Quiet Thinking Time

I am a huge advocate for quiet thinking time in the classroom. I love collaboration, but argue that quiet time where students can think about their own learning is just as powerful.

Susan Cain is a huge advocate for introverts. I have read both her book Quiet as well as her book Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverted Kids which is aimed at tweens and teenagers. I’ve also taken her parenting course and would recommend it for anyone who is a parent of a quiet child. While taking the course, I recognised how much of what she was saying applied to my role as a teacher. Since then, I have given a presentation at my school about quiet children and the importance of providing time for them within the school environment.

How can we support our quiet learners?

With our focus on collaborative learning, our quiet students can struggle. Even when our quiet students are not sharing their ideas, it does not mean that they are not engaged, it simply means that they are not yet ready, or do not yet feel safe, to share their ideas.

Here are a few ideas of how we can support our quiet learners:

Think-Pair-Share: This is an excellent learning routine for quiet students as long as we allow for the Think time. (great explanation of why it is so great). However, often, we are so focused on the Pair-Share that our Think time is either non-existent or very limited. Quiet students, and I would argue all of our students, need the Think time.

Stand and Talk: This is an adaptation of Think-Pair-Share. Sara Van Der Werf suggests giving students private thinking time of 30-120 seconds of quiet thinking time before sharing with a partner.

Thinking Classroom: With the idea of building a Thinking Classroom, students are working on a problem in small groups, normally a size of three. When sharing in small groups this allows a quiet student to share their ideas in a safe space. If needed, a group member can always share the group’s ideas in a larger class discussion.

Wait Time: This one is simple, but takes patience. When you ask a question, give students time to think about, and prepare, their answer. All students benefit from this wait time.

Responses: When determining the level of understanding of a concept, many teachers ask questions. Sometimes this includes ‘cold-calling’ – asking random students questions that they are expected to answer. Instead consider a non-verbal response such as asking for ‘Thumbs up, sideways or down’ to indicate level of understanding. Warning a student that they will be called upon is also beneficial: “Sue, I see you have an excellent approach to this problem, I am going to ask you to share”. Or share the student’s idea for him/her: “Sue, I really like how you drew a diagram for this problem, do you mind if I share your ideas with the class?”.

Use Thinking Protocols: A few years ago I presented with three colleagues at the IB Regional Conference on the importance of using Thinking Protocols in the classroom. The goal is to have students reflect about their own learning. For a quiet child, this provides an opportunity for them to have time to process new information, but all students benefit from this reflection time. Reflection can often be thought of in a negative sense, but it all depends on how and when it is used in the classroom. Our ideas for reflection are below, but please note that we did not develop all of these protocols, we adapted and changed them to scaffold student reflection and how we use them within our classrooms.

Choice: Giving students the choice of finding a solution independently, in a pair or a group of three. The choice aspect allows quiet students to not always have to collaborate and to have quiet thinking time until they are ready to explain their ideas.

Susan Cain speaks about stretching quiet children. Her analogy is to think of a rubber band: you can stretch it to help it grow, but if you stretch it too much, the result can be quite damaging.

What are your ideas for supporting quiet learners in the mathematics classroom?


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