Integration of the Self and Awareness (ISA) in Learning and Teaching

A case study of French adult students learning English the Silent Way

by Patricia Benstein (Author)
©2017 Thesis 399 Pages


The successful acquisition of a second or foreign language requires focus, motivation, and positive feedback. This case study of French adult students of English illustrates that Gattegno’s Silent Way is more than a teaching methodology. It is a science of education that integrates the self and awareness in the learning and teaching processes. This integration facilitates the personal evolution of Gattegno’s ‘pre-human’ to the ‘universal human’ who is permanently aware of his/her awareness. The resulting experience of ‘flow’ leads to a positive feedback loop that in turn contributes to the student’s enjoyment of acquiring a second language.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • My Fascination with the Silent Way
  • Abstract
  • Dedication
  • Acknowledgements
  • Part One
  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. The Silent Way in the Research Literature
  • 2.1. Descriptions of Silent Way Courses
  • 2.2. Experimental Studies
  • 2.3. Studies by Stevick
  • 2.4. Pedagogical Studies of the Silent Way
  • 3. Gattegno’s Theoretical Models
  • 3.1. Gattegno’s Model of Evolution
  • 3.2. Gattegno’s Model of Absolutes
  • 3.3. Gattegno’s Model of the Gayoscope
  • 3.4. Gattegno’s Model of the Self
  • 3.5. Gattegno’s Model of Psyche and Affectivity
  • 3.6. Gattegno’s Model of Awareness
  • 3.7. Gattegno’s Model of the Four Stages of Learning
  • 3.8. Gattegno’s Model of Inner Criteria
  • 3.9. Gattegno’s Model of the Subordination of Teaching to Learning
  • 3.10. Gattegno’s Models as Applied in the Silent Way
  • 4. Theories of Second Language Acquisition
  • 4.1. Models of Second Language Acquisition
  • 4.1.1. The Monitor Model
  • 4.1.2. The Acculturation Model
  • 4.1.3. The Multidimensional Model
  • 4.2. Studies of Personal Factors in Second Language Acquisition
  • 4.3. Gattegno’s Model of Personal Factors in Second Language Acquisition
  • 5. The Silent Way and Information Processing Theory
  • 5.1. Information Processing Theory
  • 5.1.1. Consciousness as Awareness
  • 5.1.2. Consciousness as Knowledge
  • 5.1.3. Limitations of Human Processing Capacity
  • 5.1.4. Restructuring of Information
  • 5.2. Similarities between the Silent Way and Information Processing Theory
  • 5.3. Differences between the Silent Way and Information Processing Theory
  • Part Two
  • 6. Research Methodology
  • 6.1. Research Questions
  • 6.2. Choice of Paradigm
  • 6.2.1. Traditional Paradigm
  • 6.2.2. Interpretive Paradigm
  • 6.3. Choice of Methodology
  • 6.3.1. Ethnomethodology
  • 6.3.2. Phenomenology
  • 6.3.3. Hermeneutics
  • 6.4. Data Gathering Process
  • 6.4.1. Preliminary Work
  • 6.4.2. The Site
  • 6.4.3. The Teachers
  • 6.4.4. The Students
  • 6.5. Choice of Research Methods
  • 6.5.1. Initial Teacher Interviews
  • 6.5.2. First Interview
  • 6.5.3. Second Interview
  • 6.5.4. Participant Observation
  • 6.5.5. Stimulated Recall Interviews with Teachers
  • 6.5.6. Stimulated Recall Interviews with Students
  • 6.5.7. Questionnaires
  • 6.5.8. Other Written Documents
  • 6.5.9. Field Notes
  • 6.6. Data Analysis
  • 6.7. Practical Considerations
  • 6.7.1. Phase 1 – Transcribing Interviews 1 and 2
  • 6.7.2. Phase 2 – Watching Video-Taped Lessons
  • 6.7.3. Phase 3 – Transcribing Teacher Stimulated Recall Interviews
  • 6.7.4. Phase 4 – Watching Other Video-Taped Lessons
  • 6.7.5. Phase 5 – Transcribing Student Stimulated Recall Interviews
  • 6.7.6. Phase 6 – Transcribing Student Questionnaires
  • 6.7.7. Phase 7 – Reading Other Written Documents
  • 6.7.8. Phase 8 – Coding of Data
  • 6.7.9. Phase 9 – Organisation of Data
  • 6.7.10. Phase 10 – Triangulation
  • 7. Results of the Study
  • 7.1. The Role of Gattegno’s Model in Silent Way Teaching
  • 7.2. The Role of the Four Stages of Learning in Silent Way Teaching
  • 7.3. The Role of Tensions in Silent Way Teaching
  • 8. Awareness, the Self and Silence in Teaching and Learning the Silent Way
  • 8.1. Awareness in Teaching and Learning the Silent Way
  • 8.2. The Self in Teaching and Learning the Silent Way
  • 8.3. Silence in Teaching and Learning the Silent Way
  • 9. Aims and Approaches of Silent Way Teachers
  • 9.1. Aims of Silent Way Teachers
  • 9.2. The Appeal of the Silent Way for Individual Teachers
  • 9.3. The Students’ Experience of the Silent Way
  • 9.4. Strategies of Silent Way Teachers’
  • 9.5. Subordination of Teaching to Learning
  • 10. Learning a Foreign Language the Silent Way
  • 10.1. The Teachers’ Views on Learning a Language the Silent Way
  • 10.2. The Students’ Views on Learning a Language the Silent Way
  • 10.3. The Materials Used in Silent Way Classrooms
  • 10.4. The Role of Energy in the Language Learning Process
  • 10.5. The Role of Classroom Climate in the Language Learning Process
  • 10.6. The Importance of Intrinsic Student Motivation
  • 10.7. The Importance of Student Autonomy
  • 10.8. The Silent Way Students’ Learning Strategies
  • Part Three
  • 11. Discussion and Implications
  • 11.1. Summary of Main Findings
  • 11.2. The Silent Way and SLA Research
  • 11.2.1. The Silent Way and the Monitor Model
  • 11.2.2. The Silent Way, Krashen and Pienemann
  • 11.2.3. The Silent Way and the Acculturation Model
  • 11.2.4. The Silent Way and Personal Characteristics
  • 11.3. The Silent Way and Information Processing Theory
  • 12. The Silent Way and “Flow”
  • 12.1. “Flow” Teachers
  • 12.2. “Flow” Learners
  • 13. The Silent Way and “Essence”
  • 14. Implications for Further Studies
  • 15. Bibliography
  • 16. Appendices
  • Appendix 1: Detailed Timetable – Besançon 14.11.–28.11.
  • Appendix 2: Audio and video cassettes gathered
  • Appendix 3: Name, A (V), Number, Side, Counter number
  • Appendix 4: Interview with David W.
  • Appendix 5: Interview questions
  • Appendix 6: Categories
  • Appendix 7: One Student’s Answers
  • Appendix 8: Questionnaires
  • Appendix 9: Examples of notes taken during data transcription
  • Appendix 10: Examples of transcribed and coded interviews
  • Appendix 11: Example of entry into personal journal

