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Working in silence

Discussion in 'Behaviour' started by Greyfalcon1, Jan 29, 2018.

  1. Greyfalcon1

    Greyfalcon1 New commenter

    Hey all,

    I am quite amazed at how teachers can get classes to work in silence.

    I would say none of my classes manage this,

    I hava tried almost everything to create a studious atmosphere, but clearly cant seem to win.

    I have almost given up and consequently will be looking elsewhere(for another job) from today ....

    I also dread any observations because to be frank they aren't going to see much progress,

    If anyone has any ideas please feel free to let me know.

    pepper5 likes this.
  2. JohnJCazorla

    JohnJCazorla Star commenter

    I've never been able to command silence whilst classes are working (apart from exam conditions) but so what? I'm one of these wishy-washy types who prefers pupils to be able to discuss, quietly, the work they are doing. They should be silent when I address the class though.

    That is in my dreams of course. In practise every class is either too noisy or too quiet (often both at once), assuming that I could leave the door open without being seriously embarrassed is the criteria I judge class noise by.

    You are the teacher, it is your class, I hope you have the freedom to set the working environment to your taste.
    sparkleghirl and pepper5 like this.
  3. muso2

    muso2 Occasional commenter Community helper

    I'm not convinced that silence=progress. Actually, I think progress is often more demonstrated through conversation, questioning, and the processes and outcomes of the work going on. It's easy to envy a teacher who has a silent class, and the 'control' they seem to have, but the quality of their learning isn't necessarily better. Sometimes the best learning comes from the unexpected, and maybe even from the reality of the slightly chaotic. Which isn't to say you can't achieve the silent class if you want to, just that it's not necessarily desirable.
    gravell likes this.

    SEBREGIS Lead commenter

    Thats a form of it, but when it comes to written tasks, there is no alternative for heads down and writing.

    Be prepared to use quite a bit of pressure to get what you want. I tend to do this:

    1) Iexplain the task to the class, tell them how long they have, and what 'good' looks like.
    2) allow them to ask three sensible questions, but thats it. Just three.
    3) tell them that for the first five minutes, they have to try on their own. No more questions, No asking for help, nothing. If they make a mistake you won't bite their head off but they have to try.
    4) Sit at the back of the classroom and observe. Don't help. Don't sit where they can see you.
    5) Every time one starts to talk, pick them up on it. There are no excuses. There are no questions. They just have to try.
    6) After a few minutes, you will have silence. This is the point when you can circulate and pick up a few children who are stuck. This is also a good time to go around and make it look like you are busy but keeping an eye on them. Are all their sheets stuck in? Are their trackers up to date? Do a bit of gentle admin so they don't think they can talk to you.
    7) If anyone objects or talks more than once, just remove them. 'We can have a discussion later, but right now, I'm going to send you to Mr Scaryswines class so you can work there.'
    8) Lastly - praise them for the amount they have accomplished. Students often enjoy working in silence because it forces them to concentrate more.

    have fun.[​IMG]

    tonymars, JohnJCazorla and needabreak like this.
  5. meggyd

    meggyd Lead commenter

    When they are working pick out a good quiet child and write their name on one side of the board. Then add others gradually. They soon realise why you have picked out those pupils. Add ticks to names after a while. House points stickers whatever for people with X ticks.
    pepper5 likes this.
  6. sarah_dann1

    sarah_dann1 Occasional commenter TES Behaviour peer advisor

    @SEBREGIS really good advice.

    The issue of silence is an interesting one. It's HARD to achieve. I would question how much learning is happening in a classroom that was consistently silent but I do agree that it's a really good way of actually getting work done. Students need time to absorb and process information and they should do this on their own at some point. Discussions and questioning are great and vital, especially at the beginning of new topics, but for students to make real progress (that they will be able to use later and demonstrate in an exam) they need to think ideas through themselves. Silence is the best way to do this.

    I do agree that once you manage to get silent working, the students will be pleased with what they can achieve and you can have the chance to mark on the spot as you move around the room, which is really effective and can reduce the marking hours outside of school hours.

    But how to get it?

    Make it your priority to have a short time of silence in each class. Start with five minutes and use an online timer
    There are fun ones on this site and others. Explain to the kids why you think some silent working time is so important and useful for them and that you're going to build it up as a class. Some will of course complain but it's because you'll be forcing them to actually work - or highlight when they're not working. Which is of course what you want!

    Then set up an activity that allows for something to be achieved in the five minutes. Mark this work carefully after the class so the children feel this work is valuable. As you build the time up, start really praising the students who are working hard, send postcards home, make calls, even photocopy the work showing the best progress and send it home etc. At the same time, sanction those who are not working. Speak to tutors, parents and follow school procedures for removing students who talk and/or don't work, have them come back at break/lunch to "practise" being quiet and make up the work.

    If you make this a priority, you'll be able to change it. It is exhausting but with some time and resilience, it can happen and eventually classes will make more progress. If you stay in a school a while, you can benefit from a reputation as a teacher who follows up on things but gets good work out of a student. This can make the whole process much quicker and less painful!

    Another useful thing to do is to separate the silent times and the discussion times. Being really clear about your expectations for how a task is done, and how you move between activities, can help. So insist on silence for instructions but then give plenty of discussion and pair/group activities as well as the silent time. As you build up the silent time, kids will see that they can use the ideas they've discussed and start to improve their own responses. Eventually most will see the value in doing a bit of both - ie talking and working silently. There will always be moaners and lazy students but others will really flourish and your days might get better with some easier times. Keep this in mind and stay positive that things can change.

