Waiting 3 seconds Can Help Students Succeed!

What if I were to tell you that there is a way to increase your child’s scores on academic achievement tests simply by giving him/her more “wait time” when asking questions. Did you know that when teachers wait silently for 3 or more seconds after asking a question the following benefits occur.

  • Students are less likely to say, “I don’t know.”

    Wait time creates a pyramid!
  • They are more likely to ask additional questions
  • Student participation increases
  • The scores of students on achievement tests tends to increase

Research has shown that in most classrooms students are given less than 1.5 seconds to answer a question.  Dr. Mary Budd Rowe studied this issue extensively in the 1970s and 80s. Her research discovered a positive correlation between wait time and student performance.  Why is it that such a little bit of extra time makes such a big difference?

Students are in an environment where they are learning all the time.  Processing new information takes extra time. When we learn something new we are creating more connections and meshing the old with the new.  Not surprisingly, students asked more in depth questions and teachers asked fewer questions when wait time was  3 or more seconds. This is because having additional time to think about the question allowed students to understand the “big picture” of what was being taught.  As a direct result of using wait time (1) student discussions with peers increased, (2) additional questions were met with more comprehensive answers and (3) teachers provided less assistance because (4) students were proactive and took greater initiative without being prompted. In essence, the students were going up the rungs of Bloom’s Taxonomy on their own, simply because the teacher provided extra wait time!

Providing “wait time” in the classroom is something I have done with remarkable results. Although I have never done a formal study with my own students I have no doubt that this technique has helped many students not just academically, but socially as well.  It is especially effective with students are are introverted or lack self confidence. It’s an easy way to “get the ball rolling!”

Do you use this technique at home with your own children?  If not, please consider trying it.  In a home setting, think about how much more effective this technique would be in an environment where you can give individualized attention to your child. How often has someone said to you, “You’re not listening!” when in reality you simply didn’t understand.  In my opinion, the main reason wait time works is because it increases our ability to listen and understand. Listening is a skill that can be hard to measure in the moment, but providing wait time allows what someone has just said (whether it is a teacher, parent or peer) to sink in. Try it and see for yourself!



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