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My Fascination with the Silent Way

Not many people start an interesting initial encounter in Hungarian, then continue to take this relationship to another level in Chinese and end up writing a PhD about it. This is, however, the summary of my connection to Caleb Gattegno’s Silent Way.

While studying to become a teacher at Melbourne University, we were introduced to various teaching methodologies. As part of this, Andrew Weiler gave us lessons in Hungarian using the Silent Way, which is an innovative approach to language teaching. I was intrigued by the quiet concentration in the room, the tangible focus by even those who had no interest whatsoever in this unusual language. From that moment on I was hooked, not suspecting in the slightest where my fascination might lead.

It was a fortunate turn of events that resulted in me being able to learn Chinese the Silent Way for close to a year. From the first lesson onwards, I had the same experience as previously when I was learning Hungarian. There was mostly an exquisite, almost monastic calm concentration in our classroom while learning was taking place. It seemed in stark contrast to our teacher training at university that emphasised communicative language learning (CLL), which meant that whole sentences had to be practised by the students. In my opinion, CCL is still teacher focussed despite its emphasis on communication. The method does not empower students because they do not learn to construct sentences by themselves at the pace that suits them. After these two significant experiences, I read more about Gattegno and the Silent Way. However, although I appreciated his pedagogy, I did not use it systematically in my own teaching at secondary schools or at university.