    Good luck
    citct, pepper5 and JohnJCazorla like this.
  7. binaryhex

    binaryhex Lead commenter

    There's a time and a place for a range of activities and 'noise', and that includes a time and place for working in silence. If the teacher wants students to work in silence, then that is what they should be entitled to insist on. Use the school's behaviour policy. Follow up anyone who won't do as asked by talking to them individually and phoning home to explain the problem. Involve the line manager, tutor and HoD.

    However, good luck. Behaviour in schools is completely out of control and I don't think you'll succeed. Save yourself the grief, give up for now and look for a job in a grammar or independent school, where you are far more likely to teach classes of children who will follow instructions and have an SLT who will ensure it's so.
    pepper5 likes this.
  8. mansonlovescats

    mansonlovescats New commenter

    If it makes you feel in better, I've been told after an observation that my class was too quiet! They were just focused and getting on with their work, which in my eyes isn't an issue and I've certainly never demanded silence (unless doing an assessment). But the observer thought I was "forcing" them to be quiet.

    You honestly can't win.
  9. electricsheep

    electricsheep New commenter

    I have this problem frequently too. I'm afraid you have to be very hardline with classes when they are like this. Issue a zero tolerance warning and make it an instant detention if anybody talks when they should not be. I know what it's like and you have my sympathy. Sometimes you feel you are banging your head on the wall. Be positive too and praise those who are doing the right thing. Give awards or house points. I'm afraid it doesn't come easy. You just have to keep on being insistent and persistent.
    pepper5 likes this.
  10. LexAquilia

    LexAquilia New commenter

    I rephrased silent work as 'quiet time' and put on a timer for however long quiet time lasts and by some miracle that worked with even my loudest classes. It reached the point that the class were asking for quiet time. I don't understand it myself but I'm trying to not question it in case that stops it!

    I suspect the timer plays a big role as they know it's only 5 more minutes until they can talk to the person next to them again.
  11. dunnocks

    dunnocks Star commenter

    after decades of teaching I have found only one foolproof method of making classes work in silence.

    Choose a school where the SMT support you in this.

    Thats all there is to it really.
  12. pepper5

    pepper5 Star commenter

    I agree with dunnocks.

    I work as a supply teacher so it is even more difficult for me to ask for working in silence, but I still do ask for silent working if it is necessary for the work to be completed. I explain the reason why I have asked for silence - it is never to punish a class but rather they need the silence in order to think about what they are working on.

    Why should students be allowed to continually talk? Most of the time, they aren't discussing the work, but just chatting about non-related work. They get plenty of time for that at breaks and lunch.

    School is not a social club - it is a place where people are supposed to work hard -both teachers and the students.

    Hours and hours of learning time are disrupted when students insist that they need "to talk" to do the work. Yes, pair work and group work has its place, but there is also a time when students need to sit quietly, silently or whatever you want to call it in an atmosphere so they can think and focus. Also, they need to be able to focus when the learning is "teacher led" and learn to listen.
    JohnJCazorla likes this.
    pepper5 likes this.
  14. pepper5

    pepper5 Star commenter

    Hi drghostneon

    I know this is easy for me to write this and MUCH HARDER to do, but try this:

    1. In your mind if you have given up, the students can sense this. Firstly, change your own thinking and tell yourself that you can think of a solution and you are not going to give up.

    2. Go back to the basics which includes

    a. Explain to the class your class rules which includes following your instructions. If you ask for silence, then you mean SILENCE. However, explain why you might need silence to manage the class for everyone's benefit:

    a. Taking the register
    b. Giving direct instruction/ explanations etc. Keep this to a minimum
    c. Instances where the class might need to read something so they need silence to concentrate
    d. Instances where the class might need to write an extensive answer/notes/ etc.
    e. Ensure they always have either a booklet to work from or a book to read if they are doing tests etc and finish early and have to sit in silence while everyone else finishes.

    Out of an hour's lesson, there won't be many instances where they are working in complete silence as many teachers use a lot of pair work activity.

    I would type up the list, copy it, give it to them and ask them to get their parents to read it and sign it saying they have read it. Ask your school first if that is allowed.

    Then get the class to glue them into the front of their books.

    Anytime they consistently break the rule then follow your list of sanctions.

    Perhaps if they understand why they have to sometimes work in silence, they may cooperate better.

    I believe you can win, but you have to have the will to teach your classes to follow your reasonable instructions. Saying that, there are some schools where it would be impossible to do unless there is strong management from the SLT who support their teachers.

    If the students can see that you are reasonable and have their best interests at heart, then they may, as I say above, cooperate.
    JohnJCazorla likes this.
  15. bluesam3

    bluesam3 New commenter

    Working in a university, I'm always shocked by the difference, even between year 13s and first year university students. The former happily sit around and chat about the work - sure, they go off-topic sometimes, but they do genuinely talk about useful things. Somehow, in the gap between finishing year 13 and starting university, they all entirely lose this skill, to the point that if you ask a bunch of first-year university students to work on something in groups, the result is almost always all of them sitting in complete silence, trying to do it by themselves. It usually takes us a good year and a half to re-teach the ability to have relevant conversations with each other. It seems to be essentially universal, as well, with no notable variation between subjects or universities (Warwick's maths department being a notable exception, but they literally designed the entire course, and the entire department building, specifically to address the issue).
    JohnJCazorla likes this.

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