I read a lot. I used to read even more., but now if I finish a book a month I’m in heaven. I listen to a lot of books as well and for some reason I only listen to non-fiction. In 2013 I listened to Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking and it was the perfect book at the perfect time and I think it’s a book every teacher should read.
On a personal level I always knew I was an introvert. I had always thought of it as explained in my first semester college class- Introverts get energy from being by themselves and extroverts from being with other people. This books explained so much more of my own behavior. Why I like having parties at my house, but am hardly ever excited to go to parties elsewhere. Possibly why I screamed bloody murder for months as a baby (according to my parents- surely those stories are exaggerated with time). It was like with every “page” I thought, “oh my gosh, that’s me!”
The book also has some significant implications for the classroom and it came at the perfect time for me. The book, among other things, suggests that maybe there is some significant value in students not doing everything in a group all of the time. That maybe all of this group work and collaboration isn’t the most effective. (I’m not going to summarize any more than that because you should read the book and also because I don’t have a copy to find direct quotes.)
This isn’t what was the most impactful for me. It was “fate” or whatever you call it that I listened to this book in 2013 because that Fall my Advanced class, a group of 14 juniors and seniors was like none other I’d ever had. First, for a 6th period class after lunch they weren’t chatty, or restless or all over the place. They were….well…quiet.
I’d had a 6th period class that was quiet before but that was just occasional quietness. It was a group of 35ish Freshmen- 6th period, after lunch, and that group, when I gave the work and they just worked without talking I stayed at the front of the room looking suspiciously at them and waiting for the aliens to pop out because there is nothing normal about that.
But this class in 2013…I spent about three weeks being significantly unsettled. If I asked them a question or had them do an activity they were more than happy to answer in the TL, but as soon as I gave them something to do by themselves, they would do it without talking. The quiet was driving me crazy. What was I doing wrong? Why weren’t they even talking at all? Not in English. Not in French. Nothing. I tried all manner of “strategies” to get them to be more “engaged.” I thought I was failing to create a class culture. I even started teasing them by calling them “La classe qui ne parle pas.”
And then I had an epiphany. They weren’t not talking because of something that I was or wasn’t doing. They were not talking because I had a class largely comprised of introverts and they were completely content to do their work quietly and answer questions when asked. As soon as I put myself in their shoes, previous 5 periods of 40 students each of constant talking and interaction…they wanted to be quiet. Their silence wasn’t a problem for them; it was my issue because I had this ridiculous standard in my head of what a productive and engaged class was supposed to look and more importantly, sound like based on 14 years of teaching and “best practices.” So I did the only thing I could think of.
I stopped trying to create noise when there didn’t need to be any. I stopped trying to create forced interactions. I stopped asking if they needed help and let them come to me. I let them be quiet. And the silence created amazing. That class, the one I fretted about for weeks at the beginning of the semester, thinking that I was never going to create a class culture, became the most cohesive group of students I’ve ever had. In all of the Advanced classes I’ve had, it was my favorite. One day one of the students told me that she like my class because it was a nice way to end the day because it was calm and quiet.
I wouldn’t have made that choice if I hadn’t listened to Quiet. Perhaps if I hadn’t stopped they would have eventually become a cohesive group, but I don’t think it would have been the same. I surely wouldn’t have met these students’ needs. The book makes a compelling case that we don’t always have to be talking to be productive and I think, no I believe that when I stopped, that class felt able to be and work in an environment that worked best for them and because of that they became who they were. As I got to know them better the more convinced I am that it was a class of introverts who craved some quiet time.
Quiet should definitely be considered for your list of summer reads.