Centering Silence: Graduate Student Instructors Negotiating Quiet in the Writing Classroom

Natalie Elise Taylor, University of Texas at El Paso


This IRB-approved project is a feminist qualitative study in which I seek to understand graduate student instructors’ past and present, student and teacher, experiences with classroom silence. This research builds on the work of Mary Reda (Between Speaking and Silence), who, in interviewing quiet students about their reasons for being silent, sought to disrupt the overwhelmingly negative stories about classroom silence and quiet students that circulate amongst instructors. By having conversations with graduate student instructors about their relationship to student silence and their own silences, I further Reda’s disruption. I am also influenced by Cheryl Glenn’s positioning of silence as a powerful feminist rhetorical tactic (Unspoken). I contend that understanding how such narratives about student silence circulate amongst newer instructors is important in the process of imagining how writing teachers can intervene in the default dialogical, often agonistic, writing classroom by valuing silence differently. Informed by feminist scholars Sara Ahmed (Cultural Politics of Emotion) and Judith Butler (Bodies That Matter), I find that silence is experienced as a bodily encounter. Silences leave impressions on our bodies that shape embodied, emotional orientations towards silence, but also transform silence into an uncomfortable object. I argue that resisting or disrupting negative orientations requires centering silence, not just as a subject of conversation, but also as part of the conversation in first-year writing classrooms, graduate student instructor training, and ongoing professional development for faculty. This project ultimately argues that in centering silence, by welcoming it instead of erasing it, classrooms can become more equitable learning environments.

Subject Area

Rhetoric|Language arts|Pedagogy|Education philosophy

Recommended Citation

Taylor, Natalie Elise, "Centering Silence: Graduate Student Instructors Negotiating Quiet in the Writing Classroom" (2022). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI29207376.