Idle Chatter is Something to Talk About!

There’s much being said about student voice.

Dr. Russ Quaglia invests heavily in the research about this exact topic. His book, Student Voice: The Instrument of Change is really a mandate necessary for positive school reform. However, to really allow student voice to change our schools and change the individual experiences of our children? We have to give that voice a starting place. We have to LISTEN.

Teachers typically aren’t very good listeners. We find ourselves clipping conversations short. Especially conversations that “have nothing to do with the curriculum.” (Consider this: I think every conversation in the classroom, even ones teachers perceive as unproductive, are nurturing our children to sharing a powerful possibility.)

Idle chatter. There’s something to it.

Recently, this is a conversation that unfolded in my classroom. It was unprompted–meaning I didn’t ask a question, and the task my learners were completing–had nothing to do with the transcript you’re going to read below.

“My mom is not voting for Trump.”

(I hear this and have that split second thought that many teachers have: Wait. What? Do I let this flow–or do I shush it.) 

Well my brother wants Trump to win.”

“If Hillary wins, she will be the first girl president.”

“What? (pointing dramatically) What did you just say? You said SHE will be a president?”

“Yeah. There has never been a girl president. Ever.”

“I read a book Grace for president. Grace is a girl.”

“Well that’s a book. It’s not real. This is for real. If Hillary wins she will be the first girl president.”

“I don’t think that’s fair. Why do boys always win?”

“Because most people like voting for boys more than girls.”

“Just because they are boys.”

“Boys aren’t better just because they are boys.”

“I’m a boy and I think it’s not fair that girls don’t get picked like boys get picked.”

“Yeh,  boys lie too.”

“Guys. You know what Hillary did? She got in trouble with the police and when they were getting mad at her. She ran from the police.”

“I still don’t think it’s fair that girls don’t get voted for.”

“I have dance class on Saturday.”

Seriously. That was the entire conversation.

There were multiple opportunities for me to interject. To share my knowledge or (worse) my opinion. Chances to question. However, during their little, but mighty social and ethical discussion?

It was better for me to just listen.

Children’s conversations–even older children’s conversations–will run a natural course if you let it.

So what do teachers gain from letting chat happen?

We learn to listen. We can stand back as if we are a fly on the wall and simply listen. We can listen with our eyes and our hearts–not just our ears and empathize with the issues and our ideas our learners carry with them.

Allowing children to talk forces teachers to be reflectively relevant. If our learners are talking about it? You better believe it’s important to them. We need to reflect on the personal and social conversations occurring in the classroom and how we can connect these ideas to deeper learning.

When teachers stop talking and merely listen to children you are presented with a more authentic, unbiased dialogue. You are allowing children to think critically.  They evaluate, judge, establish criteria, and draw conclusions. They empathize, they disagree, they are exposed to other points of view.

Children become better listeners if you allow them to be talkers. They take turns. They wait to be heard. In fact, children are using social norms without them ever being taught explicitly.

Letting chat happen creates a safe environment for our children to be expressive. It provokes natural debate, and challenges. It prompts children to advocate for their beliefs. Children know a lot more about the world than we most people think they do. What begins as seemingly idle conversation can be the root of a powerful idea that leads to an immeasurable learning experience.

The next time the chatter begins in your classroom, refrain from halting the “off topic”discourse. Listen with purpose. Use your learners’ voices to establish relevancy for their learning. Marvel at the power behind little and young voices.