Tuesday, December 08, 2009


(Note: Labels and colors are for my students, and indicate parts of the paragraph.)

    TS This morning, I happened to come across a photograph in a magazine of an enormous beech tree standing in the middle of an otherwise empty field, and it reminded me, oddly enough, of English class. SD I realized, as I stared at the picture, that the only reason the tree looked so strong and beautiful was because of the backdrop of the completely empty field.  CM It may sound obvious to some, but the thought then came to me that the emptier the background, the more clearly visible an object is. CM Set against this utterly vacant field, the great tree stood forth in all its magnificence. SD Strange as it might seem, I wondered, as I put the magazine down, whether my English class was empty enough. CM When I set my daily lesson before the class, is it surrounded by something like an empty field – a setting so plain, you might say, that the lesson displays itself with all its clout (assuming it has some)? CM Are the students sometimes drawn to my lesson because it seems to stand alone, like this morning’s tree in its spacious and vacant field? SD I’m not sure where this train of thought is heading, but one idea that occurs to me is that silence is a form of emptiness.  CM Perhaps occasional periods of silence could be the field in which my English lessons might locate themselves with a certain clarity and even dignity. CM Perhaps surrounding and permeating a lesson with brief interludes of silence might render the lessons more vivid, more memorable. SD I’ve often thought, actually, that there is too much “noise” in my classes – not the noise of disruption and inattention, but simply the noise of constant talking. CM Surrounding a well-planned lesson with so much talk is like surrounding a beautiful tree with a mishmash of brush and saplings. CM As valuable as the constant talk in my classes may be, it leaves little room for the powerful emptiness of silence.CS 1 Maybe I should say to the students next week, “We’re going to have a minute of silence now before I begin the lesson on the use of participles to enhance writing. Please try to enjoy the silence.”  CS 2 Who knows? Perhaps the tree of my lesson might be a little easier to see.

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