The Sounds of Silence and Beyond

“Sound can act like a psycho-active substance, altering and enhancing consciousness.” ~ Jonathan Goldman, Tantra of Sound.

I was in my yoga class the other morning it came to my attention, after we all chanted the sound Hammmmm that this sound alone can actually calm one down as the vibrations move through our bodies.  Being the ever -present skeptic I decided to put this into practice.  So each time I started to feel a bit stressed or frustrated I simply hummed to myself and the results were kind of freaky.  I did instantly feel calmer as the vibrations moved through my bodies, like a tuning fork settling me in a most calming bath of sound.  I liked it. I looked weird, I realize.  But I liked it.

Babies do this automatically as they coo and hum to themselves in the cribs.  Those moments I would steal outside the nursery just listening to my baby’s sooth themselves.  I miss that.


That night I went, reluctantly to my singing group.  I sing with a group of 200 women and we meet weekly on Mondays.  This was the beginning of a new session and it was a rainy, cold night and the couch looked so much more appealing than actually stepping out into that crud.  But I went.  And of course, as is always the case, I left that rehearsal in great spirits.  The “sound” of the collective voices will never cease to amaze me! We knock the walls off of that church.  The sound is amazing!!  I either get the chills or I well up at least once at every single rehearsal.  The sound moves me.

So the question then becomes, what does sound have to do with learning?  I am wondering about the silence of learning and how many of our kids are struggling within the cells of silence.  My 19-year-old daughter, Emma, has always loved to read out loud.  From the time she could hold a book in her hand she would line up her stuffed animals and dolls creating her own audience and “read” to them, holding the book up so that they could all see the pictures.  Her stories went on and on, the book often even upside down.  Her delight in herself and in her creation of sounds was always mesmerizing.  Her stamina always outlasted mine as I sat off to the side listening or hopefully videotaping these acts of sheer pleasure.  Nonsense words she would trill over her tongue over and over and over until the next string of words and phrases would come along.  The stories sometimes made sense, as she recalled information from our readings together, but more often she would go off into a world of her own just bathing in the sound of her own voice.

Emma still reads out loud to herself.  It is one of the things I miss with her being off at college. Thank goodness Zachary’s music fills in for her words bouncing off the walls.  When I ask her about this she tells me that she understands it so much more when she reads it out loud.  She loves to hear as well as see what she is reading.  She knows it only slows her down, but the pure enjoyment she gets out of this process is one that she is not willing to give up.

So my question then becomes, why are so many classrooms going silent?  Why have we created a self -imposed sound barrier of sorts?  How many of our students need to “hear” themselves and others to make sense?  How many opportunities are our students given to include the idea of sound, or as Newkirk refers to in his book The Art of Slow Reading, “auditorazation” when they are learning?


This generation is the “sound” generation.  Never before has sound been more accessible and available to everyone.  These kids are plugged in or jamming out to music wherever they go.  As the “elder” generation we are supposed to see this as bad, and yet I can conjure up the days when I spent my entire summer’s earnings and bought myself my first stereo complete with turntable, receiver and kick ass huge advent speakers.  I drove all the way to Manchester for a tent sale to get that sound and the first time I blasted Journey was sheer ecstasy.  Kids don’t have to drive to get the sounds they love.  They don’t have to wait to get the vinyl.  They are surrounded by the sounds they love all day every day.  They use this sound to connect with each other and the world.


And yet, in sharp contrast the classroom still remains mostly silent, less the sound of the teacher’s voice.  How can we expect our students to listen to one voice for hours at a time when their minds are consciously aware at how one -dimensional it is?  (The Charlie Brown teacher, wah wah wah rings in my head as I write this)  When is the last time you saw a classroom bursting with sound?  We don’t even want our kids talking in the halls.


I think back to the  “Noisy Reading Around the Classroom” where my students would take rulers and pointers and anything else they could find and go around the room reading everything on the walls.  The walls were plastered with poetry, lyrics, and phrases and such.  The directions would only be that each child read noisily alongside each other and read with great passion and expression.  It was sheer chaos and while I realize not for all students, it allowed others the chance to move and express loudly.   How often are students asked to express themselves?  Not nearly as often as they are asked to be quiet and sit down, or to walk quietly in the hallway in a straight line.

And as a disclaimer, please realize that I know there are many classrooms out there where it is not silent all of the time…. at the same time I would argue that more and more and younger and younger I see students in their seats and being asked to work quietly.  And also know that I am not against silence either.  My point here is that while we need silent time for quiet work we also need a balance of sound in our schools where kids are collaborating, talking, expressing themselves out loud, and connecting with each other, as well as having quiet work times and yes, maybe even perhaps humming to themselves along the way.

Ta la la

22 thoughts on “The Sounds of Silence and Beyond

  1. Tomasen, I love this post! I was laughing (in agreement) in many parts. (Especially while reading about your sound system.)

    I often use the “Wah wa wah” example when I wish my students would participate in our discussion more…or after I read the Standardized Test directions to my students.

    I think it’s great that Emma still loves to read aloud! I wish all readers did so at times.

    Thanks to the work of Karen Janowski, lately I’ve been playing around with Google’s “Speak it” as a text to speech tool for readers to use to have blogs read aloud to them and writers can use to hear their own writing to help find places to revise their writing.

    I wish there was a way for kids who benefit from making noise to do so; but, without distracting the learning from other kids. Some of my students have used deadphones, which seem to work. I agree with you. We need to find a balance.

  2. Great post, Tomasen! Lea’s reading The Scarlet Letter in her Honors English class. She started reading it silently, then aloud, and then got on youtube to have it read to her. She comprehends better when listening to it (her own voice or a recording). Even high school kids need that auditory piece of learning, don’t they?

