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Thoughts about #All or Nothing Week by Nicola Gunton

This week was an opportunity for us, as teachers, to take a risk in the way we teach. An opportunity for us to explore ideas and take some to the extreme.

No talking

I decided to see if I could teach a silent lesson where neither, I or my students spoke. I explained this idea to the students outside the classroom and they were willing to try but thought it probably impossible. I said they had to give it their best effort, and I am pleased to say they did. No-one spoke for the entire lesson. I didn’t plan a lesson with lots of resources, it was the lesson I would have delivered in my usual style-where we all contributed to the learning discussing new ideas as we go and asking and answering questions as they arise. All of this would usually be verbal.

I did give them whiteboards which they used to ask questions, but as we all know writing something gives you time to decide about the quality of your question and you need to be a little more determined to know the answer. The lesson ended with a ‘discussion’ task where students had to evaluate the contributions of two groups of scientists. They managed this without talking too.


I was able to communicate non-verbally and it reminded me of all that can be communicated with ‘a look’. I was reminded of this by Martjin van De Spoel in our lecture at the start of term. I also remembered a day when, for charity, I taught wearing sunglasses and a silly hat. The hat was not an issue, but the sunglasses gave me all sorts of problems as I couldn’t use my eyes for communicating. My other reflection was that we covered far more content than usual. This made me reflect more closely on the amount of talking I do in a lesson. My aim is to relate the knowledge to something they have already learnt and to answer their questions but this has made me decide to think more carefully about what needs to be said.

The students said they were all able to concentrate more fully. However, I suspect this might wane if we had every lesson in silence. I already incorporate silent work into lessons but I will now try and make sure it will appear more frequently. They said their biggest negative was that they had questions in their head that didn’t get answered and this disrupted their thinking.


No praise

When I initially saw this title as lecture at the start of term by Dr Barry Hymer, I was ready to argue my corner as I have always found praise an excellent tool. However in this lecture it was highlighted to me that the definition of praise is ‘Express warm approval or admiration of’. This has a judgement attached to it and this made me think more carefully about how I used praise.

Every time I asked a question to the class and a student answered, I replied with ‘thank you and the student’s name’.  There were a variety of tasks in the lesson and I endeavoured not to ‘praise’ at any point. I found this very difficult and had to think carefully about how to respond to students.

In the reflection at the end of the lesson the students worked out that I was responding differently but they weren’t aware of me not using praise. They found it patronising initially and they then found it frustrating that they didn’t know when a correct answer was given. However some students said that they found it helped them to pay more attention to what was being said as students answered questions and that they could think more thoroughly and carefully about what was being said.

Going forward it was agreed that they would still like me to use it but not frequently. I think I will use it particularly when I want to encourage students to take risks, for example making predictions that aren’t based on previous knowledge.



I was also able to go to several colleagues classrooms and see lessons on this theme too. In particular I was able to see a colleague who was not speaking in his lesson but allowing the students to speak. He had already done a lesson like this earlier in the week and had refined his approach further. He introduced the aim for the lesson and explained it using no more than 3 minutes including in that time to ask questions.

It was great for me to go around the room and speak to students and see how they viewed a ‘silent’ teacher. Initially they were a little slow to work out what they were going to do but as they realised it was up to them, they became far more independent and more likely to persevere with their task. The teacher was still able to gain their attention and was also able to remind them of their overall aim after some students had become rather too involved in the individual tasks rather than the overall aim.