The Sound of Silence

August 25, 2008

This story, How Do you Teach Kids to Pay Attention, appeared in Pajamas recently.

For two years now, I’ve scheduled so-called Silent School mornings, several times a year. After our morning announcements, the whole school goes quiet. No one speaks a word and the doors to the office are closed so the students and staff aren’t interrupted by phone calls. All teaching is done silently–usually this means the students are working on projects and other works in progress. But I once had my grade 6 math class construct a huge 3′ x 5′ times table wall chart out of a hundred or so bits of coloured paper without anyone saying a word.

The first time we ran this was an odd experience in a school full of 11- to 14-year olds. Part way through the morning it started to snow and I thought all was lost. You could feel the students vibrate with excitement. But no one said a thing. At lunch they all walked down to our meeting room, quiet as monks and nuns, and waited for me to speak again.

The students loved the exercise: most said they could concentrate better and that they finished far more work than they usually do. I found they asked better questions because they had to think first before going to the trouble to write down their problem. Indeed, a significant number of students wanted a weekly Silent School day. We haven’t gone that far. Not yet.

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