The power of collaborative learning

#TMAld Using Silence in the Classroom with Durga Mata Chaudhuri

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Do you want to encourage reflection, thoughtfulness and spritual development in the classroom? Then check out Durga Mata Chaudhuri’s presentation from #TMAld on Using Silence in the classroom here on SlideShare

Find Durga Mata on TES here 

  • Blue lotus Enterprises Using Silence in the Classroom
  • Using Silence There are many reasons why it is good to use silence in any situation. An introduction to the use of silence in therapy records that – Twelve experienced therapists were interviewed about their perceptions of why they used silence in therapy. Qualitative analyses revealed that these therapists typically perceived themselves as using silence to convey empathy, facilitate reflection, challenge the client to take responsibility, facilitate expression of feelings, or take time for themselves to think of what to say….. and they typically educated their clients about how they used silence in therapy…. They typically thought they now used silence more flexibly, comfortably, and confidently than when they began doing therapy. Therapists typically believed they learned how to use silence from their own experience as a client and from supervision.


  • Using Silence in class We are teachers, not therapists. But we can also use silence to convey empathy, facilitate reflection, challenge our pupils to take responsibility, facilitate expression of feelings… and even take time for ourselves – to think of what to do next if the lesson has taken an unexpected turn. But there is another way in which we can use silence in Religious Education lessons which is perhaps even more important. This is to give space and time for a growing awareness of the spiritual aspect of life. Spirituality is something that can be developed but many of our young people are gifted in this aspect of life. Silence gives them space to grow in confidence and share what is often a richness of insight that can lift your lesson bringing inspiration and a deeper understanding of the topic to everyone in class.


  • Spirituality and Silence • The way that I tend to use silence in class is indeed to encourage reflection – but also to help my pupils and students observe this reflective process and ask themselves the great question – ‘Who am I? • The physical body is easy to engage with. We can see and feel the physical body but is that all that I am? • No. I have an inner world, too. I have thoughts that nobody sees. I have a mind. • Am I the mind or am I something else which can observe the mind? Is that what people mean when they talk about mind, body and spirit? Is that what people mean when they talk about the soul?


  • No ‘right answers’ In Religious Education we do not tell you what to think. We enable you to think more deeply. Silence is one of the greatest tools to encourage deeper and more reflective thinking. I do not ask my pupils and students to try to answer the great questions – Who am I? and why am I alive? In Religious Education there are often no ‘Right Answers.’ I do not say that my pupils and students should believe that we are body, mind and spirit. How we define ourselves is personal and for this kind of exercise I am hoping to help them engage with a neutral, religiously free kind of spiritual awareness which doesn’t even need to be defined as spiritual. When I use silence I am encouraging my pupils and students to go deeper than we do in most lessons. This silence is not time to think through an argument. It is time to watch how the mind works – and then step aside from it. In RE our pupils and students need to learn what some of the great religions and philosophies teach about these great questions – but they also need to explore their own views. That takes them beyond the mind, beyond theories and into the silence of their own hearts. This quietness, beyond the mind, is where our own subtle awareness, often shaped by our own religious background, can grow. It is this aspect of life – that many people would call spiritual that I find silence can help our pupils and students to engage with, however we may choose to define it.

  • Awareness • To help develop greater awareness and improve listening skills, ask your pupils to sit in silence and see what they can hear. • You may prompt them, asking – • What is the loudest thing you can hear? • What is the quietest thing you can hear? • What can you can hear from outside the room? • What is the most distant thing you can hear? • What is the closest thing you can hear? • Can you hear anything from within your own body?


  • Past, Present and Future • To improve awareness of our mind and thoughts, ask your pupils to watch the thoughts as they pass through your mind. You can ask them to – • Try not to get your attention ‘caught’ by the thoughts you observe. • Imagine they are birds flying past the window. You notice them cross the sky, but then they are gone. You don’t follow them. • This takes practise but see how good you are at it. • See if you can tell which thoughts relate to the past, the present, the future or a world of pure imagination.


