Dear Teacher, Just Wait. 3 Seconds Should Be Enough.

November 2, 2015 — Leave a comment

Dear Teacher,

As the school year moves forward,  full of…… anyone? anyone? 

And you are no doubt planning the next …..anyone? anyone?

How can you get students to be more engaged?….. anyone? anyone?

How do you get them to respond?….. anyone? anyone?

Just wait.

Instead of droning on and asking question after question, just wait.

Three (3) seconds should do the trick.

That was the minimum amount of time Mary Budd Rowe found in order to move students from passive droolers to active listeners. Her seminal study (1972)  “Wait-Time and Rewards as Instructional Variables: Their Influence on Language, Logic, and Fate Control” set the ground work for the use of wait-time in the classroom.

The “wait-time” of three (3) seconds (or more) is the length of the pause or period of silence that should follow a teacher’s question.  In gathering her data, Budd observed classroom behaviors where the time between the teacher’s question and an answer then given by the teacher “rarely lasted more than 1.5 seconds in typical classrooms.” Some classroom observations also revealed that if a student managed to get a response in, teachers tended to ask another question within an average time span of .09th of a second. Budd noted that many teachers engaged in rapid-fire questioning, especially with low-level questions based on recall.

In contrast, when there was a period of silence after a question that lasted at least three (3) seconds, Budd noted a number of positive outcomes for students. The length and correctness of student responses increased, and the number of their “I don’t know” and no answer responses decreased. The number of volunteered, appropriate answers by larger numbers of students greatly increased as well as the scores of students on academic achievement tests.

Even more impressive was the positive outcome for teachers who deliberately waited three seconds or more. Their questioning strategies tend to be more varied and flexible, the number of questions decreased, and their expectations for student performance appeared to change. They increased the quality and variety of their questions including those that required more complex information processing and higher-level thinking on the part of students.

Rowe found that wait-time on the part of teachers increased the amount of “think-time” on the part of students, shifting them from passive to active learning in the classroom.

Building on Rowe’s research, Robert J. Stahl, a professor in the Division of Curriculum and Instruction, Arizona State University, Tempe, published his own research several years later (1990)  Using “Think-Time” and “Wait-Time” Skillfully in the Classroom. In these findings, he constructed the concept of “think-time”.

Think-time can be defined as a distinct period of uninterrupted silence by the teacher and all students so that they both can complete appropriate information processing tasks, feelings, oral responses, and actions. (Stahl,1990)

Stahl noted other variables, including the quality of questions, in improving student engagement. Vague or confusing questions would confuse or frustrate students, no matter how long a teacher waited for a response.

Stahl offered eight ways to identify pauses in the classroom so that teachers could  recognize when and where “wait-time” silence can be effectively used as “think-time” and to see how these could be employed as instructional strategies. Some of these include the Post-Teacher Question Wait-Time that requires at least 3 seconds of uninterrupted silence after a teacher’s clear, well-structured question, so that students have sufficient uninterrupted time to first consider and then respond. There is also the pause identified as Post-Student’s Response Wait-Time is three (3) or more seconds of uninterrupted silence that occurs after a student has completed a response and while other students are considering volunteering. This could be way that academic discussions are facilitated. There was also the Impact Pause-Time when a teach may use a dramatic pause way to place an emphasis on material. This pause may continue for longer periods, up through several minutes, depending upon the time needed for thinking.

Stahl’s research, along with Rowe’s, demonstrated that silence-even for as little as 3 seconds- can be a powerful instructional tool. Those three seconds can be enough to provide time for students to frame their own questions or to finish their previously started answers.

Just think…and wait.

Three seconds.
How hard can that be? (..one one-thousand; two one-thousand; three one-thousand….) Anyone?  Anyone?

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