Friday, September 6, 2013

Using the 'Power of Quiet' to Combat the Wah Waaah Wah Wah Waaaah

I clearly fall on the side of being an extrovert. Although last spring when I first took the test, I was rated a moderate introvert; this semester (perhaps after a summer of introspection, writing, and paced socializing), I measured as an extrovert! 

Whatever my score is, I definitely need my quiet time and, if pressed, I'd rather be in a quiet place with one or two people than a big party. Having said that, I typically leave social situations more energized than than not. 

As a co-leader of the seminar and classroom teacher, I fear that I may in some way be primed already for what I *want/expect* to hear from others (i.e., students, colleagues, etc.) and even influence their (your) responses/contributions. 

So I wonder: How can I allow space for quiet, thoughtful ideas?

When I think of doing that, I think back to “classroom management” and part of it is managing the extroverts and allowing the quieter ones to speak. But often I may be posing questions to students who perhaps are not taking the time (possibly because I’m not providing it!) to think deliberately before speaking. (Although maybe that’s because in some ways, speaking is the brainstorm that precedes the flow of ideas for a number of us.) But if I ask the “louder” ones to give room to the quieter ones, I’m putting the quieter ones in a difficult position. I’m basically saying: “Now’s your chance to jump in and “ape” being an extrovert!”

Some ways to address this in f2f classrooms, of course, might be to allow people to work both in solitude, but also in small groups.
Thinking more toward Web 2.0 platforms, I am thinking about the interactions themselves. (We need to look at what happened last year. What are the qualities that emerge when we get beyond the quantities?)

What does it mean to “participate”?

Again, I think we can turn our attention to the seminar. When are people quiet? Who speaks and why? For myself, I think I am a proponent (and I’m not saying it’s good!) to the “no gap/no overlap” maxim of conversation. So for me, I think I’m good at waiting until someone is done speaking before I say anything, but I also have a tendency to fill silence. Slowing down, I think there’s an anxiety that silence is aberrant. (So glad that Cain points out the extrovert bias so I don’t have to feel like a total tyrant.) I don’t believe silence is aberrant, but I may react mindlessly as if it is. (My bad.) I also think I’m guilty of listening for what I can pick up on to carry my own point/agenda further, rather than actually listening. But again, I think our culture values this. Can the buck stop here?
My fear here is that I’m encouraging others to do the same and that it ends up sounding like the adults (parents/teachers) in Charlie Brown: There’s just *noise* of adult conversation. “Wamp wamp wamp wamp.” Are we exchanging thoughtful ideas or fulfilling scripted exchanges that characterize the roles we’re playing? Can Web 2.0 platforms help to pierce this so that the learning is meaningful?
If I had a wish for this semester in the seminar, it’s that we can be more mindful of both cultivating thoughtfulness of speech, active listening, and thoughtful responses--and allow some space-silence (f2f and online) for each to happen. In terms of Web 2.0 practices: Thinking about the activity—has it been designed so everyone can participate as a thoughtful contributor; an active listener-reader; and a thoughtful responder?


  1. You bring up some very interesting thoughts and concerns, Maria! I was nodding my head the whole time I read your post. Of particular interest to me was your comments regarding being "primed for what you expect/want to hear from others" and perhaps even influencing their responses. I am so guilty of this. And when considering that many of our students and colleagues are introverts to a degree, how does this affect our communications with others, and even how they in turn communicate with each other? And what should be considered when determining which students are "quiet" but thoughtful and which are just completely out of it?

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  3. Lots to respond to here! I'll just pick a couple of issues:

    1) "What does it mean to participate?" Great question. Sometimes it feels as if we (teachers) are taught to worship at the altar of "participation" in a similar way to the altar of "group work."

    2) "''...if I ask the “louder” ones to give room to the quieter ones, I’m putting the quieter ones in a difficult position. I’m basically saying: “Now’s your chance to jump in and “ape” being an extrovert!'" So true. In a lot of ways, teaching is an impossible job. How can we possibly balance the wildly varying temperaments, learning styles, strengths, weaknesses, etc. of all the students in our classes?

    3) "I think there’s an anxiety that silence is aberrant." Every now and then, I ask my students a question and deliberately try to stay quiet for as long as possible. Within ten seconds, someone starts to giggle nervously. Why are we so uneasy with silence?