Silence is golden. You may recall my newsletter from the end of last term – here’s a reminder:
Understanding that we all think and respond at different rates and that those who are silent before answering often have the deeper ideas is also part of children’s learning. We teachers know that we need to give all children ‘wait time’, that is, don’t ask the first responders but just sit in silence for a little while before asking any child for their response.
The second context around silence is the literal meaning of silence; no sound. I’ll talk about this in the context of modern learning environments in my column next term.
There are very few times these days when we experience silence. Proper silence with no ambient hum or background traffic noise or people noise; proper silence. Over the past couple of decades, as they delve deeper into how the brain works, scientists have discovered the positive effects that silence has on our health and especially, our brain. Read the article Why Silence is Good for Your Brain
Through research into the relaxing effect of different types of music on people’s bodies, scientists found that when participants in the study were experiencing the silence between the relaxing music, different neurons in their brains lit up. During the silence it was discovered that new brain cells were created in the area of the brain that is responsible for encoding new memories.
When you are not distracted by any form of noise, there appears to be a quiet time in your brain that allows it to process things. During these periods of silence, your brain has the freedom it needs to discover and process and lets you think about profound things in an imaginative way.
Silence seems to have the opposite effect of the brain to noise. While noise may cause stress and tension, silence releases tension in the brain and body. A study published in the journal Heart
discovered that two minutes of silence can prove to be even more relaxing than listening to “relaxing” music.
In the context of the ‘innovative learning spaces’ that have become common in many schools, what is the effect of the noise / lack of silence on children? There are now a number of studies coming out that seem to show that open plan work environments are not compatible with productivity. Harvard Study
In the absence of any studies of ILEs, perhaps we could extrapolate the findings from the Harvard study to focus on the effects on children of large open plan learning environments.
In open plan ILEs, children who are distractible struggle. Children who need silence in order to produce quality work struggle. Children who cannot tolerate loud noise struggle. If the neuroscience around the positive effect of silence on the brain is to be considered, then all children could be disadvantaged. The most creative thinking is done in a silent environment. Yes, we want children to collaborate but periods of silence are needed in order for children to think more deeply, more creatively. The same is true for single cell classrooms, but it is easier to have periods of silence with fewer children in the room.
According to the World Health Organisation and European Commission’s Joint Research Centre, the cognitive functions most affected by noise are memory, problem solving, creativity and reading focus. Silence is more important to your brain than you might think.
Fortunately, at VAS, we have the opportunity to explore completely different models of innovative learning environments as we go through our property planning process. The ability to provide silent spaces as well as collaborative spaces will be at the top of the agenda and I don’t believe having one large open plan space with 90 students is the way to go.
The parent meeting on Monday was expertly facilitated by board member Martin Cooper. Around 25 people attended and Martin led them through a thoughtful process in order to find out what parents want VAS to look like and to be like for their children. Participants all contributed their thoughts on a number of aspects of school life, not just property. The feedback from the meeting, along with feedback from the teacher session and from children will be synthesised and a brief given to the architect from The Ministry of Architecture and Design. He is tasked with putting together a masterplan for property development and improvement for the next decade. Below is the time frame:
20 May What’s important to parents
27 May What’s important to teachers
Week of 27 May What’s important to children
20 – 31 May Ministry of Architecture and Design review of current facilities and assessment based on the current roll
10 June Discussions around priorities and staging
28 June Review draft masterplan and QS costings
8 July Finalise masterplan and take to Ministry of Education
World Day for Cultural Diversity
Children and teachers have really enjoyed three weeks of delving into different cultures. The learning culminated with classes sharing their new knowledge and understanding with each other. A shared lunch in each class was a lovely way for children to share food that is special to them. The parents who came along to the concert (see video below) enjoyed a variety of items from the kapa haka group, Chinese dance and song, the band and choir. They also enjoyed joining in singing and using New Zealand’s third language, signing, performing We’re All Children of the World.
Year 5 Camp
Children, parents and teachers have returned from a wonderful camp experience at the MERC camp in Long Bay. We all agreed that the best part of a camp is seeing children push themselves outside their comfort zones and trying activities that they are scared of. The looks on their faces when they achieve something new is just a joy to see.
Welcome to David Wilson, new teacher in year 5. David has come to New Zealand from England and he was thrown in the deep end, literally! Seven days after arriving and one day after starting at VAS he experienced a kiwi style camp. He slotted in easily and from what I saw, he is an honorary kiwi already.