Just A Few Extra Seconds

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snow_white_wait_timeIsn’t context important? If you’ve ever been to an amusement park, you know that a long wait time is not a good thing. Queueing for hours to board a popular ride is no fun, especially for the younger ones in your group. But find a ride with a short wait time and the happiest place on earth becomes even happier.

Take that same concept of wait time and apply it to the classroom. In this context, providing wait time gives students the opportunity to process the question posed and to formulate an answer before they are expected to actually give the answer. In the classroom, providing wait time can be a game changer for students… in a very positive way.

Research shows that in most classrooms, teachers give students little more than one second to respond to questions. I would guess that most would agree that – beyond those students who are always first to answer no matter how little time we provide – one second might not provide the time that students need to respond in thoughtful ways. If one second is too short, how long is just right?

The first study on wait time, by Mary Budd Rowe in 1972, found that when students were given at least 3 seconds of silent wait time after a question, positive student outcomes included:

  • The length and correctness of students’ responses increase.
  • The number of “I don’t know” and no answer responses decreases.
  • The number of volunteered, appropriate answers by larger numbers of students greatly increases.
  • The scores of students on academic achievement tests tend to increase.

Furthermore, when teachers waited patiently in silence for three or more seconds, positive changes in their own behavior included:

  • Teachers’ questioning strategies tend to be more varied and flexible.
  • They decrease the quantity and increase the quality and variety of their questions.
  • They ask additional questions that require more complex information processing and higher-level thinking on the part of students.

Pretty amazing what a few extra seconds can buy, right?

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