Teaching Class Without Talking

So I read this blog post from a teacher about how she taught for an entire class without speaking.  I’m not talking about giving a test or lab and sitting back, but actually running a class, where students are taking notes, answering problems, and interacting with me and with each other.  I accidentally tried it today and it was awesome!

Sorry that I can’t give you credit, whoever you are–I looked for your blog post, but couldn’t find it.  Please comment if you are the one who tried this so I can give you credit!!

It actually started accidentally–students were finishing a quiz, and I wanted to start teaching despite not everyone being finished.  I first put some problems on the board, and then got the students to begin working on them silently.  Towards the end of class, I was showing them how to do the problems without speaking (simplifying radicals), and since it was only the last 5 or 10 minutes of class, students commented “Mr. Newman, you should teach a whole class without talking!” so I told that I’d “think about it.”

Well, the very next class was a continuation of what we had started, so it just made sense for me not to speak as they did the warm-up.  Not only was it really fun, but students had to really think for themselves. They didn’t beg me to talk, they simply accepted that I wasn’t going to talk.  If they had a question, once one student understood the concept, I would gesture for that student to share what they learned with the class.  One by one, students began getting the concepts, and reinforcing those concepts because they were teaching each other as I put more and more problems on the board.

The only drawback was the one students who didn’t do as well, and it is because she is a big note-taker.  She’s a great student, she’s just not good at math (yes, there is a difference!): I know she goes back over her previous notes until she understands the information, but she doesn’t pick up information quickly.  Therefore, by the end of class, she was lost, although I hope her notes were complete enough for her to put the pieces together later.

I also had a lot more energy at the end of the period.  I think that when I teach, especially to that class, I get excited easily, and so burn up all my energy talking faster and faster.  I felt like I had plenty of energy to keep working during my planning period immediately after that class (which doesn’t always happen…)

I do not think I could do this with a class like Chemistry, but this Precalculus class was just the right combination of bright students who know my mannerisms well enough to get when I’m trying to communicate something, as well as a subject where you can put problem after problem on the board and have students learn and I increase the complexity of the problems.

**Edit: Here’s a link to one wonderful blogger who preceded me in the “silent teaching” idea.  Much thanks to her and others who helped me have such a fun day in math class!

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5 Comments

Filed under Teaching

5 responses to “Teaching Class Without Talking

  1. I’m behind in reading blog posts, but that may have been me. At least, I’ve done the Day of Silence and blogged at some point how awesome it was. I did write notes, both to students and on the board, so that might help your student who likes to review her notes. I usually ask a lot of questions while putting notes on the board, so I would make dramatic pauses and students figured out they were supposed to fill in the blank. What fun memories, maybe we should have a monthly day of silence!

  2. Tina, I can’t seem to find the post that you are referring to on your blog, so I can’t recall if it was your blog or not where I read about it. However, even if it wasn’t your blog which I read, there’s a VERY good chance that you influenced the person whose blog I did read, so if you could link the post here, I’ll gladly put the link up above in my post. Thank you so much for replying!!

  3. I have occasionally taught an entire class without talking. The first time was at least ten years ago, when I was still teaching middle school. I don’t know what started it, but once I saw the students reacting well to it I kept rolling. I had a “yes” and a “no” on different corners of the board that I could point to for answering simple questions. I also had a “maybe” and lots of other things that came up multiple times. (I don’t recall the specific lesson at this point, but I’m pretty sure it was an 8th grade Algebra class.)

    I have also done entire days without speaking, in solidarity with the Day of Silence for LGBTQ kids (and others). I assume this is what the other commenter, Tina, was referring to. I’m not absolutely strict with it if I have a very frustrated student, especially one of my IEP students, but I will speak briefly, quietly, and to them only if I deem it necessary. The students who are also participating in the Day of Silence (the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance club members, and others) really appreciate the fact that I don’t just wear the badge but that I actually do my job in silence. I think I may have missed the last Day of Silence because it wasn’t well-advertised on campus and I wasn’t paying attention, but I have participated a few times in recent years.

    My board has ended up looking about the same each time. (Wish I had a picture to share.) Chock full of notes, problems, and seemingly-random statements that were answers to specific questions, or “you need to stop talking out of turn, Freddy”, that sort of thing. And I always start out with “yes” and “no” because they’re so darn handy.

    Like many “tricks” I occasionally use (talking all period with an Australian accent, for example), teaching in silence works about once a year. It’s a memorable gimmick, but not something I could keep up for long.

    • That’s awesome! I can’t remember if I wrote another post about it, but I did do the “silent class” a second time with this group and it worked really well again. Unfortunately, I did the “silent class” with my 1st period seniors, and I don’t know if it was because it was the beginning of the day (they were still asleep), or because they simply aren’t as motivated to learn, but it did not go well at all. They lost focus and stopped asking questions, and probably would have given up on the lesson if I didn’t start talking.

      As for the Day of Silence, I didn’t realize that was what Tina was referring to, so thanks for pointing that out. I’ve never been at a school with a strong LGBT group, but now that you mention it, I think I remember something like that from my college days and it’s good to know that is out there.

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