Classroom silence and digital natives

Svetlana Kandybovich recently wrote a post about allowing students thinking time. It’s full of useful ideas for the classroom and well worth a read.

Something else worth reading is ‘The Four-Dimensional Human: Ways of Being in the Digital World’ by Laurence Scott (2015). I’m only halfway through, but it’s one of those social commentaries that has you nodding your head in agreement after almost every page.

One topic of interest in the book is silence. Scott dedicates a few pages to describing how, due to social media, the very notion of silence has changed. He states that ‘technological progress is, by all appearances, making life noisier…’ and suggests that the buzz of tweets, likes, status updates, etc, create some sort of ‘slipperiness between noise and silence…’. Even awkward silences between people are now filled with noisy, 4D silences in cyberspace when we hide behind our phones – something apparent the moment I walk into my adult classes!

Scott goes into detail about how digital media is redefining existing words, from how we use ‘mute’ to mean ‘render invisible’ (for online ads), how we can conduct ‘voice chats’, and how we can ‘silence a user’ on Twitter – i.e. not see their Tweets without deleting them. But what really hit home for me (and made me think directly about classroom practice) was Scott’s point about the impact that real silence has in the digital era. We expect replies or likes almost instantaneously. If somebody is tagged in a post we await a comment of approval or shared interest. Svetlana mentioned how impatient we’ve become, Scott mentions how alien real silence is becoming, and how emotionally challenging it can be to deal with!

I took some really useful tips from Svetlana’s post, while Scott has given me an anticipated problem – especially for my teen classes. I’ve written before about ways to get teens to talk and share ideas, and allowing thinking time was one consideration. But I never considered that my learners, as ‘digital natives’, might need to get used to the idea of having ‘real silences’. Even if they gather their thoughts quickly, can they survive a few moments of waiting time before they share their ideas?! Maybe I should get them to tweet their thoughts while they wait for others, just to kill time…

Ok! I’m exaggerating! It’s not as if digital natives aren’t capable of dealing with silence…(right?). And actually I’ve used the tweet idea for fast finishers before (read it in ETPro). Seriously though, it’s really worth thinking about how technology is shaping those we teach. I wonder how many periods of real silence my learners have during an average day… ‘Thinking time’ with a silent classroom genuinely might seem a bit strange!


All quotes from Scott, L. (2015). The Four-Dimensional Human: Ways of Being in the Digital World. London: Windmill

View Svetlana’s post here

Categories: General, reflections

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

2 replies

  1. Hi Pete!

    Thanks for sharing this, much food for thought! I agree that virtual reality seems to bend our (and our learners’) expectations in so many areas of life. Silence goes together with another social construct – speed. I found that many learners associate thinking time with a slowdown while they’re hoping to reach fluency (did you notice that they often measure it by how fast they talk?) It takes time to get used to the idea that slowing down means speeding up:)

    Cheers, Lana.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You had me nodding my head as I was reading through your post! Haha. Very interesting concepts and I look forward to picking up a copy. Thanks for sharing. Appreciate this kind of post!

    Liked by 1 person

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