Schultz, Katherine. (2009). Rethinking Classroom Participation: Listening to Silent Voices.
New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
Schultz begins by arguing that narrowly defining students’ silence can lead to false assumptions about students’ participation in the classroom. She contends that participation should be about contribution and connection. A silent listener to a class discussion who nods assent to a comment is participating.
She says that teachers are taught to use strategies to get more students in the classroom to speak, but these strategies do not ensure that students are responding in ways that will increase their learning nor is the silence in the classroom understood. Many teachers want to give “voice to silent students,” coaxing them to talk, “rather than understand the meanings of their silence” (17).
Schultz categorizes silence as resistance, power, protection, a response to trauma, and a space for creativity and learning. For each of these, Schultz tells a little story from her field notes or from others to illustrate the nuances of the silence of the situation. These stories and research are very multi-cultural and involve both males and females. Many give examples of teachers using silence to share power and authority with students.
Allowing for multi-modalities, such as telling a story not only through written text, but through pictures and sound too was suggested as one strategy to respond to silence, as was analyzing classroom transcripts, using pop culture, and family interviews.
On a scale of 1 to 5, I’d rate the book a 3. I was drawn to the book because my daughter, a high school sophomore who transferred to from a small christian school to a larger public school, struggles sometime with classroom participation. She readily admits to me that sometimes she just doesn’t want to talk or is even afraid to talk. This has created some dissonance for me because I see her as this bright, witty, and talkative teenager. From our conversations I can tell that she is anything but disengaged, but I wonder if she always appears that way in class because she is not eager to volunteer. So, as a teacher with 24 years of experience I wonder if I am misjudging the silent students in my room as may be the case for my daughter and her teachers.
For me, the real point of the book is to look at engaged and disengaged silence. I often call it tracking. It is rather apparent as the teacher if a student is tracking with you and the lesson or not. This book offers a context to discuss that and some strategies to address it. I was hoping for a little more practicality though, and many of the examples were from elementary classrooms, not secondary.