Looking Closely At Talking By Not Talking

Last week, I blogged about participating in a No Talking Contest with my students. There were many reasons for this contest. We’re currently reading No Talking in class, and the students wanted to see what it was like to not talk for a day. We also just finished our read aloud of Out of my Mind, and experiencing the inability to talk would help students connect with the main character in the novel: Melody. I also wanted my students and I to gain a better appreciation for listening and greater consideration of word choice: what better way to do this than to restrict oral conversation?! Since I am personally also working on asking better questions (as part of our Board’s focus on proportional reasoning in math), I thought that this No Talking/Limited Talking Day would help me with this. I was going to have to choose my words wisely!

Surprisingly, my reflection on today happened before the day even started. I was mentally preparing myself for not talking (a real feat for me), and so, I started off my morning really thinking about what I needed to say/not say. And that’s when I heard all the talk. There is so much talking around EVERYWHERE. From home to school, I noticed that every moment of silence was filled with words — lots and lots and lots of words! I’m usually one of the people speaking those words. I’m the one that notices when it’s quiet, and I’m the one that then comes in with something to say (always).  I wonder what would happen if we all enjoyed the silent time a little bit more. How much more thinking would there be?

It was actually incredibly interesting to sit back and listen. I think that I heard a lot more. Usually when I go into the staffroom at lunch, I get involved in one conversation, and I miss the other ones. Today, I listened to all of the discussions, and it made me realize just how much I do miss. And I did chime in a bit, but with five words or less. That was also a good thing because I thought before I spoke. I planned out what I was going to say. My word choices were more deliberate, and I think that made them better. I even managed to have a discussion with two teachers, plan with one of my grade team colleagues, and answer two phone calls: all without breaking my word limit.

Now I was honest. There were the few times that I used six or seven words instead of five. This happened in the classroom when I got excited about what I saw, and I forgot about the contest: I just spoke. This also happened on my prep when I was trying to help a colleague solve a small problem, and no matter how I tried, five words wouldn’t do! Every mistake that I made cost me five points, and trust me, my students were looking closely, listening closely, and happy to count backwards by fives if it meant “Miss Dunsiger was going down!” 🙂

Come second nutrition break today, I had 75 points: not bad. I might have even won. Then things turned around. At the end of the break, I read an email from my principal about math, and I had to say something. I wasn’t going to lose though. I had my iPad, and so I wrote out exactly what I wanted to say, and I brought him the note. I knocked on the door, walked in, said, “read please,” and passed him the note. Then questions started. I tried to count the words in my head. I needed to keep below the five word limit. I even stared down at the iPad, considering typing out my reply. But I heard the warning bell. I knew that my time was almost up, and I had no choice: I talked and I talked and I talked and I talked! Nothing could stop me now! 🙂

That’s when I broke the seal, and everything went downhill from there. I went upstairs, and pulled my score down to 60 points. Couple in the few extra words here and there, and before I knew it, I was down to 5 points. Yes, just five! It wasn’t my fault: the math did me in! 🙂 (Sorry! This story is starting to sound so much like, The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, that I just can’t help but continue with that theme. :)) At the time when it was clear that I lost, we reflected on our day. It was through this reflection, and a comment made my one of my students, that really made me stop and think. He spoke about what a challenge today was for him, and even though he ended up with 0 points in the end, around the 19 minute mark in this class reflection, he mentioned something important: the need for differentiated instruction. While he may have lost all of his points, he still spoke less today than usual. He met with success. Is it fair to judge everyone by the same standard? 

I may not have won the contest, but I still spoke WAY less than I usually do. I hope that what I learned from today may help me think more closely about what I say in the future. I wonder if today’s contest will impact my students in the same way. What impact would it have on you? Try the challenge and see how you do. It’s amazing how much we can learn from not talking!


5 thoughts on “Looking Closely At Talking By Not Talking

  1. I’m glad I caught this follow up blog to your earlier tweet of the student’s work. This is an area of teaching math that I often struggle with, because I have a hard time explaining how I know what “3 x 2” is – I just know it, ok? I memorized it in Grade 3!

    I think you are correct in anticipating that a more challenging/thought-provoking/meaningful question might change the answers you receive. Will keep an eye out for any future info!

    Thanks for sharing this experience!

    • Thank you, Mary Alice! I’m really hoping that a more challenging/thought-provoking/meaningful question really does get the student to see the value in sharing her thinking. I want to follow-up more with her tomorrow too. I’m hoping that talking together will also give me greater insight into the thinking behind her comment.

      I’m sure to be posting more soon! 🙂

  2. In this current world, we have many talkative students, teachers, people. When we talk about No Talking in the general or school world, we find it an impossible task. We rely on talking, really. It is the best way to communicate, share ideas, but if there is No Talking, there are some ways as well. For example a series of note passing (distress for teacher), hand signs (distress for teaching) and more. I just didn’t really get it-you lowered your points so you won?
    In a rush to get to school,

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