A Vow of Silence

It seemed like such a simple idea.

No talking for an entire day.  The kindergarden teacher said that she did this with her kids for 45 minutes (or 1 hour, can't remember) and they loved it.  They rose to the occasion and thought really hard about how they could do this.

If they could do it for an hour, we could do it for an entire day, right?

The day before our Vow, we wrote a pre-reflection on our blogs (google sites).  I asked them to make a table and fill it in.  I also asked them to chose an image from FlickrCC that spoke to how they were feeling:

Some very interesting responses, but browsing over the entries I see a certain darkness.  I don't want to call it fear, but.... 

The previous day I had them blindfolded for 40 minutes, walking around the first floor of the school and doing tasks (put this book on the piano in the multi-purpose room, water the plants, get a drink of water from the fountain, etc).  They loved it.  Some of them went home and tried it there.  The reflections after that short 40 minutes was some of the best writing I have seen all year (I felt so lonely in the dark, It was like I was disconnected from the world).

Compared to that, this would be simple, non?  I mean, no talking for one day?  Easy.  9am to 3:30pm. Piece of cake. 


There were no rules.  No prizes.  No punishments if they failed or cheated.  They were allowed to use any other form of communication they wished.  Just no verbal communication.  This was a personal challenge, where the only judge of you would be you.  Could you do it?  

As one student so aptly put it, it is just you vs. you.  

Who will win?

I would also be doing it.  In a way, the challenge was even greater for me, since I had to plan an entire days worth of learning engagements and exhibit this self-control (it should be noted that self control has never been one of my stronger traits).  

But I never believed that for a second.  

Kids have incredible difficulty with impulse management.  It is part of growing up.  Their brains are wired this way.  This quote from one of the chapters in Taking the PYP Forward is glued in my head:
Kids cannot control their inhibition sensors due to the limited growth of the prefrontal lobes and thus cannot comprehend fully the consequences of their actions. 
For them, self control and an entire day focused on one thing (not talking) plus the added stress of having to participate in learning activities made for a much more difficult experience.

9:00 - 9:10
We gathered on the front steps of the school.  I stressed the following points:

- get used to listening to yourself think
- create your own bubble, and let your bubble bump into other bubbles
- this a challenge for yourself, just you vs you, if you cheat, you only cheat yourself
- constantly ask yourself; why am I doing this?  What am I learning?
- if you feel stressed, disconnect and go somewhere to be alone
- if you can't do it anymore, there is no shame in stopping
- before you walk through these doors, say one last word.  What is your word?  

My word was "imagination".  I didn't really hear what others said, the front foyer of a school first thing in the morning is not the best place was quiet reflective thought.  I did hear a "good-bye", a "love", and a "here we go".

9:10 - 9:50 
This was our designated library time.  Usually, they read with partners, with the librarian, and with me. However today, we used this as a tuning in session, a chance to just be alone and read a book, or think. It was a low stress time for them to get used to this whole crazy idea.  

There were still things they had to do.  They had to bring back their library books, sign new books out, and all that library stuff.  The librarian was not taking the vow, so she was able to speak with us.  

During this time I gave them a short guide I wrote on taking a Vow of Silence.  There was no activity to do here.  Just read it.  Think about it.  Wonder.  Prepare your mind.  Find your goals.

Get used to listening to yourself think.

I noticed that when asked questions by people, it is instinctive to answer.  Several of the kids were asked questions and started to answer before catching themselves and stopping.  It is hard to control.  I almost did it myself several times.

I was reading a good book and writing this blog post, so I had something to occupy my time.  I felt relaxed and comfortable.  I had a warm tea.  All was good.

A students iPhone cover.  Seriously.
How awesome is that...

9:50 - 10:10 
Snack and break time.  Every morning I give the kids 20 minutes for a break.  They hang out with friends, eat their snack, play mine-craft on their iPods, listen to music and dance, or just be silly.  

Today was different.  Kind of.

The room is usually incredibly noisy.  I like that noise.  The sound of children playing (yes, even grade 5 and 6 kids are still children, and still play) is one of my favorite sounds in the world.  Yet, today was silent.  But, looking around the room, it was the same old thing.  The iPod crew played minecraft, showing each other their screens, giving each other thumbs ups and smiles.  The dancers danced and played tag.  The readers read.  

