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  • Writer's pictureWilliam Manchester

Do You Want Students to be Quiet or to Listen? (3 Ways Students Can Listen Loudly)

Updated: Jun 22, 2022

I sometimes spend lots of time during a class employing various strategies to get the class quiet. I use a quiet signal; I lower the volume of my own voice; I vary my proximity to students that are talking. All of these strategies are effective to a point in getting the class to be quiet, but then I find that while the students may have been quiet, they aren’t always listening.

Do I want my students to be quiet or to listen? I have begun to challenge myself to move to the primary goal of listening rather than worrying about the secondary goal of being quiet based on the observation that students don't have to be quiet to listen.

There are many times when a quiet environment helps students listen well, but students can also listen loudly.

I was in Zimbabwe visiting the church that a friend of mine was the pastor at. She had asked me to speak, so after an intense half hour of singing and dancing, I went to the front of the room and started talking. Everything I spoke in English was audibly translated into Ndebele, one of the native Zimbabwean languages. The translator wanted to be sure to translate my emotion appropriately, so any inflections were amplified in the translator’s echo. The congregation, wanting to show support for my words, echoed back affirmations and agreements- loudly.

This created a volume increase cycle. As the congregation responded loudly, I increased my volume, which my translator increased, increasing the volume of the congregation and so on. And there were not firm boundaries between this cycle. The result was the opposite of quiet.

Yet, in spite of two languages being spoken near simultaneously at high volume, I knew that many of the attendees had been listening. After the service was over, several of them approached me with on-point comments and questions in their limited English. They listened loudly.

There are times when listening quietly is effective and probably even preferred. But if students have to be quietly listening all day long, it might feel good to listen loudly at times.

Here are three ways that I have students listen loudly.

Tell Your Neighbor.

I have been in church on many occasions when the pastor might say, lean over and tell your neighbor, “it’s gonna’ be okay.” Lean over and tell your neighbor that they are not alone. In a large church where you don’t know anyone, this can feel a bit awkward. For students, especially younger ones, they love it. With some silly voices and funny phrases, they are on it.

This is What I Do: I say, Turn to your neighbor and tell them, you have to go to Google Classroom first. (wait time for students to talk to each other.) Turn to your neighbor and tell them, make sure your microphone is on. (wait time.)

This can be noisy and a little crazy, but it is not even necessary to wait until students are quiet to talk because some students will hear it and then be able to repeat to each other. And teachers need to remember that not all students need to hear every bit of instructions for the class to move forward. (see #3).

Cue Cards.

There are times when I have information to present essentially in a lecture format, but I have a class that generally does not want to stay quiet through a lecture format. So, I make cue cards for the students to read in response to what I am saying. It does take some buy-in, but with some humor it usually works.

This Is What I Do: Here is a set of cue cards and the script I use to tell third graders about the famous tango composer Astor Piazollo:

T: So Astor Piazollo is probably the most famous composer of tangos in the world. He really is responsible for letting the world know about the tango.

Cue Card: Astor Piazollo, what a guy!

T: Yes, he became famous in his home country of Argentina for playing the bandoneon.

Cue Card: Bandoneon, eh? Kind of like an accordion?

T: Wow, yes, that’s exactly right. Piazollo’s career really took off when we went to study in France.

Cue Card: Those crazy Frenchmen!

T: Actually, it was a woman, Nadia Boulanger who taught Astor in France.

Cue Card: You go, girlfriend!


Let the Students Figure It Out.

When students don’t want to get quiet, sometimes I just let them loose on an independent activity and I am surprised with how well they do without my instructions. Perhaps I don’t need to spend time getting them to be quiet when they don’t need all of my instructions anyway. With classes that are consistently wanting to talk, I can be proactive by providing written instructions or video instructions. This way students can work at their own pace and I can divert my attention to either significant off-task student behavior or specific individualized instruction for students.

This Is What I Do: In a lesson utilizing a lot of technology, I might have a few simple instructions on the board to get started, a written set of instructions accessible to the students and a short how-to video linked. Students begin to work, even while chatting about it with their neighbors. If there are specific technical issues, I am available to deal with them and students who move through the instructions fast are happy to help their fellow classmates.

What ways have you seen students #ListenLoudly?

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1 Comment

bill manchester
bill manchester
Mar 18, 2022

@ravenclawthots (on Twitter) wrote "Very much agreed! Teaching music felt very much like students “listening loudly” in the best possible way!" Of course, much of music-ing is listening loudly- responding to what is going on in the moment while things are still going on. If musicians can do this without being "rude" or "disrespectful," so can students.

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