As often in my life, an unexpected event happened one sunny morning in Perth while I was teaching at The University of Western Australia. I was teaching my bright-eyed, bushy-tailed students something about linguistics that I knew inside out. I caught myself looking out the window, dreaming about going to the beach instead of being in that classroom. All of a sudden, I realised that I was running on automatic, babbling on about my specialist field, pretending to be teaching, while actually being non-present. I was shocked into the realisation that I was no longer enjoying myself because too many skills had become automatised and the tasks were no longer challenging.

That day became one of those significant times when life is challenged and turned on its head. I had become what I had vowed I never wanted to be: a ← 11 | 12 → teacher who was absent-minded in class. I began asking myself how I could prevent losing interest in what I had always loved doing, namely teaching. I felt it was against my principles to ask my students to pay attention when I myself was not fully focussed. Being there – even after years of doing the same thing over and over again – was that even possible? When something has become second nature, when we know the material inside out, can we still be present and enjoy the moment? Being an idealist I thought there must be a way to keep my enthusiasm alive and I was determined to find it.

I asked myself in the days after that traumatic realisation when I had ever felt really ‘there’ – so fully concentrating and present that I lost count of time. And I remembered the Hungarian and Chinese lessons that were taught the Silent Way. As a student, I had been completely focussed on the tasks at hand. I wondered if the Silent Way teachers had enjoyed the same type of presence that I longed for in my own teaching. These questions motivated me to explore the Silent Way and to find out more about what Gattegno calls ‘the subordination of teaching to learning’.

My journey started with many twists and turns, but the end result was that I was offered a scholarship that only three students per year received – to complete a PhD and to be financially supported for a minimum of three years. I chose to move across the continent and to take up this challenge at The University of Sydney. My supervisor was the Head of the Education Department and later on Vice President of Sydney University, Professor Ken Eltis. Although he had not heard of the Silent Way, he was interested in my research proposal and I cannot thank him enough for letting me wander around in the maze of this unfamiliar territory, while never losing trust in my capacity. I had to do four different types of literature reviews because the Silent Way does not fit neatly into a single research category.

I worked for three and a half years full-time on understanding Gattegno’s theories and the practices of the Silent Way. I conducted a case study in Besançon with the support of very experienced Silent Way teachers and their students. After collecting and analysing a suitcase full of audio and video tapes and other data, I found the answers to my initial questions. Many personal and professional discoveries occurred along this journey. As a consequence, I feel that I have discovered the tools that stop me from running on automatic and that keep my enthusiasm alive.

Gattegno’s Silent Way has had profound effects on me as a person and as a professional lecturer. I am aware that mastery of any topic involves an integration of the skills that have become automated. We could not function very well ← 12 | 13 → in this world if we still had to remember all the sequential steps that are involved in driving a car or learning a language, for instance. There is a blessing in automated, integrated skills. However, being present to ourselves, to the people we are with and the situations we are in and to ever-changing energies inside and outside of us, can never become automatic. It is an ongoing field of rich exploration and while I might be teaching the same subject as I have done before, the people, the place, the energies in the room are never replicated. Pulling these elements into my awareness and bringing such presence to the tasks at hand means that I, together with my students, can enter the ‘zone’ and experience the sensation of ‘flow’, as Csíkszentmihályi (2014: 132) put it. This is what makes learning not only possible, but also enjoyable. In my opinion, being aware of energetic movements and various levels of awareness are required of professional teachers.

I thank Caleb Gattegno and all the proponents of the Silent Way, first for having exposed me to his insights and then for having nurtured and helped me along the way to implementing these realisations in my own life. I express my gratitude by trying my best to remain aware of myself in the presence of my students, which I assume, is what Gattegno would have wanted. His body has left this earth; however, his teaching lives on. In fact, my assumption is that Caleb Gattegno was a thinker ahead of his time, and the value of the pedagogy of the Silent Way might be more appreciated in the future (cf Benstein, 2011: 55–58).

