helps, but so far there’s been no breakthrough that gets them to talk any more.

    I like the idea of offering other routes to participation other than speaking in class because it’s clear to me how much of a challenge that is. Mostly I think I need to find ways of shutting myself up because the students at least appear content to listen without really engaging. I don’t think they are really content, but so far I haven’t even successfully gotten them to complain. To me the whole class just feels like one big awkward moment.

  3. Cindy Blank-Edelman says:

    Perhaps you could consider yourself as doing a research project to discover the unique strengths and learning styles of “awkward” classes.

    And then there are always sticker charts…. 🙂

  4. faroop says:

    Hmm. The unique strengths of awkward classes. That reminds me that I need to remember to be curious. The class isn’t torture, it’s just interesting. Why is it so different from my other class, even though I theoretically do the same thing with both classes. What can I learn from it? What impact can my behavior have on it? What are the strengths of this class and the strengths of the individual students? I don’t think this class is going to magically become easy, no matter what I do, so maybe I need to start trying to enjoy the ride.

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