Providing wait-time for students to process and gain confidence

Silence in the classroom can feel uncomfortable for students and instructors alike, but processing information takes time. Waiting for several seconds after asking a question so that students, particularly introverted ones, are able to gather their thoughts before responding is proven to expand participation and improve the quality of student responses. In this video, Bob Kegan and Dan Levy discuss their strategies for using wait-time in the classroom, which Levy calls “one of the most underused weapons that an instructor has at his/her disposal.”

Instructor

Robert Kegan, William and Miriam Meehan Research Professor in Adult Learning and Professional Development

Student Group

Graduate

School

Harvard Graduate School of Education

Course

Adult Development

Course Details

Spring 2016, ~200 students

Instructor

Dan Levy, Senior Lecturer in Public Policy

Student Group

Graduate

School

Harvard Kennedy School

Course

Advanced Quantitative Methods

Course Details

Fall 2016, 74 students

  • After you ask a question, count several seconds in your head before calling on any student, even if several hands immediately go up
  • Make wait-time the norm and tell students why you do it. Consistency and transparency will underscore the value of "think-time" while reducing pressure for students to be the first to respond.
  • Simply say less. Resist the temptation to fill dead air with a rephrased version of your question or to answer an unanswered question yourself.
  • Numerous research studies have established the wait-time benefits to students in K-12.  Rowe reported that the average instructor wait-time to student responses was one second.  Rowe found that increasing wait-time to three to five seconds was associated with increases in the length and quality of student responses, and decreases in failures to respond (1974).  
  • Tobin found a positive link between higher mean wait-times and student science achievement in middle school students (1980)
  • Dollan and Collins recommend using wait-time as one strategy to teach more effectively (2015)