The sound of silence is the sound of failure

28th March 1997 at 00:00
In Research Focus (TES, March 14) you reported on research into the value of encouraging children to discuss their mathematics as a way of improving their standards.

I fully agree with what seems to be the central core of the research, that students need to be able, for example, to pronounce and use mathematical language in order to be able to remember it and that putting ideas into the spoken word helps with analysis and understanding (and hence recall).

However, I am concerned that, yet again, two issues are wrongly linked - that of discussion in the classroom and that of individualised work schemes.

It is not the first time that articles in The TES have unquestioningly stated that the use of an individualised work scheme (necessarily) means that classrooms are full of children silently working in isolation.

I think that this type of assumption debases the educational debate.

Individualised work schemes are simply that - work set for individual students, which may or may not be done individually and may or may not be done in silence.

I have used a secondary individualised scheme with success for years and on a Friday afternoon towards the end of term I often wish that students were in these mythical bubbles of quiet contemplation.

In fact, I often start to tell a group of students to be quiet and have to stop myself because they are having a very heated mathematical discussion - very different from my own schooling.

It does require skill to have just the right level and content of discussion going on, while weeding out gossip and disruption, and I don't suppose many of us get it right all the time.

For me, however, a silent classroom would be a mark of failure, unless I am specifically running a one-off silent lesson, which gives students a very powerful insight into the importance of communication.

JANE EADES 32 Petergate London SW11

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