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Applause for Silences

BY SUZANNE BOWNESS | SEP 08 2008

At a standing-room-only panel at the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education congress held at the University of Windsor in June, contributors read from Silences, a book of essays collected by the Council of 3M National Teaching Fellows and centred on the silences in teaching that can “threaten, inspire and shape teaching and learning.”

According to the book’s internal editor, University of British Columbia professor emerita and 3M Teaching Fellow Clarissa Green, the reaction to the reading was profound. “People applauded, wept – and the discussion after was vibrant. It was thrilling to see these lines and paragraphs move people so profoundly.”

Dr. Green says the book originated from conversations among 3M fellows about aspects of university teaching that are not discussed. Selecting the theme of silences in teaching, they circulated a call for contributions which yielded more than 120 submissions.

“We steered deliberately away from academic writing, as we wanted to make it accessible to as wide an audience as possible,” says Dr. Green. Works in the book take the form of prose, plays and poetry mingling together in both French and English. Dr. Green says the committee hopes everyone from teachers to parents to students will find the book valuable.

Ronald Marken, another 3M Teaching Fellow and professor emeritus at the University of Saskatchewan, says the book may inspire and empower teachers to accept and respect silence in their classrooms. “Some teachers are afraid of silence – they don’t want to allow time for contemplation.”

Copies of the book, edited by Betsy Warland and published by the 3M Council Executive, can be ordered online through the University of Western Ontario bookstore.

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