The Power of Wait Time
When a teacher asks a question, hands go up and the teacher responds to a student almost immediately. This can be an instinctive reaction. Wait time is the time between a teacher question and student response. The average wait time in classrooms is less than one second. If the student does not respond, the teacher either moves quickly on to another student, answers the question themselves, or asks a new question (Rowe 1986, cited in Graesser and Person 1994). When Rowe trained teachers to increase wait time to 3–5 seconds-
· The quantity and quality of answers improved significantly.
· The responses were longer, with more supporting evidence offered.
· There was an increase in speculation, student questions, and overall engagement.
· The number of “I don’t know” responses decreased.
· Overall, academic test scores improved.
Students need time to listen and process what they have heard. Some students need time to build up the courage to respond. The greater the wait time, the more students engage. Therefore, unless there is a specific reason to allow calling out without raising hands, it is not a good practice, because it deprives students of the wait time required to think. Once the answer is out there, thinking rests. Wait time is associated with teacher expectation. If a teacher suspects that a student will not arrive at an answer, they jump in unwittingly, decreasing wait time. Students rightly perceive this as an indication of low expectation, that the teacher lacks faith in their ability. Awareness of this serves as a reminder of the critical impact of teacher estimates of student potential and future achievement. In Visible Learning, Hattie (2009) says teachers’ high expectation of student achievement is the most significant factor impacting student performance, with an effect size of 1.62 (4 years growth in one year). The second most significant factor impacting performance is the student’s estimate and expectation of their future achievement, with an effect size of 1.2 (3 years growth in one year).
Secondary wait time is the period immediately following a student response. This provokes even deeper thinking and response elaboration. Strategies to increase secondary wait time include-
1. Use of silence. Following the initial student response, the teacher remains poker-faced and says nothing. The teacher neither affirms nor refutes the answer. This silence causes more thinking and self-analysis by the student and the class.
2. Use a follow-up clarifying question:
· What makes you say that?
· You think so, do you? Why?
· How certain are you of this?
· Jim, can you please link your understanding with/expand on what Georgina said?
· What do you think, Lyn? What are your thoughts up to this point? (Teacher to a different student, without acknowledging the first)
· Would anyone like to offer another suggestion? (without commenting on the first suggestion)
3. Play devil’s advocate or respond in a provocative manner. An excellent method to make students think is irritating them in a way that encourages them to defend their point of view. Deliberately making a false statement, an error, or coming to an erroneous conclusion will have students jumping at the opportunity to explain or correct. No doubt you have witnessed student joy in correcting the teacher!
More generally, wait time is a form of think time, any distinct period of uninterrupted silence for information processing and response preparation. In many cases, and depending on complexity, think time needs to be much longer than wait time.
This is an excerpt from Michael Griffin’s book Metacognition: Teaching Children to Think (2021), available through Amazon, in paperback and kindle. Michael’s online teacher training course Teaching for Metacognition provides practical suggestions for teachers and parents to enhance thinking skills. Michael also provides professional development for schools on mindset, metacognition, and motivation. His website is professional-development.com.au.