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The importance of silent thinking (and the story of Isaac Newton)

Let us tell you a story.

In 1665, London was hit by a plague. The risk of contamination was so high that schools and universities were closed. To promote social distancing, everybody, including the students, was forced to stay at home. One of those students was - Isaac Newton.

Newton was 22-yr old at that time & was studying at Cambridge University. Because of the pandemic, Newton had to go home and spend 18 months at his family farm. In the long period of solitude & self-isolation, Newton discovered Gravity. He also developed Calculus and Optics.

What can we learn from this?

A lot of learning happens on our own. A lot of thinking can happen without watching a video, reading a book or even a teacher.

In the world where group discussions and brainstorming seem to be the 'cool' learning methods, there is a value to deep thinking as well. While group discussions do help you understand and build on others perspective, they give you a limited time to think.

The value of silent thinking, which does not seem very interesting to watch, needs to be emphasised much more.

Silent thinking is simple. Yet difficult.

Blaise Pascal once said, "All of humanity's problems stem from the inability of a man to sit quietly in a room alone".

Silent thinking sounds so simple. All you need to do is to sit in a room, lock the door and think. And yet it is not so simple. First, we are distracted by the magnetic pull of our phones. If we are able to control that, then our mind keeps wandering in different directions.

More wait time in our classrooms

Research conducted by Budd and Rowe showed that teachers give children less than 1 second time to think. This means that teachers do not even give children 1 second to think before revealing the answer to the question they had asked. This hurry is robbing the opportunity to think from many children.

Let us celebrate silence in our classrooms. Here are a few things that educators must immediately do:

  1. Give more time to think after asking a question
  2. Design good questions in the assessments and then keep no time limit to the assessment

Open Door incorporates extra thinking time in both its programs to schools. Thinking Classroom program makes sure that children write their answers in a workbook before teacher discusses the answer. Thinking Assessments program never have a time limit. Children can think for more time and if they can figure out the answer in that time, then it is great!


Aneesh Bangia

Aneesh Bangia is the co-founder of Open Door. He writes about the past, present and future of education.

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