Today we had a class meeting to discuss applying the idea laid out in the book, No Talking by Andrew Clements, to the classroom.
There was a resounding cheer from the class, and as we discussed details and options, and a few of them began to realize just how difficult this could be. The ground rules, as presented in the book, are as follows:
1) You can not talk.
2) If an adult talks to you, you can give a response in 3 words or less.
3) If you want to communicate, you have to act it out or write it. Singing and whispering counts as talking.
After letting this sink in, there were essentially three camps of fourth graders.
1) Those that wanted to try the experiment for a day, at home and at school.
2) Those that wanted to try it for two days.
3) Those that wanted to only try it at school.
We practiced today during the last period of class. I used our "Star Wall" as a way to monitor whispering and exclamations (as a class, when the children are on task, they earn stars. At the end of the day, the stars are counted and deposited into a star bank. At the end of the year the class can decide how to 'cash in' their stars- extra recess, an in-class movie, a pizza party, etc). After a rough initial five minutes of realizing alternative to talking, the kids responded beautifully. Aside from the blissful quiet, it was so awesome to see them act out what they wanted, rephrase questions in 3 words to me, and communicate with each other primarily through writing. Most carried around a small white board to "talk" to each other.
After the 40 minute experiment, I asked the class if they still wanted to try this for real, or if they felt that it was too difficult. All of them still wanted to do it, but I was scratching my head how I was going to make this fair, and explain it to the parents in a way that they could support this.
To be clear, I think there are some great reasons to do this experiment:
1) It allows students to think before they communicate, and thus enhances self-discipline.
2) It gives students practice in communicating with writing.
3) It does sharpen the mind, as thinking becomes a higher priority than speaking.
But I was wanting to connect it to something more tangible. My idea occurred after school was out. We have fund raising for our Explore Nepal program. The children sell things that they made during our class economy to raise funds for supplies to help do activities with our sister school. So to make this a more tangible exercise than simply an experiment in alternate communication, and to allow each child to choose their level of comfort with where and how they choose not to talk, tomorrow I'll propose a pledge drive. For each hour the children abide by the rules of the experiment, they'll collect pledges from donors. I think it will be a great alternative to raise money, and provide an altruistic external motivation for them to keep going.
We'll need some time to collect pledges, and as the children pointed out today, this week they are performing in the Upper Elementary musical, and doing the experiment during one of those days would make the performance kind of boring and short.
I'll write about this again after the experiment has been conducted, and report the results.