To support this view, it was in 2016 that I was invited to contribute an article to a book on the educational needs of highly sensitive, empathic children, whose finely tuned nervous systems usually do not thrive in noisy, overactive educational settings. Nor do they find it easy to repeat and retain facts. Like gifted and talented students, they might need a different form of education, in which they are in control of what they learn. The results of my study allow me to assume that the pedagogy behind the Silent Way could be of benefit to a wide range of students, including the highly sensitive ones. In fact, in my years as English lecturer at The Goethe University of Frankfurt (2008–2016), I not only implemented the principles of the Silent Way, but also used the charts and rods when I felt my preferred mode of teaching through pair and group work had to be interrupted by almost complete silence. I constantly monitor and regulate the energy in my courses and try to match skills and challenges in such a way that focus and enthusiasm are maintained.

The Silent Way students examined in this study, who learned English as a foreign language in Besançon, France, reported increased levels of concentration and intrinsic motivation. The resulting optimal experience of flow, which Csíkszentmihályi (2014: 477) has proven to be of great value to artists, sports people ← 13 | 14 → and talented teenagers alike, would enhance learning in a variety of contexts. However, teachers of the Silent Way have to be at ease with the unpredictability of their lessons because the students set the pace. This requires a trust in the students’ innate curiosity; however, the restrictions of curricula and outcomes-based educational frameworks stop many teachers from handing control of the lessons to their students.

Thus, Gattegno’s pedagogical approach can potentially keep the passion for teaching alive, because awareness of energetic movements and focus on presence are the keys to ongoing enthusiasm and experiences of flow. My study has illustrated that good Silent Way teachers are alchemists of awareness who work on their students while the students are experimenting with the language they want to master. This book aims to provide detailed insights into the Integration of the Self and Awareness (ISA) in teaching and learning. I wish to express my gratitude to The University of Western Australia for offering me an Honorary Research Fellowship to achieve its completion.

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There are many methods used in the teaching of foreign languages. One method that is unique and different to both the traditional as well as the current approaches is the Silent Way. The Silent Way is the direct application of Caleb Gattegno’s theories in the area of foreign language teaching.

Gattegno (1911–1988) observed that all learning requires the investment of energy. He created the concept of “ogdens”, which are units of energy that are necessary for students to learn something. According to him, both learning and teaching have to aim for the most efficient use of energy. Therefore, teaching methods and materials must be mindful of the economical investments of ogdens by the learners. He posited that teaching is effective, if it is subordinated to learning. This implies that teachers need to understand how people learn. They have to present challenges that trigger awareness in students, because, according to Gattegno, only awareness is educable. The Silent Way can be defined as the teaching method for foreign languages, by which teachers observe their students to assess when a new act of awareness can be triggered.

Gattegno invented specific Silent Way teaching materials, such as colour coded charts to produce the sounds of the foreign language. The grammar is often taught using Cuisenaire rods. The preference for silence supports focus and motivation in the classroom. Since the teachers subordinate their teaching to learning, they focus on the awarenesses of their students as they master the challenges they are given. Gattegno’s model of the four stages of learning allows the teachers to ascertain where the students are in their process of realisation and retention.

For the purpose of this book, I investigated how four Silent Way teachers in Besancon, France, constructed their teaching practice based on Gattegno’s theories. The study explored how these teachers translated Gattegno’s ideas in their lessons and how their students experienced learning English the Silent Way. I collected the data using participant observation, interviews and videos of lessons that were employed as stimuli for interviews after the lessons. The data were gathered within phenomenological and ethnomethodological research frameworks. For the data analysis a grounded theory approach was taken.

Findings from this case study suggest that the Silent Way teachers based their teaching on Gattegno’s theories and models. They attempted to make their students aware of what was happening within themselves as they were learning the language. The teachers subordinated their teaching to learning by offering ← 15 | 16 → feedback on those aspects of the language that the students focussed on at any given moment.

The twelve students who participated in the study generally responded positively to learning English the Silent Way. The findings suggest that the students experienced at times essential states of being, in which focussed concentration was coupled with high levels of intrinsic motivation. These experiences support Gattegno’s claim that the Silent Way is an energy efficient way of teaching and learning a foreign language. The students’ reactions also correspond to descriptions of optimal experiences of “flow” as discovered and explored by Csíkszentmihályi (2014: 234).

