Silence: the Third Speaker in the Classroom

Many of the ideas proposed in Chapter 6 of Brookfield’s (2015) book, to help make lectures more effective were not new to me. It helped to reiterate the importance of lecturing in small increments due to the short attention span of adults, using Classroom Assessment techniques like the use of live feeds. It also explored the importance of using silence in the classroom, which has made me pause and reflect on this teaching technique. In my PIDP 3200 I did a paper on how to use a Multidimensional Teaching Approach to Honouring Cultural Diversity and silence was identified as an essential ingredient. Many cultures require more time to reflect before speaking, and I learned in my paper, called Engaging the Introvert, in PIDP 3250 that so do introverts (who make up 20% of our students). This lead me to then ask if silence was in fact an important teaching strategy for ALL students?   My answer to that question is ‘yes it absolutely is.’

Caranfa (2004) explores the many benefits of integrating silence into learning:

  • “Makes possible the fusion of rational and emotional aspects of our being.” (p.212)
  • Allows the individual to contemplate, “conceive and explore the World” (p.212)
  • “Necessary for the expansion of our sensory, mental, moral and spiritual frontiers.” (p.212)
  • Encourages the student to solidify and incorporate knowledge
  • It helps to resolve inner conflict or contradictions
  • Transformative learning can begin to bud by moving the student from old to new mental frameworks
  • Fosters creativity
  • Helps students to learn more about themselves, including their hidden or unknown self

Zembylas & Michaelides (2004) suggest that not only does the teacher use silence after posing questions, but that even more important, is that the teacher also use silence when responding to questions.

I’ve reflected further on the importance of using silence in the Relational Practice course I teach. We are teaching students to use silence when communicating with their patients. Using silence as a teaching technique further models the power of this important communication tool and demonstrates my authenticity as a teacher. We also discuss in this particular course the importance and tools for mindfulness. What better way to teach mindfulness than teaching the students the art of silence as it allows the student to tap into their kinaesthetic, intuitive, emotional and cognitive self (mind, body and spirit).

I allow for a fair amount of silence and reflection in parts of my courses. I often have writing exercises where I encourage them to ask a question, write down their ideas or thoughts or have them answer a question that I have posed or the Think-Pair-Share partner activity . The part of my teaching that I often shy away from using silence is when posing questions to the large group. I find that silence, of all 40 pairs of eyes staring at me at the front of the classroom, awkward and uncomfortable. In Western culture we devalue silence and feel discomfort with it. Conversely, Eastern cultures value silence highly, as an important tool for contemplation and for interpersonal relationship building.

If I conceptualize silence as the third voice in the room then I will allow for that voice to be heard. Brookfield (2015) continually suggests being transparent to students with our teaching strategies, so I could tell the students exactly what I am doing and why. For example: “I’m going to allow for 1 full minute of silence before anyone responds to this question so that everyone has adequate time to deeply reflect on it. Feel free to write thoughts or ideas or words down as they emerge.” In my Relational course I could further explain that this is also to demonstrate the power of silence in communication and how to be mindful. I could further demonstrate the value of silence by having the student answer a particular question and immediately write down a response and then answer the same question after one minute of reflection. I would then have them analyze the differences in responses and illuminate the difference in quality of responses when silence is utilized.

Allowing the students a minute of silence after asking a question will encourage deeper reflection and hopefully more thoughtful responses. It will also give everyone a fair footing to respond; the introvert, the person from another culture or someone who just needs pause to think further or acknowledge or feel more deeply an emotion. We should not “silence the silences” (Zembylas & Michaelides, p. 208) in our classroom we should foster them.

Deschene, L.  (2016). Retrieved from


Caranfa, A. (2004). Silence as a the foundation of learning. Educational Theory, 54(2), 211-230.

Zembylas, M. & Michaelides, P. (2004). The sound of silence in pedagogy, Educational Theory, 54 (2), 193-210.


About turnera2014

I am a Nursing (RN) Instructor taking the Professional Instructor Diploma Program at Vancouver Community College in hopes to challenge my current teaching modalities and inspire me to be the best teacher I can be.
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