“Silence is Golden“:
Going to Extremes to Reduce TTT
by Gabi Bonner
Discussion and Implications
In the feedback questionnaire results, unlike the control lesson, all but one student had a strong opinion on the lesson. Out of the eight students, five gave very positive feedback about the lesson, saying that they enjoyed the lesson, they learned lots, they had more opportunities to speak than usual, they’d be happy to have similar lessons in the future and the teacher’s behaviour helped them to learn. One lovely person even said that the lesson was super! One student wasn’t sure about the lesson, saying that he enjoyed it somewhat and learned a bit, but wasn’t sure if he wanted similar lessons in the future. He did say that he had more opportunities to speak than usual though. Two students gave negative feedback, saying that they didn’t enjoy the lesson, they didn’t learn anything and that they didn’t have any more opportunities to speak than usual. It’s interesting to note that these two students are the strongest in the class and usually speak the most. Possible reasons for this negative feedback could be that they know they’re the strongest in the class and they’re used to this idea and they like it, and so when suddenly the nature of the lesson is such that linguistic competence is not the only necessary quality or skill, but also problem solving – a different type of intelligence – and extracting meaning from gestures and taking risks, they’re suddenly not the best anymore. It’s possible that when they discovered that they didn’t stand out as the best in the class anymore, they felt a bit ‘put out’ by this and became negative towards that particular learning situation. It may also be due to different learning styles. The language teaching approaches adopted by the Czech state school system are particularly conducive to oral learners. A likely possibility is that the stronger students in the class are mainly oral learners, and the Silent Way, being geared more towards visual and/or kinaesthetic learners, did not fit their learning style. This suggests that the weaker students in the class could be more visual and/or kinaesthetic learners and their learning styles have not been sufficiently catered for.
In the oral feedback session most students said that the lesson wasn’t at all frustrating, that it was different, fun, and entertaining. They said they spoke more and cooperated better with each other and worked as a team. They said they all got lots of practice asking questions (to check my instructions) and they helped each other ask questions and corrected each other. They said they didn’t have a problem with being corrected by their peers, as the atmosphere in the class was supportive, relaxed, friendly, and full of laughs.
This (slightly crazy!) experiment of mine shows that even though it’s commonly associated with low-level classes, the Silent Way definitely has some value for higher-level classes; novelty value as well as linguistic value. If there is any sort of focus on vocabulary, I think it would facilitate things by having the teacher model the pronunciation rather than waiting for a student to say it correctly, however for classes in which students are familiar with phonemic script this would not be a problem. I also noticed that even the ‘quiet’ students spoke a lot more, and quite often it was them who were first to interpret my instructions.
I suspect you probably want to know if it was difficult to stay completely silent for ninety minutes. To tell the truth I didn’t actually feel tempted to speak at all. I think this may have been due to the fact that I had planned the lesson in detail and considered exactly how I would convey and check instructions etc, and fortunately I’m also able to think on my feet fairly well. However I can see how the temptation to speak could exist if one were faced with a serious communication barrier. I must admit though that I was on the verge of laughing throughout a good chunk of the lesson. I think this was due to being aware of just how ridiculous I must have looked while making my ‘over the top’ gestures and facial expressions, and extremely poor (and embarrassing!) attempts to draw recognisable objects on the board. But I also wanted to laugh with excitement and delight while watching my students work together and cooperate and speak more English than I’d ever heard them speak before. By no means am I suggesting that language teachers all adopt the Silent Way, but just that teaching a silent lesson is something pretty fun and a bit different, and it might well get those less-talkative students speaking!
So, to those sceptical colleagues of mine who doubted my ability to be completely silent for ninety minutes, not only did I achieve it, but I also proved that a silent lesson can be very successful, effective, fun, entertaining and rewarding, and I recommend you try it sometime. It turns out that silence truly can be golden!
Bruner, J. 1966. On Knowing: Essays for the Left Hand. New York: Atheneum.
Dornyei, Z. Motivational Strategies in the Language Classroom. CUP.
Gattegno, C. 1972. Teaching Foreign Languages in Schools: The Silent Way. New York: Educational Solutions.
Please take a few minutes to answer these questions about the lesson you’ve just had
- Did you enjoy this lesson? yes/no/somewhat
- How much did you learn? a lot/a bit/nothing
- Did you get enough opportunities to speak? yes/no
- Would you be happy to have similar lessons in the future? yes/no
- How did you feel about the behaviour of the teacher?
It helped me to learn/it didn’t help me to learn/it was crazy!
Gabi Bonner has been teaching at Akcent International House in Prague since completing her CELTA there in 2006. She has an MA in Applied Linguistics from the University of Auckland, New Zealand, and her current research interests lie in motivation in Second Language Acquisition, methodology and using songs and music in the EFL classroom.
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