A leading academician has challenged the conventional idea of silent classroom teaching by claiming that students working against a background of chatter actually learn better and faster.
According to Angeline Lillard, Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia, too many schools were still holding on to a traditional "factory model" of the classroom wherein children sitting silently were thought to be blank sheets on which teachers could imprint knowledge simply by talking to them.
"We were designed in nature to think about the world in relation to how we physically interact with it - it's called embodied cognition. So it's only natural that children learn better when they get to move," Times Online quoted her, as saying.
"If you ask children to pick out pairs of animals that might go together, they will remember the pairs that they are allowed to touch and move, rather than the ones they just look at," she added.
Prof Lillard was particularly opposed to early education in Britain, where children in preschool settings are persuaded to play and learn in groups before being transferred to more formal compulsory school settings, where they are forced to remain silent.
"Children under 6 are far more interested in parallel play - often playing alongside each other without really interacting. Once they are in primary school that's when they start being really interested in their peers and taking notice of how they react," she said.
"But that is precisely the time when we take them away from learning and playing in groups and sit them at desks in ones and twos," she added.
Prof Lillard also challenged the wisdom of forcing children to be silent in class.
"Children seem to be able to work against a hum of background noise. They can't learn from each other if they are told to be silent," she said.
She further insisted that her methods, in no way, would result in a collapse of classroom order or would suppress bright children.
Instead, she said that classroom discipline should be developed by permitting children to decide the parts of the curriculum that most interest them and to work at their own pace on it.
However, Robert Whelan, deputy director of the think-tank Civitas and managing director of the New Model School Company, which promotes traditional education, said that Prof Lillard's methods were only expected to be successful with some children.
"The danger of letting children wander around the classroom and talk to each other is that those from middle-class homes, which value education, might flourish. But those from homes with no books and whose parents are only vaguely aware of what it is they do at school, will suffer because they will not be motivated to work hard," Whelan said.
"To have the teacher imparting information to the whole class for at least the majority of the time has a lot of advantages," he added.
Prof Lillard presented her approach at a conference in London held by the Maria Montessori Institute to celebrate the centenary of Montessori education.