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Quiet, but not silent?!

Discussion in 'Behaviour' started by Teach1020, Jan 21, 2012.

  1. Hi all,
    This might seem like a bit of a trivial problem, but I have become really good at getting my classes to work in silence. However, I don't always want silence for obvious reasons, so I'm looking for tips to keep a class quiet, but not silent.

    I find that as soon as I allow them to talk, the noise level just keeps on rising until it is unbearable, and I find myself constantly shhshing!

    Does anyone else have this problem and does anyone have any tips?!
  2. MisterW

    MisterW New commenter

    I know exactly what you mean. I regularly tell my classes that the ideal scenario is not one where they work in silence but one where they can talk quietly but only to the person sitting next to them and only about the work. Invariably I end up asking for silence as they are not successful in this!
    How do you acheive silence may I ask? Do I assume that you take names when anyone talks and impose some sort of sanction? You can try doing the same but whenever someone talks too loudly/across the tables/not about the work but you find yourself treading a fine line and it's harder to be consistent. The beauty of asking for complete silence is it's easy to pull students up consistently as the boundary is very clear.
    To be honest I've come to the conclusion that if you want to not go for silence and go instead for asking for a 'reasonable level of working noise' then that works so long as you have a good relationship with the class, they have respect for you and you provide them with interesting work and well planned lessons. If you have a tricky class or don't have a good relationship with a group then silence often ends up being the least stressful scenario for all concerned.
    I can see why you don't always want silence but it certainly has its merits. Silent classrooms seem to be popular with SMT, parents and, in my experience, even a lot of kids too.
  3. Tom_Bennett

    Tom_Bennett Occasional commenter

    No problem is trivial if it gives you grief. Welcome to the forums!
    This is tricky: you've got silence when you need it. Believe me when I say that many teachers would see that as reaching the top of Everest and doing a little jig. But you, understandably, want more; you want them to be able to talk quietly about the work. Tall order, because insisting on silence has one advantage over the 'talk quietly' approach- it's clear, and easy to spot when it's been ignored.
    Allowing a whisper of talk on top of that is always going to be hard to moderate, because instantly it becomes very hard to sift the wheat of enquiry from the chaff of chatter and gossip. Unless you have the hearing of a bat, it'll just come across as noise, until the noise gets too great for the class to work. Maintaining a low level is always going to be a hard job, because the natural tendency is for noise to creep up until it reaches a plateau where there is nothing but shouts and cheers and your sanity is shredded.
    Approach 1: Don't tell them that they're allowed to talk, but just let them and see what happens. You could warn them that you;ll be keeping any behind who talk too loudly, or overtly about off-task issues. Then you have to patrol it, constantly cutting the heads off the tall poppies. This will require vigilance, time and effort, and you may not have the patience for it. However, it could train them into tacitly understanding the new paradigm in the classroom. Like I say, it'll take time.
    Approach 2: Accept that getting silence is the battle nearly won, and simply drive conversation by being the instigator of it- ask directed questions, set short talking tasks with neighbours that are ruthlessly timed and stewarded, so that they learn to talk in a moderated manner; make sure that when you assess the task, their is some way you can ascertain that the talk has been directed towards the task set- see if the chattier ones have come up with the goods you've been looking for. Then if they haven't you can punish/ praise as you see fit, and the students will learn that when you set a talking task, you mean that it's a task and not just talk.
    It takes time to achieve either; but if you;re serious about driving the behaviour towards engagement and learning, then you will no doubt relish it. There is of course, a third alternative:
    Approach 3: Silence is great, much of the time. If the class is quiet, it's a hell of a lot better for them than if it's rowdy. If I had to choose between a class too quiet or a class too noisy, give me quiet any time. Not for me- for them; for their learning. You;re right to worry that silence can mean boredom, lack of engagement, etc. But believe me, it's a much lesser evil than chaos, which is where most teachers fall down in tough schools. Perhaps you should count your blessings?
    Whatever you choose, good luck
    Read more from Tom on his blog, or on his Twitter here.
  4. katnoodle

    katnoodle New commenter

    A really useful thread, Teach1020 - thanks for starting it! I'm having a similar dilemma, but the advice here so far is really useful. I'd also recommend the use of a random name generator for getting pairs to share their responses after a discussion task - if they can't come up with anything, give them a minor sanction, but explain clearly that this is what you'll be doing before they start.

