Time to reach back to my list of “13 Resolutions for 2013,” also known as “Ava’s list of upcoming blog posts for times when she can’t think of anything better to write about!”
Luckily, the next item on the list is not only hugely important, but one that I have been actively practicing this month. Increasing student talking time (STT). One of those over-used and under-examined ELT buzz-words, if you ask me. What does that mean? Is it quite literally the ratio of minutes spoken by teacher to minutes spoken by students? If so, I don’t know why we pay so much attention to it. Shouldn’t we be paying more attention to the quality rather than the quantity of talking time, on the part of both teacher and student? But I digress...
While I like to think that there is a healthy balance between TTT and STT in most of my classes, I do from time to time catch myself going off on little teacher rants. These usually happen when I am explaining a task, summarizing an idea after a discussion, or when I am not getting what I want out of my students and sometimes just go ahead and say it myself (oops!). What all of these situations have in common is an underlying feeling of fear. Fear that a task will not be accomplished correctly, fear that an important concept will be misunderstood, or, the worst of all, fear of silence. When there is silence in my classroom, my internal teacher goes into panic-mode, assuming that it means one of two things: either the students are bored or they do not understand. As soon as that possibility arises, I jump in and nervously over-explain. I’m a control freak, I can’t help it.
So recently, my incredibly advanced approach to increasing student talking time is.....(drumroll please).....nothing. Not saying anything, not doing anything, not over-explaining, not over-compensating. What I am doing is practicing sitting in the silence. And let me tell you, it is PAINFUL! My skin crawls and the clock ticking sounds like the loudest thing in the world (seriously, must get rid of that clock...) and the students fidget awkwardly and it feels like we will never make it out the other side. And guess what happens? We make it out the other side! Because eventually, someone will open their mouth and start talking! As long as it isn’t me, I am happy. And I am finding that, as I practice and get better at just waiting patiently, rather than rushing to fill the silence, students are getting better at speaking up. I put out the question, or the prompt, or the guide, and then I wait. Recently, students have begun to notice this and taken more initiative in speaking up, answering questions, proactively approaching a task. Hallelujah! This is what I wanted all along, and somehow thought that I could achieve it by giving just a little more explanation, a little more guidance, a little more blah blah blah! Silly me, because what I was doing was depriving students of the opportunity to speak up when they are ready, to take the initiative and produce their language without cajoling or begging, and to figure things out on their own, therefore building confidence in their own skills and abilities. By simply taking a step back, and becoming comfortable with a little silence in the classroom, not only have I decreased TTT and increased STT, I have also encouraged my students and myself to take it easy and let these things happen naturally (oops, my California is showing!). Sitting with the silence and treating it with acceptance has been a great tool, and the results have been overwhelmingly positive for everyone involved, I am happy to report.
“The opposite of talking isn’t listening. The opposite of talking is waiting.” Fran Lebowitz