Is a noisy classroom actually something to worry about?
Picture the perfect classroom with the perfect students, getting on with the perfect task, perfectly. What does that look like in your head?
Did you envisage rows of silent automatons, scribbling furiously hard without talking to each other, looking up from their desks only for a fleeting gaze of wordless admiration at their perfect teacher, before burrowing back down into the depths of whichever perfectly-pitched challenge you set them, while the clock’s every tick echoes around the room?
No, me neither.
And yet, google ‘noise in the classroom’ and this is what you are presented with: ‘how to handle a noisy class’; ‘conquering noisy classrooms’; ‘dealing with classroom noise’; ‘30 techniques to quiet a noisy class’. So what’s the deal? Why are we so afraid of noise?
The answer, of course, is that a noisy classroom is often considered to be a sign of students who are off task. A classroom where noise is permitted might send the message to students that they can talk about whatever they want to; in amongst some of the keener students discussing the work, you might hear others talking about football, their latest crushes, or any of the other myriad topics that kids might consider more pressingly important than, say, learning about the Norman conquest. Noise equals too much freedom. Noise equals chaos. Noise equals lack of control
Freedom isn’t something that our educational overlords are too keen on. The recent shift towards rote learning has led OFSTED to favour seating plans which make it harder for students to talk – so you’ll see more students sat in rows rather than grouped together at bistro-style tables. But group work remains a useful way of engaging students when used effectively (and in moderation).
All very well, but what if you're a new teacher who doesn't quite trust your students yet? Surely the freedom to make noise is a privilege that has to be earned?
Silent work has its place, especially with new classes. It can be a real boost for teachers, as well as students, to see how much work can be done in a period of silence. It’s also often a blessed relief for introverts. But making students work in silence all the time is counter productive, and makes silence lose its power.
Instead, we need to re-frame our perception of noise in the classroom. Rather than always seeing it as a lack of teacher control, we should see it as, potentially, a sign of a teacher’s strength in setting work that is engaging, establishing clear outcomes which mean that students don’t get the chance to simply sit and chat, and making good relationships with students based on trust. After all, the same students who will seize the opportunity to be naughty and chatty in some situations will work on task in other situations.
So don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Noise is not your enemy: a learning community is not silent. A learning community is vibrant, busy, and shaped by people sharing ideas. Even if this does involve the occasional bit of chatter, it’s worth it to establish an environment which celebrates collaboration, discussion and peer learning.
That really is something to shout about.
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