Studying Silence: What Do We Gain By Just Observing?

Usually my professional blog posts are not just made up on Instagram post reflections, but today’s post is different. Today, I feel as though the Instagram posts tell almost all of the story.

A few days ago, my teaching partner, Paula, and I took turns outside observing some sensory cooking play in the snow and water. This play took place for just over an hour and included very few interactions from either one of us.

One of the hardest things for both of us to do was to stay silent. But both Paula and I think that it is through the quiet observation that you notice how this seemingly simple play is so much richer. Did we really have to say anything or hear from either one of these kids in order to see learning happen?

I know that I talk too much. Every day when we listen back to hours of video conversations, I wonder …

  • Why did I ask that question?
  • What if I waited longer for a response?
  • What if I said nothing at all?
  • What if I listened to the whole story? How might that change the direction in which we go?

I also know that with COVID protocols and students in individual spaces around the room, much instruction happens in a 1:1 setting. Paula and I are always thinking about how to best use the time that we have with each child, and sometimes this seems to mean rushing the discussions or intervening sooner than necessary. This largely silent outdoor play earlier in the week has me wondering what would happen if we stood back and just watched more.

We’re trying to find moments to do this more frequently, particularly as students play together. A couple of days ago, our talking was actually with each other instead of with the kids.

And no, this video does not actually record the moment that we’re discussing, but right after the moment instead.

We know that observations are an important component of the triangulation of data, but how often do we couple observations with conversations? Does this always need to happen? I’m not going to pretend that I stopped talking as much in class this week. There are hours of video conversations shared on our class blog that prove otherwise. 🙂 But I have a little voice in my head now that’s asking me as I talk, do I need to? It sometimes has me biting my tongue to resist the urge. How do you find a place for quiet observations in your classroom or home? What value might there be in doing so? Maybe this upcoming week, I will find a few more moments of silence.


2 thoughts on “Studying Silence: What Do We Gain By Just Observing?

  1. 1–I think it is very important to include discussion questions during the demonstration and after to check for understanding
    2–There are many places for quiet observations and you can tell if the student is looking into the content of the lesson.
    3– When we allow the student to listen more or ponder a point it will allow them to better understand the content. It is important to the teacher to find these little nuggets of teaching to help both the student and teacher to understand.

    • Thanks for your comment, Darlene! Your points intrigue me. I’m curious what quiet observations might look like in different grades. I’ve taught K-6, but I don’t think that I considered these types of observations as much until I started teaching kindergarten. Now I’me beginning to wonder what this might look like in other grades. Where might these observations belong, and how can I tell that learning is happening? The listening piece is so important — for kids and adults. I’m thinking about your last point here. How will we, as educators, know what kids got out of this listening? Is it through what they produce, the conversations they have, how they work with the material, a combination of all of these things, or something else altogether? Hmmm … As for your first point about discussion questions, I’m thinking about some of our younger learners. Are all kids willing and able to chime in on conversations in the same way? For those students that don’t benefit as much from these questions, what might be other options? I think that Jared Bennett (@mrjarbenne) wrote a blog post a long time ago now on the triangulation of data. Discussion that stemmed from this post (if I remember correctly) is if all categories need to be equal for all kids at all times: I wonder if your first question, and some of my thinking around your point, aligns with Jared’s post too. Thanks for furthering this discussion!


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