    She’s also my child who has to have music blasting to get her homework done. 🙂

    I’m really enjoying your blog… your thoughtful posts….and pictures of the kids, too!

    • Hey Kath!
      Good to hear from you! We missed you last month!! I think SO many of them have the music blasting and while I may not be able to focus with that I really think many of our kids CAN!! Love that she found it on Youtube…I think many kids comprehend better when they are also able to “hear” the book, no matter how they go about it…and that is a challenging book! I think especially in High School. The further up in the grades we get the less alternative strategies, in my humble opinion, are used!!
      Thanks for reading and responding!!

  3. I enjoyed this post very much! You can carry this theory into other things. My fiddle teacher, who has a really tough job trying to teach me anything, especially improvising and hormonizing, told me to sing what i was trying to play on the violin.

    • Hey Lolo!
      I love this idea! We learn things so much more quickly embedded in music. I believe it is because music is the one thing we do that actually engages BOTH sides of our brain at the same time, as opposed to being simply right OR left! Kind of cool really! Thanks for reading and responding!

  4. Tomasen,
    Your blog reminds me of the Goo Goo Dolls song lyric
    “And I wonder where these dreams go
    When the world gets in your way
    What’s the point in all this screaming
    No one’s listening anyway”
    Kids are silent. Teachers are silent.

  5. I really enjoyed this article. I work with small groups of young students. We are usually working in an area where there are other students working as well. There are times when my students get excited about what they are reading or a play they are practicing. Unfortunately I have to tell my students to quiet down, much too often. I hate to curb their enthusiasm.

    • Hi Linda.
      I have seen you work in those limited spaces. Are there any other nooks or crannies you can find to work with them so that you can take your mind off of keeping them quiet? Great to hear from you. Hope you are having a great year.

  6. We have re- configured our space this year for Title I and we now have 2 resource rooms that are available to us.This is soooo much better than working in the hallways with kids. However, both resource rooms usually have one or more groups working at the same time. What I usually like to do when the weather gets warm, is to take my group outside and they can be as loud as they like.

    I haven’t finished reading all the articles, but I love what I have read so far. You are such as awesome writer.

  7. LOVE the blog, Tomasen! I’ll continue reading to help keep me grounded. We all so miss you in Salem! Now I’m off to school for my usual Sunday “catch up” session. Sadly, I probably won’t be the only teacher there!

  8. I like this…..I always felt that rocking and humming with babies and grandbabies soothed me as well as them……I would like to know more about the vibrations…..when I make the sound, I hear another vibe sound much deeper than the hammmm. Does everybody? Wondering is all…..

    • Hi Jay!!!
      SO good to hear from you and as I respond I envision you with your 9th graders reading out LOUD…such a great book and I know you will bring great energy to it! Hope you are having a great year and thanks for chiming in! Hope to “see” you here often!!

  9. Is workshop–where I am teaching and facilitating independent work–silent? Hmm…

    Silence takes the form of leisure and luxury in my class. Silence is tossing the plan for that day because they clearly didn’t get the homework, the cognitive proces behind it, and so we all breathe, put down our pencils, and talk about what we understood and didn’t understand. (My favorite middle schooler comment, by the way, “I’m totally confused.”) No additional assignment, maybe a freewrite eventually, some conferring with a trusted peer.

    Deep instead of wide. Silent instead of noisy. Oh shit, and here comes that CFA…

    • Dear Mr. HS,
      I love the idea as silence in the form or leisure and luxury. This is something I can easily buy into. I believe we are thinking of the silence and the noise in compltely different terms…thus why I love to hear your thinking. Are you referring to silence as much as the idea of going deeply and allowing yourself the freedom to allow your students the time to go as deeply as they can?

      Duck!! Did you miss the CFA?


  10. Lovely post, Tomasen. You really cut to the heart of things.
    I worry that the biggest lesson young children have to learn when they start school is to be quiet. “Line up silently.” “I’m waiting for quiet.” “I like how So-and-So is being nice and quiet.” I realize we need order in the classrooms, but I just cringe at the thought of my little grandson, who’s in Kindergarten this year, being required to be silent or quiet for most of the day. It feels so unnatural.

    The other thing your post reminded me of was my work in Chinatown with immigrant middle school children. That school of 1400 was deadly quiet. When Danling Fu came to visit, she mentioned to the faculty that she was surprised not to hear more talking among the students. one teacher said, “You don’t understand; it’s in their culture to be quiet.” Danling, who is Chinese herself, said with the greatest patience and dignity, “We are just like you. We want to be known.”

    I think of this story so often, realizing that it’s the ultimate human imperative. “We want to be known.” I worry that Bjorn and so many of our children may be missing this chance.

    Don’t get me started on the value of singing!! You really raise some wonderful points there too. Thank you for this………


    • Hi Maureen!
      How nice to “see” you here!!
      I hear you about your grandson and wonder about the same things myself. So much of what we do it because we have always done it! Imagine walking down the hallways with your colleagues and having to go silently and single file. Hallways are a great meeting place for connections and conversations to happen! Most unnatural indeed! Where is he attending kindergarten?
      What a great Danling story!!
      Would love to know your thinking about singing!
      Hope all is well!

      • I love your blog! So good to know that you sing. When I was in school, there was much more singing and much more poetry recitation. These are among my strongest, best memories. In the school where I supervise, I love to hear the children singing in the auditorium in the mornings. I wish all kids, all of us too, had more singing and more poetry in our lives. Lovely image of your daughter reading aloud.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s