Findings from the study further illustrate that the processes involved in teaching and learning a language the Silent Way are characterised by subtle shifts in energy within each learner and the group. Since the Silent Way is based on concepts of energy efficiency, awareness, focussed concentration and intrinsic motivation, it does not fit neatly into the category of teaching methodologies that focus on strategies to pass on knowledge. Gattegno’s Silent Way can be regarded as a language teaching methodology that was developed at a certain time, when teachers used to encourage the memorisation of facts. However, this study suggests that the philosophy behind the Silent Way could be a viable alternative to currently prevalent teaching methods, such as the communicative approach. Indeed, it seems justified to posit that the Silent Way, with its emphasis on awareness and energy investment, might become more relevant in the future when, according to Gattegno, another leap in evolution could quite possibly increase the capacity in humans to become aware of their awareness.

The case study was limited to four Silent Way teachers and their twelve adult students. The results of this study would benefit from correlation of data from further research that might involve younger students and/or bigger classes.

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This book is dedicated to my spiritual teachers, Mehmet Kahraman and Ibn ‘Arabi, both of whom trust in my intelligence of the second kind. The integration of the self and awareness, as expressed in Gattegno’s Silent Way, addresses and deepens this innate type of intelligence.

Two Kinds of Intelligence

There are two kinds of intelligence: one acquired,

as a child in school memorizes facts and concepts

from books and from what the teacher says,

collecting information from the traditional sciences

as well as from the new sciences.

With such intelligence you rise in the world.

You get ranked ahead or behind others

in regard to your competence in retaining

information. You stroll with this intelligence

in and out of fields of knowledge, getting always more

marks on your preserving tablets.

There is another kind of tablet, one

already completed and preserved inside you.

A spring overflowing its spring box. A freshness

in the center of the chest. This other intelligence

does not turn yellow or stagnate. It’s fluid,

and it doesn’t move from outside to inside

through conduits of plumbing-learning.

This second knowing is a fountainhead

from within you, moving out.

(Jalaluddin Rumi, 1988)

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My gratitude extends to everyone who has encouraged me and believed in my capacities. The four teachers and their students deserve a special mention because they gave me their time, energy and trust. My research supervisor, Ken Eltis, has assisted me by always being approachable. My friend Sabine stimulated my philosophical thoughts and entertained me with her positive sense of humour. My good friend Mark provided invaluable emotional support. My friends, Alexandra and Leisa, spent many days finding mistakes in the text. Most importantly, I am grateful to my husband, Robert Mayze, whose patient presence has kept me going when I experienced self-doubts. My deep appreciation also includes my parents, who were my first teachers, and my brother, who was my first student. To all of them and numerous others who played a role in the writing of this book, I wish to say “thank you”.

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Part One

Part one of this book comprises five chapters. Chapter one introduces the main topics and sets the scene for the study. Chapter two reviews the literature on the Silent Way and provides the definition of the Silent Way used in the present study. Chapter three describes the theoretical model suggested by Caleb Gattegno that serves as a background for the Silent Way. It presents Gattegno’s model of evolution and his “science of education”. This chapter provides the reader with information necessary for a deeper understanding of the Silent Way than is generally displayed by the reviewers mentioned in chapter one. The next two chapters locate the Silent Way within two different areas of research on learning. Chapter four reviews the literature on second language acquisition in order to place the Silent Way within this fairly new area of research. Chapter five locates the Silent Way within one branch of cognitive psychology, that of the information processing perspective of learning with a special emphasis on language learning.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2017 (June)
Integration of the Self and Awareness (ISA Innovative Teaching Focussed Concentration Human potential Energetic Flow Learning English
Frankfurt am Main, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2017. 399 pp., 3 b/w ill., 2 coloured ill.

Biographical notes

Patricia Benstein (Author)

Patricia Benstein studied English, French, and German literature at the University of Melbourne and French and Russian at the Sorbonne University. She obtained her first PhD in Education from the University of Sydney and was awarded a second PhD in Spiritual Anthropology from the University of Aix-en-Provence​. She is a qualified secondary teacher, interpreter and translator; however, she has mainly lectured and researched at various universities in Australia, Germany, and France. Her research areas include the multidimensional nature of human beings and innovative approaches to education.


Title: Integration of the Self and Awareness (ISA) in Learning and Teaching
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402 pages