aha moment, assumptions, being a teacher, control, student voice

When I Finally Stopped Speaking


It struck me as hard as a hammer.  6th period Friday.  The fourth time I was teaching this lesson.  The fourth time I had students go through the discussion questions, do the turn and talk, and then come back together.  It hit me so hard that I instantly cringed a little bit, because why in the world I hadn’t thought of this sooner?  If only I had listened to that little nagging voice we all have inside, if only I had tuned in as it screamed,  “Stop talking, Pernille.  Stop interrupting their conversations.  Stop rushing them through what you think they need to get through and let them speak to each other.”

And yet, after only a minute of talking, I felt the ticking time.  I saw the hands moving as class slowly trailed away and so I kept interrupting them.  Guiding them to the next thing that we had to do.  Telling them to finish up So that we had the entire foundation laid.  So that I could place a check mark in my planner and move on to the next thing, knowing that we had done everything we were supposed to and gotten to the end of the text.   Yet, this is exactly what we should not be doing in our classrooms.

Too often, we rush.  Too often, we hurry so that we can cover things.  Too often we get through a lesson rather than realize that what we are doing in that moment is the lesson; is the point of school.  We say we want students who speak up and exhibit deep thinking, yet then limit this very thing as we teach.  We must slow down.  We must stop our incessant teacher talk, our incessant interruptions as we guide and mold and let students think, then let them speak.  And when they are done speaking let them sit in the silence for just a moment so they can be sure they are completely done speaking.

Teaching is not about getting through.  Teaching is not about getting things done.  Teaching is not about completing every single lesson we had planned so we can say that we did it, we followed the path and now we have taught.  Now our students have learned.  It is about the path we take to get there.  The exploration we have along the way.  The time we give to our students to speak so that we may listen.

So in that 6th hour on Friday, I finally stopped speaking. I finally stopped interrupting them and just let them speak.  Those who ran out of words looked at me expectantly waiting for me to start again, but then saw how others were still going in their conversations and that spurred them on to keep speaking.  I bounced from group to group, not interjecting, but listening instead.  Nodding and smiling as I saw them start to become what I hope they will be; kids that have an opinion, kids that have a voice.  After a few more minutes, a child asked a question so good that I knew we could discuss this as a class.  And so we did.  And I didn’t interrupt.  I didn’t shape the conversation.  I let them speak and they loved it.  Because it was about them and not me.  Their learning and not just my teaching.  Just the way it is supposed to be.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  The 2nd edition and actual book-book (not just e-book!) just came out!

9 thoughts on “When I Finally Stopped Speaking”

  1. I really enjoyed this post. I have been feeling that way recently with my students and have been wondering: do they really get it? But what I should be asking is: Am I allowing them time to get it? Time in teaching is so limited and the scope of material we need to cover is so vast, and yet, we have to get to the deeper meaning, to get students to think critically: but how do we actually put that into action? I think you are on the right track: let them speak. It’s hard for a teacher to let go of the control that we usually have in the classroom. It’s hard to let them control their learning- even though we know it’s the right thing. I feel inspired through your post to let my students do a little more of that: talking to each-other; learning from each other. Out of curiosity, what was the lesson on? Do you think certain discussions lend themselves more easily to this format?

    1. We were doing one of the signposts lessons from Notice and Note here, but a few things I have realized is: students have to speak every single day to each other, not just me, and they know that I expect them to discuss and participate and so it is a natural part of our class. I do not want a child to be able to sit silently in English, so we do a lot of turn and talk, table talk, and whole group.

  2. So true–so hard. I feel a little less pressure in first vs. fifth to cover things. I keep a mantra going “They are only 6!” to keep myself from the speed, the push. Now I leave lesson plans very open for Thurs and Fri to see what spills over. Deep breath. Deep breath.

  3. Thank you. I listened to the way in which Pope Francis spoke to the crowds, the individuals – slowly, with purpose, with intent. No check boxes, no lists, no hurry to get through it. Very difficult to do but so important to do. Thank you again Pernille.

    Frank Korb
    Art – WUHS

  4. Thank you for the post. As a non-teacher I never understood how this type of feeling could almost overwhelm you in the classroom. The feeling of busy, busy, busy…we must stay busy. Allowing the students to be free is what will enable them to learn how to think critically instead of simply follow directions blindly.

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