Is anyone listening??

As I was preparing to start this blog, I wondered if I would feel like the worried hostess on the night of her first party, her home filled with wondrous food and enchanting decor, watching for the guests who never arrive.  That image almost derailed my efforts to start this blog, until I found this post by Sommer Leigh entitled “The Lonely Factor,” about writing, at least initially, for no one.  She makes the point that new bloggers should expect to write to the silence for the first few months.  If it doesn’t drive us to quit blogging, it will give us time to learn our way while remaining safe from most critical eyes.  I found comfort in this idea of safety and growth in silence and was encouraged by her post to brave the “lonely factor.”

This connection between silence and safety and learning got me thinking about teaching (as does almost everything!)  Most of us are afraid of silence, and move to fill the fearsome void with speech as quickly as possible.  In social situations this can soften an awkward moment, but in teaching more often than not it short-circuits students’ responses.  Processing a question and formulating an articulate response takes time – thirty seconds or more for most of us.  For students, who are trying to please us and are often afraid to take the risk of sounding stupid or being wrong, it takes longer.  And yet, how often do we wait for students to think about the question, figure out what it is we are asking, then think about what they have to say on the matter, then put those ideas into words they are willing to share with the entire class?  One second?  Five??

Try standing in front of a class and counting out thirty seconds in your head.  It is a lifetime!  Yet we must find ways to give our students the time and space they need to formulate their ideas.  One possibility is to give them time to write an initial response, then ask them to share with a partner before sharing with a larger group or the entire class. Giving students time to safely rehearse their ideas before asking them to take the risk of exposing their thoughts to the entire class will increase their willingness to try to struggle through to new ideas and new ways of expression.

One of my favorite student comments at the end of the semester was “Don’t bother stalling when she asks you a question.  She can wait longer for an answer than you can possibly stall.”  Give them time.  Be patient.  Enjoy the silence.

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