Playing can exist without sound.

10:10 - 11:15 
I originally planned to continue our Vitruvian man measurements.  I was going to write a bunch of new proportions on the board and have them get to it.  But, right before we started I had a change of mind.  It was too easy for me.  I wanted to try and explain a complex idea and see if they could understand.

I drew a picture of myself on the board.  Then I wrote my height next to it.  I divided my height in half and got a new number.  Then I took a meter stick and measured my new number.  I found that it was a point directly below my navel.  This is my 1/2 point.  I wrote a bunch of other fractions on the board.  Some of them got what I was asking them to do, others needed me to write the instructions in words on the board.

I know I can't draw.  Doesn't bother me.
I really wanted to stress accurate drawings.  Change your drawing to make it as anatomically correct as possible.  I took a ruler and measured from the bottom part of the diagram to the 1/2 way point.  Then I measured from the 1/2 point up to the top.  If the two measurements were not the same, it was inaccurate.  

This was going really well, so I asked (haha) the ones who had finished to draw an anatomically correct picture of their faces.  This needed the help of a partner, so I got to see some really cool communication strategies.  

- Some were using white boards to write their thoughts, but this was too slow, so we tried to shorten our sentences to make it easier, but then the other person couldn't understand what we were trying to say
- lip-reading and mouthing words is hard, really hard
- artifacts around the room are great, and can easily represent words
- gestures are king and the majority of the gestures we used were embedded in our culture; head shaking, finger wagging, bowing, etc.
- facial expressions can understanding so easy; if the other person is getting it, they must let you know they are getting it, or it is frustrating (communication is a two way street)

11:15 - 11:30 
We took the last 15 minutes before lunch to clean up and organize our thoughts.  I asked a couple of leading questions on the board and asked to reflect on how they were communicating thus far.  

Do you feel frustrated?  
Is smiling important?  Why?  
How are you using gestures?  
Is lip reading and mouthing effective?  Is writing on the little whiteboards easy or hard?
Are you having fun? 
What are you learning about communication?  
What are you learning about yourself?

We had a class discussion.  This was probably the most fun I have ever had in a classroom (since the Tanuki ate our corn).  We noticed that different gestures are unique to different countries.  The American students thought no was a shaking of the head, but for the Japanese students it was a waving of the hand.   They mentioned that the whiteboards were not good for communicating because it took too long to write what you wanted to say.  Also, when you were writing and reading, you were not making eye-contact.  Eye-contact was the best way to communicate.  Smiling was also important, because it told the other person that you get what they are saying.  Our facial expressions are so important to determining if the other person is understanding.  Oh yeah, and lip reading is HARD!  It is okay for single words, but a waste of time for anything longer.  Different languages pronounce things differently, so the kids were getting confused with the mouth shapes while trying to read lips.

Most importantly to me, they told me that they were having fun, and they were enjoying the experience.

At least I think this is what we talked about.  It is how I was reading the situation.  Everybody will hear something different and read these conversations in their own way...

11:30 - 12:20 
This is lunch and recess.  I usually spend some time chatting with colleagues  eating my lunch, reading, blogging, or just relaxing.  Today though, I followed my kids.  Went to the cafeteria, ate lunch with them, went out for recess with them and played tag.  They probably thought that I was watching them and making sure they didn't speak, but the truth is, I wanted to be with them because I am loving the feelings I am experiencing today.  

So alive. 

12:20 - 1:05 
Usually this time every week I have a parent come in and read us a novel.  I considered canceling the class for today, but I decided to keep it in and I really glad I did.  It was a very different feeling.  Firstly, it was nice to hear a voice, especially the lovely Mrs B.  Secondly, it was interesting to see the difference between communication with two people, and listening.  The purpose here changed.  They went from trying to get their message across, to concentrating on somebody else's message.

I tried to orient attention to this fact, but I am pretty sure nobody understood what I was trying to say.  I just couldn't get my meaning across.  A couple of them might have got it, but I don't think so.  After a couple of minutes of this, I gave up.

