The Quiet Classroom

SJSA Grade Six -  The Year I RebelledCC licensed photo shared by Michael 1952

We all know that the classroom where students are predominantly in rows, working privately, and assessed only by the teacher is not the best way to learn.

Or do we?

I feel as though this is a practice that, like adultery or excessive gambling, we speak about in admonishing tones, yet flock to like seagulls at a beach picnic. In staff rooms, conferences, and lecture halls the world over educators nod their heads and appear to require very little clarification as to why the quiet class/staffroom isn’t necessarily the learning one. After all, there is a dearth of research supporting this model of learning. Then our actions do the real talking and we revert to the quiet classroom faster than an arm reacting to a funny bone hit.

There is a mountain of literature supporting the dynamic, collaborative, and purposely noisy classroom, but my simple mind wants to observe the issue with a plain question:

When’s the last time you had an interesting, never mind profound, learning experience with your fellow humans in which you couldn’t talk to one another?

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15 Comments

  1. Your point is taken,and it’s generally one I agree with, but there is a lot of learning that can happen (and in some cases, must happen) with solitary, quiet reflection. But, the best place for that solitary, quiet reflection is generally not the classroom.

    The point is, learning takes different shapes, forms, and processes, and different things require different approaches. Casting this as a one size fits all problem is an oversimplification.

    1. Absolutely agree with you, Bill. In my class, we are constantly talking about when it is appropriate to be loud, when it is great to be quiet, and when we need absolute silence. I’m not advocating a rave in our classrooms; it’s just intensely problematic that the dominant discourse on classroom learning is still to promote silence, and it worries me especially when these kind of ideologies are furthered, well, silently.

  2. We had a conversation today during a staff meeting about noise vs. no noise. One member was quietly chatting to her neighbor about something she had just read in the powerpoint we were viewing (on task) and another said she couldn’t concentrate with the noise. So again we need to think about the different learning styles and try to honor them as best we can. My classroom is never silent even during reading time, but I wonder sometimes if that is problematic for some learners?

  3. Some days the idea of a silent, guided contemplative retreat has appeal; but it would be a deviation from the norm. As should, apparently, the silent classroom also be a deviation from the norm.

    Dare we invoke the nature/nurture debate as to the reasons we (and I love your image) “…flock to (it) like seagulls at a beach picnic”? I.e. do we recidivate because most of our training was modeled in quiet learning spaces, or is there something inherently natural about a quiet learning space? Can we make it an either/or question?

  4. I think the real worry is that a silent classroom is often a symptom of a classroom ruled by constraint and compliance. A classroom built around a student-centred framework may often find themselves quiet, but principally due to the learners’ authentic requirement for that silence. My class fluctuates between volume and silence, but it is often due to the task. There are still times I find myself asking for silence, but that is becoming more and more rare.

    Thanks for the post.

  5. Seldom but when it works, noisy and collaborative is best. I think we fall back to ‘quiet classroom’ model because day in day out other options are very hard to sustain. Teachers and students burn out from too many intense engaging lesson plans. Anyone can design and complete dynamic lessons or activities but most of us cannot sustain that for 5-6 hours every day for a year. Most highly productive thinkers or business people have quiet reflective days. Humans cannot learn at full speed high gear continuously. Even great athletes need rest days and cool down activities not high intensity workouts all day. We all need weight training, yoga and aerobic road work.
    Thanks

  6. It’s helpful to provide a quiet place for people that need it when they’re working. At my house I have to go away from everyone to write and reflect. In my classroom, there is a separate area for students to read or write. It’s important to provide for the different learning styles. When the learning is learner-based, there are hot, warm, and cooler spots in the room, and a necessary function is to teach students to negotiate them. We should provide as many of those spots as possible.

  7. When parents ask to observe their kids in our school, I find myself preparing them: “It might seem chaotic to you, but really watch and listen.” It is most often noisy and messy, but I love what my kids are doing, thinking, and creating every day! Some kids need quiet sometimes, so there are options for that as well. I also agree that, occasionally, quiet and reflective periods are necessary. Those periods are scattered throughout the day, but are shorter. I am very lucky to work in a school where a collaborative environment is the norm, not the exception.

    My honest opinion about most classrooms: the adults have more problem concentrating around the noise than the kids do… and that’s why quiet is the norm. It’s more about adult convenience than what’s best for the kids. See that in a lot of traditions in education, actually.

    Great post, Royan.

  8. As a teacher attending a workshop, would you rather attend a session that is bouncy, active and conversational, or one that is quietly focused on a message being delivered? Which classroom do you think kids would like to be in?

  9. Hi Royan, I find your blogpost very interesting.

    I am the executive director of over 80 Catholic schools in NSW, Australia and we can have up to 200 kids in one learning space. Whenever we have had media interest in our schools, they keep focusing on this – the learning space and the ‘noise’. I try and steer them to what is the most important factor – the learning. The tech & innovative spaces etc only serves as the tools to support the good learning that should be taking place.

    Whether there be noise, no noise, lots of noise is not the issue – the question should always be – is there good, engaging learning taking place, lead by good teachers.

    Greg

  10. I think this is a very interesting discussion and I’m not entirely sure where I stand on it. I would consider myself to be reflective and will often take time to think about things before making a decision. I rarely find that the time for that reflection even in my work environment takes place at my desk. As it happens I work in a busy office and when I really want to get things done I put headphones on and block the world out with music. Is this really so different from many of our learners (I’m 33 so fairly well so fairly well removed from my education experience)?

    A significant number of learners in our LRCs listen to music while they are working. I’m not sure that this is a useful model for a classroom where they need to be able to respond to input from the teacher but I do tend towards the view that the more traditional quiet classroom is possibly not as valid a model as it used to be.

    We talk a lot about harnessing the opportunities offered by technology enabled learning but in order to truly do this we have to be prepared to transform the pedagogy. Trying to fit technology around traditional teaching is never going to make a significant difference. Young learners now do not engage with the world in the way we did when we were younger (and I am not trying to get into a discussion about digital natives/digital immigrants etc).

    There will always be a place for quiet reflection as part of learning. I’m just not sure that the classroom should be that place anymore.

  11. School was originated to facilitate the teaching process, i.e. to expose more students to one teacher. It was never about the students. That’s why it’s so hard to come away from the (silent) norm in a classroom.
    PS. I’m a homeschooling mum

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