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Silence Actually IS Golden in Facilitation and Instruction

July 16, 2012

Waiting in silence is very hard to do, especially when you see a student is struggling and you want to help him/her! However, silence is a great tool for creating critical thinking. Instructors who use silence as a tool for learning magically flip the class dynamics. It is no longer the omnipotent guru dispensing information; it is now a student centered classroom where thoughts and ideas surface organically. Silence helps the instructor sustain the expectation that thinking is mandatory and creates an opportunity to formatively assess student understanding.

Most instructors can relate to the poor comedian whose failed joke feels like a lonely, dark night filled with crickets. It happens when you present a question to the class and look out to blank faces. Discomfort may creep in and the instructor may be tempted to fill the painful silence with the answer. However, this behavior actually gives permission to the students to just wait it out and the answer will come. In addition, if an instructor appears nervous, students may respond negatively. It isn’t easy, but confidently wait, maybe even count to ten, and refrain from answering your question. The students will see you are serious and encouraging thinking. Not only will this behavior set the expectation that thinking is mandatory, it also gives permission to the student to use the time to absorb and understand the question and prepare a thoughtful response.

Encouraging thoughtful responses and welcoming collaboration is really a great feedback tool. We all need feedback and instructors receive valuable feedback from finding comfort in silence. “Going quiet” as they call it in Professional Coaching is the use of intentional silence to collect understanding and it is vital in reframing a lesson. In addition, it provides a guideline for how much time to spend on a certain concept. Nothing gains trust better than valuing an individual’s time.

Trust, thoughtfulness, feedback, collaboration and understanding are all friends of instruction. Let us know if you have any golden nuggets for “going quiet.”

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