Silence vs. Hushed Buzz


Conduct an interview with any one of past or current students and you will learn that I have a few quirks.  Most of my quirks stem from my paranoia and worrisome personality.  One thing that always makes me nervous in a classroom is silence.  Silence freaks me out.  When inserted in a silent classroom, I start fidgeting, rocking, nervously giggling, etc.  I realize that most teachers go out of their way to cultivate a silent environment.  Through the years I’ve tried to be one of those teachers, suppressing my paranoia, but my nerves always win out.  However misguided, I worry that a silent student is a bored and inactive student; a student that I’ve lost on our journey of learning.  (There are 3 other reasons why silent students worry me, but if I shared them with you now, you’d probably just want to have me committed).

But something happened the other day in my classroom that I loved.  I hit a key between silent and chaotic.  I had my Spanish 1 students reading our Spanish 1 blog, written by last year’s Spanish class.  They had 20 minutes to read and comment on different stories.  As they worked, the noise level dropped to a hum.  I observed Hushed Buzz.

Characteristics of Hushed Buzz: few spoken words but vocal stimulation (little laughs, “hmmms”, grunts of all sizes) and the noise of purpose driven activity (keyboard clacking, writing on paper, meaningful paper shuffling).  It’s not silent but it’s silent’s close relative.  Twenty-three students sat in my room for 20 minutes, completely unaware of what was happening around them.  They were so engaged in what I had asked them to do that you could feel the energy in the room without hearing a sound.

As I teacher, I had a great hangover from this Hushed Buzz and immediately hoped to replicate the phenomena again.  I have started to plot and plan, dissecting that lesson to identify the key ingredient in this new academic libation.  I acknowledge the role technology plays in all of this.  While none of my students said they knew for sure what a blog was before we began, it took them .5 seconds to feel comfortable because it fits in their world.  They also seemed enthralled by the notion that what I was asking them to read was authored by older students that they knew or have heard of.  Reading words that “the girl that sits behind me in band” wrote mattered more than textbook words.*

As hard as I may try, Hushed Buzz might be like catching lightening in a bottle.  I might not feel this again for a year.  But at least I know there is a small step above silence that eases my paranoia.  I like having an alternative to my usual Manic Enthusiasm.

*Interesting Note: I don’t patrol the blog for proper grammar and spelling and my students were rapidly pointing out errors in both as they read.  I asked them to comment about the content of the articles but some asked if they could comment on the grammar and I wasn’t about to turn down a learning opportunity.  It was fascinating to see how many of them were irked or at least observant of mistakes, and in their comments, offered suggestions on how to fix the grammar problems.

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