121. Talking

There’s such excitement when a child first utters a word. It’s the beginning of a new level of communication. We start to know so much more about the person than we could ever learn through grunts, cries, and all those other pre-verbal sounds. The moment is written down in a baby book, maybe, or at least etched in our memories.
The exhilaration is often short-lived. It doesn’t take long for children to learn that there are times and places to utter words, and more and more, times and places not to. And school, a place where often many children are in one room, is too often a place not to talk. The amount of verbiage permissible varies from teacher to teacher.
The required silence has various purposes. Some teachers and some children don’t function well when there’s a lot of talking at the same time. Sometimes there’s something important to
hear, and it won’t be heard if there’s lots of extraneous talking. And sometimes silence is necessary so that everyone can concentrate. Many children have trouble concentrating when there are distracting sounds, and I don’t think as many get distracted by silence.
But I think sometimes silence is not so golden. That excitement we feel about the first word a child says has to do with an important human activity, and there are many times when silence is not appropriate. As a teacher, I tried to keep the delicate balance between stressing communication and providing the peaceful atmosphere that lets distractible children concentrate. I tried to be economical with my own words (if you know me, you know I talk a lot), and teach children to do likewise.
But there were also many times when children were supposed to talk. There were writing conferences, brainstorming sessions, planning sessions. There were even brief times when I asked children to just talk to each other. If some adult walked in during those times, I felt a little guilty. But I think they were important times; they gave children the message that I, a teacher, approved of oral communication – encouraged it. It also distinguished such times from the writing conferences, etc., when their conversation was supposed to be more focussed.
The next time you’re in a room with twenty or more adults, try noticing what happens to the noise level. Adults, who are supposed to have a better idea of when to be quiet, often have things they want to say. The moderator or chairperson, if there is one, often has to remind people to be quiet. Some of the most talkative adults I know are happy, likable, successful people. And so are some of the most talkative children I know.

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