Before You Silence, Listen

Writing workshop used to be a “no talking” time in my classroom.  As soon as the classical music started, so did my reminders of “silent work.”  Conferences and small groups were interrupted by my need to shhhhh.  As voices spread across the classroom, it was my cue that stamina was up, and so we began our transition to partner time.

We can be so quick to silence interruptions — during instruction, private reading time, whole-class conversations.  First, I think it’s important to make realistic expectations.  Have you ever been to an adult meeting where there are no interruptions?  More importantly,  when we silence student talk, we are exerting our authority, controlling the conversation, and may actually may be doing more harm than good.  I’ve taken a step back recently, given myself a wait time before I manage.  Here’s what I’ve almost silenced (and most definitely silenced in the past):

  • Reactions to a text, a lesson.  Sure, we plan turn-and-talks, but we can’t know for sure what our students will take a read-aloud or our teaching.  Whenever there are many voices reacting, it’s a signal to me that this is something big that we can all stop and talk about.
  • Independent problem-solving.  I’ve stopped a lesson before to ask students why they are talking, to find out they were doing what I’ve been coaching them to do all year — solve a problem on their own.  Often, they do it quickly, quietly, and move on.  They may miss a few moments of instruction, but they would miss far more if I prevented them from doing so.
  • Peer support.  I’ve heard kids helping each other understand a part of a book or mini lesson, helping each other feel better, reminding each other of classroom agreements, asking and offering help during independent workshop time.  What kind of message would I be sending to say, “We can only help each other at these times?”
  • Making connections.  A critical component of learning– making meaning.  When we stop allowing students to make necessary connections, we may actually be stopping the learning process.

Back to writing workshop.

In my transition from first grade to kindergarten, I let go of the “silent writing time” control.  We know from the work of Vygostsky that children actually work within their ZPD when engaging in social behavior.  Looking back, with modeling and coaching, my first graders would have done amazing things with opportunities to talk during writing time.  I think the same can be said for any grade.   I couldn’t  help but ask, though, is all talk productive talk?  Are they doing more talking than writing?

Are they doing more talking than writing?

I brought this up to my class during writing share.  Many kids complained that it was hard to concentrate when there was so much talking.  They added, it can be tricky to write near a friend that they wanted to talk to often.  Through these conversations, children are learning to self-regulate as learners.

After some debate about talking vs. no talking during writing time, my class decided they wanted a talking break at the beginning, middle, and end of writing time.  They created this writing workshop structure:


One friend brought me a three-minute timer (that we typically use for taking turns) to use for the talking times.  Kids don’t have to talk during the talking times.  They can put on headphones and continue writing without an interruption.

We found that this structure honored students who needed a quiet space to work, and our desire to talk while we write.  It also increased stamina.  I made a visual support of this structure to help students track our work time.

Is all talk productive talk?

Today I found myself managing conversations during talk time.  Is this writing talk?  I asked.  We typically do an author feedback session during share, but some days we have a meeting.  At share meeting, I posed the the question to my class:  “What is writing talk? What do writers talk about?”

“Writers talk to help each other” was a big one that kids discussed.  We’ve built a culture of celebrating the different expertise’s in all of us, and my kids know to rely on each other for support.  Our conversation grew, What else do writers talk about?  


My kids know what each of these types of talk are.  First, through lots of exposure and modeling at the beginning of the year.  Then, through guided practice.  Now, they can do these independently, with support.

I’m not expecting perfection after this conversation.  Not all talk will be one of these types of writing talk.  While writing this blog post, I’ve had several quick conversations with my husband and texted with my dad.  I wouldn’t expect myself to sit down and write without stopping for 40 minutes.

Instead, this will be a tool we will use again and again — to self-regulate our on-task talk and work, as a reminder for the many ways writers support each other, for students who need extra breaks to talk in a more productive way, and for partner time.

Letting go of some of our controls can be daunting at first.  Can they handle this?  If kindergartners can, anyone can.  Our kids are capable of a lot, given a voice.

Before silencing, in any part of our day, we can:

  1. Wait and listen.
  2. Think…is this worth me stopping instruction?
  3. Ask, are they showing me we need a break to talk?  Have I been talking too long?
  4. When necessary, redirect to a more purposeful conversation.

6 thoughts on “Before You Silence, Listen

    1. Thank you, Stacey! The structure is working really well for us. Kids couldn’t agree on where the talking break should be -beginning, middle, or end so we tried all three to see which felt best. We ended up liking having all three and kept it!


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