  • Science and Religion  People often think that science and religion don’t agree – but they are simply different ways of looking at the world. In science we look at the physical world. We use telescopes and microscopes to examine what is too distant or too small to see with our own eyes. In religion and spirituality we are examining the subtle and elusive ‘inner world’ of thought, feeling and experience. Silence and reflection are important tools with which we can explore this reality. This is why I like to use them as often as possible in Religious Education classes. In science we often use chemical experiments to find out what things are made of. In spirituality and religion we often use poetry, story, art, music, visualisation and symbolism to convey a truth which is not the same as the facts you can find out about the physical world. But this truth is just as real. You can’t test the accuracy of this truth by using a calculator but you can ‘feel in your heart’ when it is right. Think about the concepts of heart and mind. Would you agree that – • The mind uses logic. It tends to observe, analyse, dissect and judge a subject. • The heart tends to feel, accept, embrace and unite with a subject.


  • Using Silence There are many reasons why it is good to use silence in any situation. An introduction to the use of silence in therapy records that – Remember the Therapists at the start they educated their clients about how they used silence in therapy…. We will also have to educate our pupils and students about how we would like them to use silence in class. Like the Therapists who reported that they now use silence more flexibly, comfortably, and confidently than when they began doing therapy. You will also find that you learn how to use silence from their own experience. To use silence well, you need a strong positive relationship with your class – but the silent exercises themselves will help create and reinforce this kind of relationship. Start with classes that you trust and feel most comfortable with. Silly, attention-seeking activity is not unusual at first. Try to respond to this in a gentle way, assuring the miscreant and the class that using silence is difficult and, because silence is not something you find much of in our society, they may feel a bit uncomfortable at first. Nobody is good at everything and using silence well is a skill they need to develop. If we want to be good at anything, all we need is practise – so using silence in class is something we will be practising quite often in our lessons from now on. And one of the most important things about using silence in class is that it gives the power to each and every pupil. Your thoughts and feelings, your reflections and observations are your own and you only need to share them if you wish to.


  • Reflection • Think about the concepts of ‘Yourself’, ‘God’ and ‘Spirituality’. • What do these things mean to you? • Where do your ideas come from? • The poems may help you to reflect on the concepts of self, spirituality and God. • You don’t need to agree with them, but see if you can understand what the poet is saying.


  • Over to you • Research more poems and quotations to include here, from other cultures and religions. • You can chose some to use as Starter Activities for any topic you are going to explore. • Now just explore your own use of silence in the classroom. Start with one or two minute exercises. You can build this up to five or ten minutes with experience. • You can even add some reflective exercises to the end of exam papers, so that the gifted pupils can fly and even those who didn’t know much can find an opportunity to gain unexpected bonus points at the end.


  • Note – A word about Sri Chinmoy • The following poems are all by my own spiritual Teacher Sri Chinmoy because I am familiar with his poetry and find it full of the kind of symbolism which feeds well into silent reflection exercises. If teaching this topic I would spend time researching poems and quotations and include many from a range of sources. • As Sri Chinmoy lived in ‘our era’ (1931 – 2007) his use of language is accessible and because he was not teaching from the confines of any particular religion his philosophy tends to be religiously neutral and does not ‘pose a threat’ or ‘take sides’ in any religious classroom dynamic. He seeks to answer questions and offer insight – and never to convert. • Sri Chinmoy stated that everyone lives in a house – which is like our religion – but we can all meet outside. He offered a ‘path‘ along which people from any religion or none could walk – and his own religion was simply ‘Love of God.’ • (My interpretation is that Atheists just define what Sri Chinmoy calls God as ‘no God’. Our relationship with Reality is personal. Differences are not important. How we live our lives is what counts.) Another great thing about Sri Chinmoy’s work is that it is available free from his online library. You just type in a topic and find a wealth of relevant poems, question and answers etc in seconds. See http://www.srichinmoylibrary.com •

  • The following answer to a question about mind and soul may be helpful when teaching the topic of human identity. As with any text or quotation, I would use this for discussion and never in a dogmatic way. It is to think about and reflect on. If someone holds a different view, that is fine. • Question: Can you explain to me what the difference is between the soul and the mind? • Sri Chinmoy: They are entirely different. The mind is attached to the physical consciousness and is extremely limited. The soul is a divine spark which is always one with Divinity. The mind is impure and unlit. The soul is all light; it can never be impure. • When we live in the mind, our mind dominates us. When we live in the soul, it does not impose but only guides us. The mind makes us feel what we are not. The soul makes us feel what we are. The mind stays with us for only one incarnation, but we have the same soul in every incarnation. • Sri Chinmoy, Mind-Confusion And Heart-Illumination Part 1, Agni Press, 1974





Author: TeachAldenham

Online profile of TeachAldenham, Aldenham School Teaching and Learning Group. teachaldenham.wordpress.com Find us on twitter @teachaldenham

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