Dare to be silent.


I made a promise to myself today – I was going to force the physics class to speak. It isn’t that they don’t answer questions and participate, it’s that usually they seem to do that to please me. Sometimes they will explain ideas to each other and compare answers, but it never works as beautifully as I want it to.

So today I told them I wasn’t going to talk about a problem I gave them. They were. And then I sat on an empty table and waited. It was really difficult for me. Eventually someone asked someone else for an answer. I stayed quiet. Then another person nodded and agreed and then said nothing. I stayed quiet. Then someone disagreed.

Full disclosure – at this point I gestured wildly, but still stayed quiet.

After about five minutes of awkward silence punctuated with half explanations that trailed off, something happened – I don’t know what the trigger was because if I did I would bottle it and sell it at educational conferences – a full discussion was suddenly underway. I was so amazed that I almost didn’t think to capture it – thankfully I did get the following part:

Especially cool to see this knowing that English is not the first language of the students speaking.

I’m going to try to do this more often, though I again must point out that it was incredibly difficult working through the silence. The students in the end decided they had something to say, so they shared their thoughts with each other. I did nothing but wait for it to happen.

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Filed under physics, studentwork, teaching philosophy

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