Tuesday, December 18, 2007


Day 70, December 18, 2007

Today, on a few occasions, I remembered to use silence to bring some intensity to the classroom atmosphere. I've always felt that, in teaching, silence has at least as much power as sound, and sometimes significantly more. Since the students hear teachers and each other talking almost nonstop throughout the day, any moment of silence can be a wonderful, almost shocking, break in the routine. In the students' noisy world, a little silence can be like sunshine after weeks of rain. On one occasion today, I read a poem aloud (they have to write an essay about it), and when I came to the end I simply stood in silence at the front of the room. I remained silent for only about 20-30 seconds, but I suspect it had a profound effect on the kids. In their often strident and raucous lives, 30 seconds of silence can seem like an hour-long marvel. As they were sitting silently and listening to the ticking of my classroom timer, they might have been thinking, "This is really strange", and I'm okay with that. After all, 'strange' can also mean surprising, extraordinary, and astonishing -- three adjectives that any teacher would be proud to be connected with.

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My use of one or two minutes of classical music in each class has been fairly effective, I think. Today we started class with a brief excerpt of a Bach violin sonata performed by Itzhak Perlman. As we listened for a about a minute, I quietly explained that Perlman overcame great physical obstacles to become an exceptional violinist, and he did it simply by practicing. While I turned the music down and then off, I reminded the students that practice, practice, and more practice is all they need in order to become accomplished writers and readers.

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This year I'm using a timer in class (an idea I got from my son Jaimie, who is an 8th grade English teacher in Plainfield, CT). I set it for 23 minutes at the start of class, and when the bell sounds, we take a two-minute break. The break is a welcome reward for the students, and -- surprisingly -- the soft and steady ticking of the timer during class is a tool that helps us (well, me anyway) relax and focus.

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