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Ed. Magazine

Wait Time in Class

Allowing time for answers is an important teaching tool.
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You’re sitting in class and after the professor asks a question, there’s dead silence. No one raises a hand; no one offers even a partial answer. The silence feels awkward and hugely uncomfortable.

But does it have to feel that way? According to Professor Bob Kegan, silence can actually be an important tool intentionally used by instructors. By waiting a little bit before calling on a student to answer a question, even if several hands shoot up, teachers are giving all students more time to reflect on what is being asked, and students can better articulate how they want to answer. Wait time, as Kegan calls it, also makes it less stressful for quieter students.

“Waiting a few more seconds actually can be quite productive,” Kegan says in a video about wait time on the website for Instructional Moves, an Ed School project designed to give useful teaching tools to educators. Kegan says that even if the silence feels awkward and the teacher thinks no one will step up and talk, eventually someone will, and “as soon as someone starts, it’s like opening the floodgate. You’ll have more people wanting to volunteer than you have space for.”

Here are a few additional tips from Kegan and other professors at the Ed School on how to start using this wait time practice in class:

  • Be patient. Before calling on a student, count several seconds in your head.
  • Make wait time the norm in your classes, and tell students why you do it. Consistency and transparency will help avoid confusion. (“Why isn’t anyone talking?”) It will also underscore the value of “think time.”
  • Simply say less. Resist the temptation to fill dead air with a rephrased version of your question or to answer an unanswered question yourself.

Ed. Magazine

The magazine of the Harvard Graduate School of Education

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