Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Participation and Silence

Participation is critical to learning particularly as a way to challenge our ideas and beliefs, share our thoughts and discover new ways of thinking. But what does ‘participation' typically look like? Does all participation need to be verbal or loud? 

Well, participation is not always about being the first to respond or about having lengthy group discussions and debates. Participation can be facilitated via a simple voting activity with a yes/no response or using social media tools and technologies – for example, tweet a reflection or write a blog post, etc. Being shy, anxious or not much of a talker does not absolve anyone from the responsibility of participating in a learning experience. Having said that, it is important to realize that participation may be different for different people. 

Silence, often misunderstood, also speaks. It gives us the pauses that we need to learn and to teach. Some times, silence is about being respectful and at other times, it is self-protective. But silence is also participative. One participant's silence enables another participant's voice to be heard. 

I loved this post on 'Sanctioning Silence in the Classroom' where the author says:

"In his "Lecture on Nothing" from his book Silence, John Cage states that "What we require is silence; but what silence requires is that I go on talking." Silence and speech exist together in a symbiotic relationship. Silence is not merely the antithesis of speech but rather the necessary precondition for authentic, lively, and engaged speech."

To me, participation is as much a collective responsibility of the group as it is an individual responsibility. Everyone needs to feel that their contribution is adding to the learning experience and is ultimately facilitating new conversations. The learning environment has a role to play as do the facilitators in encouraging the right kind of participation. But participation is not about the frequency or the quantity of conversations. Participation is about engaging fully and authentically and sometimes being silent is a way to do it.