Vignette M2. Luca’s Story: How do I manage the silence?
Luca is an experienced academic in a social sciences department who participated in an Intercultural Teaching Process Recall (ITPR) session with 4 other colleagues from different departments and different universities. Luca shared an issue that had arisen repeatedly in his teaching. He explained that when teaching seminars based on a discussion of some pre-assigned reading, he finds it difficult to manage the silences that follow questions he asks. He sometimes has students discuss the reading in groups prior to asking these questions. Luca explained that he would ask questions based on the pre-assigned reading and then …
There is a long(ish) silence until someone will finally say something. It tends to be the case that it is generally the same three or four students who will offer an opinion or views. What I have also noticed is that, to fill the silence, I start talking and ask even more questions.LUCA
This raises issues for Luca about both how to manage the silence and how to encourage students to participate in the seminar and offer answers to the questions he is asking. He is concerned that by filling the silence himself, often with more questions, that this…
might be confusing and wonder whether I need to change my strategies and perhaps organise the general discussion differently. Am I perhaps putting them on the spot too much? Would it be better if they carry on working in groups and that I visit each group?LUCA
What did the group suggest?
The groups discussions focused on a number of issues that related to both the purpose of the seminars and also how the silences might be managed. Discussion turned first to the students understandings of the purposes of the seminar and if this was clear.
Do they (the students) anticipate that they would be asked questions and asked to interact actively?MARTINA
The group felt this was important and something that Luca could reflect on – whether the purposes of the seminar were made explicit to the students and that there was an expectation that they would actually contribute. In relation to managing silences a number of suggestions were made and discussion focused on why the silences were a problem for Luca. Several of the group members suggested allowing smaller group discussion and then asking the questions or even just talking to groups individually. They emphasised the importance of allowing time for reflection and allowing the silence:
So you’re trying to lead the way out of this quietness which can be quite a heavy burden to wear for someone standing in the front and teaching. This quietness and stillness can be important though.GROUP
A second strategy linked to the relationship between the questions Luca asked and the text the students had read. Natalia suggested it might be important to link the questions very closely to the text to offer a source of security and focus for the students. She suggested:
Maybe a technique to animate them to get them talking in the big group could be working closely with the text, getting back to the text because it gives them security. That would be my guess. It gives them security and they have something hard to work along. That would be my guess.Natalia
A third group member suggested offering incentives for participation: Michael said
you could ask the question and then have a bag of candies or chocolates and reward anyone who answers with one.Michael
Having listened to the discussion Luca reflected:
It is about making it more student centred and less teacher centred so I need to step back and let them discuss and then bring myself back in maybe.Luca