Want Better Discussions? Just Wait A Few Seconds.

My last post introduced some questioning methods that can engage students in more authentic classroom conversations. Now that you’ve had a chance to try some open-ended questions or the HRASE Strategy, and incorporate them into your classroom repertoire, we have two more approaches to try Wait Time I and Wait Time II. This can be a powerful way to encourage student-to-student interaction.

Wait-time 1 refers to the pause teachers take after asking a question. Wait-time 2 refers to the pause after a student responds to the teacher’s question. Mary Budd Rowe found increasing the wait time after asking a question to 3-5 seconds (from one second typically), increased student responses by up to 700%.

Along with wait-time, the way teachers respond to their students greatly impacts the authenticity of the discussion. It’s not surprising that teachers who interject their own ideas and/or reject or rephrase students’ ideas, kill the conversation off quickly. When a teacher repeats what a student says, confirms or praises students’ ideas (e.g., that’s right!), conversation also suffers.

So, how does this translate to positive action?

  • Acknowledge students’ ideas—Instead of judging ideas as “right” or “wrong”, acknowledge students’ contributions. Phrases like “okay”, “thank you”, “interesting” or a nod can let students know you’re listening while still seeking ideas from other students.
  • Ask Students to Clarify Their Thinking–To help students develop more detail in their responses, a teacher can ask students what they mean by their answers. As students explain in more depth, others can play off those ideas.
  • Guide Conversation through Questions that Use Students’ Ideas–Perhaps the most effective way to improve conversations is to ask a question using students’ ideas. Questions like, “If that’s the case, what about….?” or “How might this idea apply….?” gently guide students’ thinking without interrupting the flow of the conversation.

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