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Sometimes the Teacher Just Needs to Stop Talking

Sometimes the Teacher Just Needs to Stop Talking

Do you ever find yourself just talking to your class, continuing an explanation perhaps or re-explaining a task, just because it’s quiet and you feel the need to talk to them? I do, and I need to stop.

Last Friday I was teaching some decimal rules to the year 7’s. I had a great powerpoint planned out with good, detailed explanations and examples. As they were writing down the title and lesson goal, I started asking questions to assess their prior knowledge of the rules we would be going through in that lesson. I then started to briefly explain what we would be doing, and how we would approach it, when I realised I could tell them in much simpler terms exactly how to do what we needed to do.

So I scrapped my entire power point and just started talking. In the space of 2 minutes I’d explained how to approach the problems in sufficient detail that one student asked if I could stop so they could try it out themselves, because it seemed simple enough. This was a boy who usually struggles with math, and here he was wanting me to shut up so he could get on and try it himself.

I did as asked and stopped talking, directing them straight to the questions I’d expected to be showing them in another 10 minutes or so. And they got it. Turns out my simple explanation was sufficient, and if I’d kept talking I’d likely have over-explained it and confused them (which I’ve been guilty of in the past). I didn’t actually need to say any more. But boy did I want to keep talking.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I find it hard to stop talking, stop explaining, stop offering suggestions, and just let them get on with it.

I’ve found this any time the students are working quietly (or loudly) and they don’t need input from me. All I want to do is talk to them. If it’s an exam, I find myself wanting to give them advice; if it’s a group task, I want to re-explain their roles; if it’s an individual task, I want to give further details.

I will literally be walking around the classroom telling myself to stop talking and let them get on with it. If they have a problem then they will ask, and I can talk to them. I can go around and check on individual students or groups, and discuss things with them, and I don’t then need to discuss the same thing with the rest of the class (unless it’s necessary).

I even find when I give them a timed task, I end up getting bored and wanting to cut their time short because there isn’t much for me to do. There are only so many times you can check on their work.

They don’t need more input from me, and they’ll usually gain a deeper understanding if they work out something themselves. They are quite capable of learning off each other and making mistakes and fixing them without my intervention.

And if the class is quiet, no body needs me making noise and disturbing them.

Sometimes I just need to back off and shut up!


Emily is a secondary science and math teacher in Australia. She enjoys sharing the real and human teacher life, facilitating the ‘light bulb’ moment in her students, and drinking tea and wine.

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1 Comment

  • Gail Bobro April 3, 2017 at 11:25 am

    Sounds like you are an amazing teacher. One of the goals of Common Core math is for them to “get on with it” either individually or in a group. I was reading another one of your posts “Planning Can’t Wait” and I’m impressed that you took that lesson you carefully crafted and dumped it when you found a better way. And what a great culture you must have in your class room for a struggling student to speak up and tell you that.
    I’m going to pay more attention this week to how much talking I do myself. Multiple representations and differentiation make me say things so many different ways, sometimes I wonder if I get things mixed up which would confuse them more. When I think of some of my students staring off into space or nodding off, I’m thinking maybe I need to just shut up, too.
    Or maybe, I chunk my lessons a little more. In 7th grade it’s not solving the equation that is really hard, it’s remembering all the other things that you learned like integers, decimals and fractions. If I broke that up a little bit I wouldn’t have to talk as much (which would make them happy) and they would have more time practicing (which would make me happy.

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