It was hilarious to watch them react to the book.  Literature has such power over the human mind.  An exciting part of the book would come up and kids would just yell out their thoughts, completely forgetting about the vow.  It happened about 10 times during the 45 minutes of reading.  They couldn't control themselves, because they were no engaged and emotionally invested in the story.  Books have power.

1:05 - 1:45
Luckily, the only specialist class of the day was music.  And luckily again, the music teacher was excited to have a music class with no talking.  

Recorders, ok.  Singing, no.  This is what we agreed on.  

Even luckier, he took a vow as well for the 45 minute period!  And even luckierly (copyright me) he knows a bit of sign language!  He walked them through the alphabet and had them trying to sign their own names.  It was amazing to see how fast the kids picked it up.  Smiles all around.

Next, he led them through some rhythm activities, clapping to a beat.  Then onto recorder and finally onto glockenspiel and bells.  What was amazing though, is the whole time we went through his lesson, he explained all the instructions using the sign language from the first half of the class.  They remembered and were thinking hard about it.  It was amazing to watch.  The applause they gave each other after their glockenspiel solo's was filled with so much soul....

1:45 - 2:05 
Recess.  Beautiful weather today.  Bright blue skies, no clouds.  The snow is melting.  The weather is warm.  Only need a light coat.

Stunning.  Feels like spring is in the air.

2:05 - 2:45 
We are starting an art project next week.  Each team of students has already chosen their topic, or imaginative what if... question to explore (what if we only saw the world in 2D? or what if we could see radio waves?).  Today, they had to brainstorm ideas and feelings associated with that question (expect a long post in the coming weeks about this project).  This class has grown a lot this year in their ability to brainstorm.  Brainstorming silently was hard.  A couple fo groups got stuck.  I blame myself.  I should have given them a narrower topic to focus on.  I set it too wide open.  

I helped each group get started.  I wrote a couple of things down and then something clicked and they were off to the races.  We will take another stab at this next week while we can talk.

2:45 - 3:25 
To finish off the day, we went back to our gSites blog post and wrote about the day.  I sent an email with a brief overview of what I wanted, and let them go.  After our time of blindness the other day, I had such success with no structure I thought I would try it again.

1) Choose an interesting title for your article
2) Write about the day as and talk about your experience.  Imagine your article is going to be published in the Scoop (school newsletter).  What did you learn?  What was difficult?  Easy?  Fun?  Interesting?  Boring?  Stressful?  Etc.  Focus on feelings....
3) Choose an image that sums up your feelings for the day from FlickrCC

I left them along as much as possible.  It was important to me that this was a self reflective moment, and there is nothing worse than having somebody standing over your shoulder telling you what to do when you are trying to reflect.  As for me, I used this time to write this blog post.  

I will read their posts tonight.

At 3:30 we walked past the front door of the school, the same place where we started.  Buses were waiting.  The kids were excited.  I asked them to think about their first word out the door.  Again, it was noisy so I didn't hear much.

What I learned from my Vow of Silence

Too many to count, but I'll focus on two.

1) I talk too much
Way too much.  I need to explain less, talk less, help less.  They are very capable of understanding for themselves.  When set to their own devices, kids are amazingly imaginative.  I need to shift my role from:

v. manage, help, explain, guide, show, organize, facilitate, coach, train, teach, etc


v. inspire, engage, enliven, arouse, provoke, challenge, push, exhilarate, spark, inspirit, orient, empower, etc.

I am very confident that kids are able to take care of the first list of verbs.  The second list is what I want to be doing.

2) Blogging is a part of me
This blog is a safe place for me.  I wrote this post as it was happening during the day. Writing is a comfort.  A candle.  It is how I express myself and how I grow as a person.  Some people could spend the whole day alone with their thoughts, just thinking.  Not me.  I need to write.  I need to get the ideas out of my mind head, and onto something.  I can't tell you the amount of stories and blog posts I have written and never published.  I just write them because I need to process an idea, and this is how I do it.

I could care less if anybody reads it.  Getting it out is an impulse I need to satisfy.

This really was an inspiring day for me, and I hope for the kids.   I don't know if it was,  I haven't spoken to them about it yet!  Monday morning I might....

For now though, I have some blog posts to read.


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