Slice of Life: Considering the Quiet

John Spencer has yet another intriguing post up, this time about actively and intentionally noticing the way sound in our classrooms play a significant role in student learning. He explores this from a couple of different angles, and I suggest you read the post he has written entitled “Sometimes a Quieter Classroom is Actually the Answer.” We (me) don’t often think much in terms of sound levels of our learning spaces, other than “that’s too loud” or “that’s too quiet.”

John notes that a noisy classroom does not translate into more active learning in this age of collaborative/cooperative learning. Neither does a silent classroom indicate that all students are working independently. Finding balance, and being intentional about the physical space of the classroom is one way to address this. Differentiating the classroom space for sound? Interesting.

This year, I’ve had one of the largest ratios of loud to quiet kids than I can remember, and I found myself struggling often to balance the spectrum of extroverts — who enter the classroom nearly yelling at their friends, gushing with news of the morning — with the introverts — those who settle in with a book or some work amid the morning chaos and try to ignore the noise. The extroverts are not mean; they’re social and excited and just loud. The introverts are not always passive; they often seem bemused by the antics, as quiet observers.

So, you know, it’s complicated.

I’ve tried different approaches to moderate the noise that often emerges from any learning activity, attuned to the quieter of my kids. And don’t get me wrong — we’ve had long stretches of intense quiet, particularly of writing quiet — the solitude within a crowd where a writer finds their words in stories, poems, essays or even daily writing activities. I enforce that quiet pretty strictly.

But other times? Man. It’s like I become a sound fighter, reminding people as I wander the room to “keep it down” and “you seem to be shouting at the person next to you” and “respect the space.” The lull lingers, and then is lost. There are times when we could barely hear the office announcements, and this is at the end of the day, when students are lined up and ready to head home. They’re so loud, they can’t hear the dismissal.

I’m going to mull over John’s points as this year ends — a sound audit of the classroom? Intriguing. More choice for students to work in quiet or active spaces? Possibly.

I am also sitting (quietly) with John’s (a self-proclaimed introvert) observation: Every student needs some quiet.

In music, there’s a deliberate symbol for rest. It’s not a break from the song. It’s a part of the music. But it is silent, and it is powerful. I think we need the same thing in the classroom. In a culture of noise, sometimes relevance isn’t more noise. Sometimes it’s more silence. — John Spencer

Peace (shhh),

  1. You’re bringing up important points here, Kevin. I think many of us workshop-minded people have been told that there needs to be a buzz or a hum in the classroom. Controlled chaos is okay. Right? Except when it isn’t. There isn’t a one size fits all way to look at classroom sound levels. Therefore, I’m thankful you posted this thought-provoking post today.

  2. As always, your post makes me think and question my practice. I’m right now designing an online class for teachers and have been mulling the way to get more noise and interaction going during every “class.” I like the idea of intentional “rest” or “quiet” as a part of learning.

  3. This is an interesting meditation, Kevin. Sound is central to my classroom, the gym. Music is often blaring, kids might be shrieking and squealing. Other times there’s a quiet pause after I’ve needed to call everyone in or right before I give the go but there’s still confusion about what to do next. Observing creative chaos in motion over the years has helped me develop ears for joy, anger, pain, excitement.

  4. This reminds me of an interaction with a fifth grade teacher that I had as a first year librarian. It had been awhile since she had visited the library with her class, and she was worried about the noise level as her students were looking for books. I told her to listen to the conversations–they were, for the most part, book talking amongst themselves–and then reassured her the din would die down after checkout, when reading commenced–and it did. She was a bit surprised!

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