    I also have quite babyish (for me and them!) signs which show clearly what noise level I'm expecting - silent work, pair work and discussion work, with an explanation of each. I often plump for silent though when I'd much prefer them to talk quietly about the work ... silence seems so arbitrary sometimes, especially when most of them would help each other and move each other on. Oh the dilemma!
  5. GreenyBee

    GreenyBee New commenter

    What does 'nailing them to the mast' entail? I could do with some advice on this technique as I feel desperately lacking in this department!
  6. I have found that I can 'bribe' my class by telling if they work quietly then I will play music. This has now escalated into me having a CD that I have made of childrens requests.... they love for me to put it on!

    Secondly, I have used in KS1 a 'noiseometer'. Just a simple ppt with a slide for each noise level (Too noisy, Just right keep it up etc), so the children can see what their noise level is like. Obviously can only be used when not needing the IWB to display visuals, work on etc. Takes a while for the children to take notice of it and actually be bothered, but with a few rewards to the children taking note, it can work :)
  7. One person on the table talks, the others must listen. It's a strategy I use because like you I encourage conversation. The only time I want quiet is during formal assessments.
    To really get the message across but still letting students know your can be fun & fair is, if you say there is a sanction- follow through with it.
    It's all about students understanding that boundaries are there for reasons etc.

    Give your class a challenge-
    I finish my lessons with a game of 60 seconds-
    Of silence!
    Every time there is a cough/ sneeze/ chatter/laugh- the clock begins again!
    If you have the group before a break it can be great fun &, make it fun!
    Catch them out- 'David- you did great work today, clear level 5 & knocking on the door of level 6 with your question 3 answer- can you improve this?'
    Students will start to answer. I shout 1 nil to me!
    Got you!
    Start again
    Each plea of 'it's not fair etc' I say 'and again'

    Make it fun!
    I can ask for silence in my room by saying 60 seconds- it usually lasts for a lot longer.
  8. This works for me as well. I allow my high school students to listen to music with their earphones only if 1. They have shown respect. 2. If they work well completing their tasks on time. 3. I have finished my usual speel at the start of class. I say to them that it's a privilege and not a right and don't wander in with your headphones on. They must ask as well before using, every single class. I find that students these days are surgically hooked to their earphones and music and work better with a liitle background music. At least there is less distraction from other influences. Oh, and I only allow one earphone in, in case I have an instruction throughout the lesson or there's an announcement over the PA.
    In regards to a display on a projector? All I have to say is that I love my iPad!
  9. rsb2

    rsb2 New commenter

    For my ks3 groups I use a noise chart. A verticle red line and below a green line. When the noise is too great I draw an arrow on the red line indicating how noisy they are. If they are too noisy three times they know that they will have to work for 20 mins with no talking. Sometimes I walk towards the board with the pen and this is enough to get them to be quiet. One issue is that they will shout at each other to be quiet. To avoid this I draw the arrow even higher when they shout. They know that they have to be responsible individuals so they will be able to work and chat.
  10. derekdalek

    derekdalek New commenter

    A technique I used with a very chatty class was to play opera (Wagner - apologies to any fans) and if they got too noisy, I turned it up louder. It was actually quite fun - for me [​IMG]
    They hated it and got the message that their chatter had to cease or they would have to have the awful music (as they saw it, again apologies to Wagner fans). I then trained them to be able to talk about the work they were doing at an acceptable level.
    It worked with them as they were nice but just very chatty, not nasty. I wouldnt recommend it for a class with many other behavioural issues.

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