We live in a wonderful age and in a wonderful country in which almost anything we want can be had with incredible speed: Fast food (Jack in the Box!), fast information (Google), fast transportation (minivans!…kidding), and, best of all, DVR fast-forwarding (through those annoying commercials that sell us fast-food and fast cars). We want our stuff and we want it five minutes ago.
The place for impatience like this, though, is not in the classroom as students are digesting deep and meaningful questions offered by the teacher.
Easily enough, the instructor’s ability to ask questions can be supplemented by looking up question stems on Google, downloading Bloom’s Taxonomy Apps that do the same, and so on. Rigorous and high level questions, it seems, are relatively easy to find. One crucial ingredient for theses rigorous and challenging questions, though, can’t be found anywhere online, in an app, or in a book: wait time.
We’ve all been there. You author a few really well manicured and hand-crafted questions meant to challenge students on the current unit or topic. You expect some struggling and have built in some time for that to occur… You go to question one or two AND THEN IT HAPPENS … They’re not answering the question. They wince. They stare at each other with fear…after 20 seconds you get nervous or upset because that thing you demonstrated or had the student demonstrate or read about yesterday isn’t coming to your students minds. Too many times, we give in to their whimpers and either give them the answer in a deep and disgusted teacher voice or we tell them to “look it up” as we move on to the next question so you can move on with the lesson…
You should, however, react more like Chuck Norris in the following video…
Expect answers. Stare them down…give them time to mull their options…Make it uncomfortable (w/o the bleeding, of course)! Ask your high level questions and expect students to raise their games. Just as working out the body induces constructive discomfort in a physical sense…so proper education should offer constructive intellectual discomfort.
Wait time is also a classroom equalizer. Giving the entire class 15 seconds instead of 5 to consider a question allows the lower level students a chance to compete with the more quickly thinking students. Like the gates that hold race horses back, an agreed upon or announced wait time lets everyone know that they have a chance to answer (and to be picked to answer) that tough question. In a related fashion, picking on both high and low level students reduces discipline issues since everyone is fair game. They’re all “afraid” that they’ll be picked. Of course, punitive fears aren’t the point here. Putting everyone on watch every time you present a tough question forces everyone to consider it because they MAY be called upon. More learners are likely to…wait for it…LEARN if you don’t fall into the habit of letting the “smart” kids address every single question. Students will silently address the question even if you don’t call on them. Those students who silently consider answers will also act as a check on students who DO answer the questions.
Because students are likely assimilating disparate chunks of information, it WILL take time to sift and get to the “right” answer. Studies (look at the top of page 7 in particular) have been done on wait time and nearly all of them say the same thing… waiting allows the student to put together more complex answers. Giving students only a few second to respond trains them to either blurt out the first thing that pops in their head or offer shallow answers.
Education shouldn’t be a fast food drive-through and, if you’re asking higher level questions, your students shouldn’t be served intellectual “junk food”.