Silence in a Classroom

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Silence in a Classroom How can silence be put to use in a feminist classroom? What are the positive ways to cultivate silence, ways which empower, rather than shut down? Audre Lorde has been widely quoted on the negative impacts of silence on women. She uses the term "silence" as an active verb; those with power have historically silenced others.But I am interested in the other implications for silence, namely, using silence as a tool:for discovery, creation, and real critical thinking.Our culture is afraid of silence.We bombard ourselves with cell phones, television and radio. Often the assumption is that if someone is not talking, it must be a "bad" thing.As teachers, we replicate this model in our classrooms.We feel that students must really be getting something out of our classes when they talk about what they are learning.But does talking always insure that a student has really processed the material and made it her own? Or is talking in class often another form of performing for the teacher? Particularly in a writing class, where students are practicing putting words down on the page, cultivating a silent space seems imperative.My belief is that the more students are encouraged to write rather than talk in the composition classroom, the more they will trust their stance as authors of their own pieces.Silence can be an opening into the untapped places where deep, explorative writing is created.Peter Elbow writes about "felt sense," the way we can feel whether or not our intentions are being expressed in our writing by "listening" to our bodies: The foundation of verbal meaning often lies in the silence of what is felt nonverbally and bodily.When writing goes well, it is often because we periodically pause and say, 'Is this what I mean to be saying?'It's amazing that we can answer that question:that we can tell whether a given set of words corresponds to an intention.The source of the answer is the feelings and the body-consulted in silence.When writing goes badly, it is often because we don't make these pauses for quiet consultations with felt sense. (Everyone Can Write 176) Many of our students are just learning to "trust" themselves as writers.Most haven't had the opportunity in high school to explore what writing can do for their thinking; they have been taught that "writing" is a product produced for a teacher.Student-centered pedagogy seeks to de-center teacher authority, and has moved away from traditional methods such as the lecture format to more group discussion.
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