Shakti Gattegno and the Silent Way

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Shakti Gattegno with MAT Students

“Teachers so often say ‘You can do it!,’ but if students could, they would!”

–Shakti Gattegno, commenting on The Silent Way, an approach to learning.

Attending Shakti’s presentation was a highlight of my semester.  I learned a lot about this approach, about teaching and learning, and about myself.  Here are some of the most striking insights I took away from this great day and my reflections.

Teachers should provide appropriate challenges for students – challenges they can do.  In the Silent Way, the silence means:

  • Don’t teach learners what they already know
  • Don’t teach learners what they can figure out on their own

This means teachers should find out what students know, provide students opportunities to use what they know, and be in-tune with the learning that is going on so that change it is possible to change the challenge when students are not able to do it.

The Silent Way was developed by Shakti’s late husband, Caleb Gattegno.  She spoke about the essence and guiding principles of the Silent Way and led us in exploring these through our own experience as teachers and learners.  She discussed key awarenesses that influenced the development of the Silent Way and demonstrated some of the techniques used in this approach.

“Children are copious learners.  Only when they go to school do they stop learning.”

Shakti discussed the inspiration for the Silent Way, pre-school-aged children.  Humans learn without anyone telling them to.  The motivation must be intrinsic for learners to reach their potential.  Teachers should create challenges for students, and students must do the learning.  There must be a subordination of teaching to learning.

“Human learning is autonomous learning…nobody can do it for us”

Each learner comes equipped with inner resources.  To be a true Silent Way teacher, one must acknowledge the equipment students posses in order to allow them to learn.  For language learners this means we have “somatic,” or physical, equipment (vocal chords, ears, facial muscles, etc.), mental dynamics (the ability to retain, to inquire/question, to distinguish, and so on), and three basic human attributes (will, awareness, and affectivity).

“When learning, ‘correct’ and ‘not correct’ are on the same level.”

All too often, teachers place value — good or bad — on correctness and forget that testing hypotheses and pushing boundaries is an essential part of learning.

“Practice is essential for learning.  Repetition is an obstacle.”

Teachers should introduce language in a way that students can practice it without repeating the same thing over an over.  They must be able to manipulate and play with the language.

“Knowing is owning the language.”

Students should develop their own inner criteria for the language.  Then, the language they use is their own.

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2 Responses to “Shakti Gattegno and the Silent Way”

  1. sher scha Says:

    The programs you have at SIT sound wonderful. However, the cost is beyond my ability to pay. I am also a mature person, a retired teacher, (early retirement).I am interested in teaching English to adults.

    Currently I am unable to download the financial aid info. because my computer is not rational– however if you could send me an undownloadable form that would be super.

    Thanks Sincerely,

    Sher Schaffer

    • matadmissions Says:

      Hi, Sher.

      SIT’s programs ARE wonderful! I understand what you mean about the cost, but am glad you’ve asked about help. I would be pleased to send you the application by email. I applaud your teaching goals and look forward to hearing more about your interest in teaching English to adults.

      Marshall Brewer
      Admissions Counselor

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