Someone is almost always talking in my classroom. I admit I talk more than I should, but so much of what we do ends up in discussion, which is good. Students explain their thinking, share their beliefs, and both argue and defend their personal truths. Class discussion indicates engagement and enables students to understand that not everyone thinks as they do.
The world of today's student and today's teacher is seldom still. Even when the noise of our high definition televisions, the chatter of our family and friends, and the vibes of our favorite ipod music disappear, we continue to hear the silent sounds transmitted through our fingertips as we communicate with our computer and smartphone apps. We are continually bombarded by exterior messages.
Cliches are cliches for a reason; the saying, "Silence is golden," could now read, "Silence is rare." Yet, it is silence that enables the brain to reach into long forgotten files and memories, retrieving that which is called insight. I'm convinced poets honor that silence of the mind, knowing it is there that words show themselves, revealing passages that are both beautiful and true --
--that's why ten Halloweens ago I bought the tombstone... not one of those cheap, plastic looking ones you see at Walmart, but a tombstone that looked almost real; it even had a little wrought iron fence attached to the bottom. I brought it to school the day students were beginning a new writing assignment, setting it up at the front of the classroom after we'd gone over the rubric. Immediately, one of the kids said, "What's that for? Halloween is over." (Don't you love it when kids say just what you'd planned for them to say?) We talked about silence for a bit --interesting discussion, by the way --and then I explained that anytime the tombstone was out, it was Graveyard Time. That meant no talking, no whispering, no eye contact --nothing but the occasional, faint sound of a pencil moving. It was amazing how easily they took to Graveyard Time; even those kids who always have a question or a whispered comment got it. The result? Everyone's papers improved, including my own.
I don't overuse Graveyard Time, saving it for those meaty assignments that requires inner reflection and the quest for inner wisdom. For some reason the tombstone works with all ages. Why? I'm not really sure. Perhaps they think the tombstone provides them a good excuse to rise to the next level and show just how smart they are, or perhaps they think that any teacher with a tombstone in her room is not to be messed with.