The real art of conversation is not only to say the right thing at the right place but to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.
If I’m talking, I’m teaching. Right?
That’s what I used to think. As a teacher, I was a bit of a yapper—I filled every possible nook and cranny of silence in my classroom. I was always talking. Unless my students were reading independently, or one of them was responding to a question I’d asked, I was chit-chatting away. I think I was operating under the common assumption that I was the deliverer of knowledge and so I had to be verbally active—all the time.
I’m in a different role now, but it continues to be a challenge for me to stay silent. It’s my natural tendency to share my thinking by talking. It’s how I process information, and the truth is that I find it enjoyable to talk things through. I love conversations. I love how they meander along and offer different twists and turns that make me think—and then talk about what I’m thinking.
But I acknowledge the flaws in my talk-talk-talk system. For one thing, if I’m talking too much, I’m not letting others talk; I may be taking an important voice away. I’m not allowing myself the peace and pace to think through things within my own mind. I just bumble along, not stopping to see where things will go without my input.
So I’ve been working on staying silent. There is an Arabic proverb that I frequently repeat to myself: The smarter you get, the less you speak.
I thought about this when I observed a fourth-grade teacher and found myself pleasantly surprised at how little she talked. She opened her class with a minilesson, and then give a soft, gentle explanation of the day’s activities. Steady in their workshop routines, students would move off into their separate groups or areas, and then the teacher would move about the room to confer with students individually or in pairs.
When meeting with students, she did very little talking. She asked a question, and then sat calmly and quietly while students responded to her. Often, they would naturally work through a conversation with very little prodding or guidance from the teacher. She would nod when students were on a good thinking path; she would crinkle her brow and tilt her head when they needed to readjust their thinking. That’s all. Meanwhile, in the other areas of the room, there was an inaudible but constant flurry of productive activity going on—kids were reading, writing, planning presentations, and even whispering softly to one another about their work. The teacher’s voice took up just a tiny fraction of the space and sound in the room.
Watching and then later discussing my observations with her, I was struck by how different this teacher’s approach had been from mine. Her approach was a masterful one. In short, she did not believe that if she was talking, she was teaching. Not at all. In fact, she believed that if she wasn’t talking, students were learning.
This week we look at infusing classrooms with poetry all year long. Plus more as always — enjoy!
Contributor, Choice Literacy
Jennifer Schwanke taught middle school language arts for six years before moving into administration at both the middle school and elementary level. She enjoys thinking of more effective ways to present literacy to students at these vulnerable ages. You can follow her latest thinking on literacy and leadership on her blog.
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Gigi McAllister shares suggestions for infusing poetry throughout classrooms and the literacy curriculum all year long:
Shari Frost describes how a sixth-grade teacher provides a range of poetry options to meet the needs of all students:
Shirley McPhillips gives advice for sharing poems and includes links to some of her favorites:
Matt Pascucci finds a series of creative activities helps his fifth and sixth graders write collaborative poetry:
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Tara Smith finds that the 20 minutes she spends on poetry reading, analysis, and response in her sixth-grade classroom each week pays dividends all year long:
In Random Poetry, Gretchen Schroeder finds creative ways to pique interest in poetry in her high school classroom:
Jennifer Schwanke finds song lyrics are one way for students to see the power of poems:
In this week’s video, Christy Rush-Levine leads her middle school students in a choral reading and analysis of “Old Age Sticks” by E.E. Cummings. This is the first installment in a two-part series:
New PD2Go: Leslie Lloyd’s third graders analyze literal and figurative language (which they describe as “nonliteral”) in Donald Graves’s poem “Bully”:
This video and workshop guide fulfill Common Core State Standard ELA-Literacy RL 3.4: Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, distinguishing literal from nonliteral language.
That’s all for this week!