Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The art of wait time

I have blogged about the importance of questioning here:
Just as asking a certain type of question is important, we must also allow for sufficient wait time to occur to give a student a chance to think and answer the question.
When I first started asking higher level questions in my class, my students appeared as if I had I just delivered them a dose of shock therapy.  I never realized that it was going to take some time for my students to adjust from answer YES/NO to giving me more in depth solutions.  Once the class had adjusted (which took weeks, not days), I still had to wait on my “Wait-time I” and “wait-time II”.
Wait-time I: the time that teachers wait after having asked a question to receive an answer… three seconds here, feels like an hour!
Wait time II: the time that a teacher waits after a student has answered a question.
When you increase both of these times, with wait-time I being at least 3 seconds, the research (Rowe, 1974a, 1974b, Rowe, 1986) states you will witness the following outcomes:
·         The length of student responses increases by 700%
·         The number of unsolicited, but appropriate, student response increases;
·         Failures of students to respond decreases;
·         Students’ confidence, as reflected in decrease of inflected responses, increases;
·         The incidence of speculative student responses increases;
·         More students inferences are supported by evidence and logical argument;
·         The incidence of student-student comparisons of data increases;
·         The number of student questions and proposed experiments increases; and
·         The incidence of responses from students rated by teachers as relatively slow increases.
It is troublesome for some teachers to wait for 3 seconds, but I encourage you to try it!
If you have ever waited 3 seconds after asking a question, before receiving an answer, you will understand how long this feels.  However, the price we pay for waiting 3 seconds is more valuable to learning than you answering your own questions for an hour.


  1. Wait time is one of the first things I address with student teachers.

    And it gets worse for those teachers who teach the same course content multiple times in a day. It's pretty easy to become a content delivery technician and forget that your suppose to be teaching kids.

    Great post!

  2. This is so important! On days that I'm antsy, I'll mentally count. I've heard of people putting a rubber band on their wrist and popping themselves to help them with this. Whatever works. Thanks for the outcomes, too.

    Wait time was one of my comfort questions I just wrote about on 10 Teaching Questions to Make You Comfortably Uncomfortable.

    Thanks for sharing.

    - @newfirewithin

  3. I think I do a pretty good job with wait time 1, but I know I have a far way to go on wait time 2. In science class, I think I want to reassure them so quickly that they are correct...so I jump right in. But, my goodness, I really see potential in giving that time after. I even cringe a bit when I go too quickly and cut a student off. I've had to apologize at times because of my enthusiasm.

    Thank you for writing on this. It is good to reflect on how much time I give.
    My next area to focus on!