In most classrooms, students are typically given less than one second to respond to a question posed by a teacher. Research shows that under these conditions students generally give short, recall responses or no answer at all rather than giving answers that involve higher-level thinking. Studies beginning in the early 1970s and continuing through the 1980s show that if teachers pause between three and seven seconds after asking higher-level questions, students respond with more thoughtful answers and that science achievement is increased. This finding is consistent at the elementary, middle school, and high school levels and across the science disciplines.
However, some research studies have suggested that the benefits of increasing wait time may depend on factors such as student expectations and the cognitive level of the questions. In a study of increased wait time in a high school physics class, students became more apathetic in classes where the wait time was increased. This might have occurred because this strategy did not match students' expectations of how a high school physics course should be conducted. In a study at the elementary level, a decrease in achievement was attributed to waiting too long for responses to low-level questions.
In the Classrooms
Increasing the wait time from three to seven seconds results in an increase in: 1) the length of student responses, 2) the number of unsolicited responses, 3) the frequency of student questions, 4) the number of responses from less capable children, 5) student-student interactions, and 6) the incidence of speculative responses. In addition to pausing after asking questions, research shows that many of these same benefits result when teachers pause after the student's response to a question, and when teachers do not affirm answers immediately.
Increasing wait time also increases science achievement, and students' participation in inquiry. Research indicates that when teachers increase their wait time to more than three seconds in class discussions, achievement on higher-cognitive-level science test items increases significantly. This holds for test items involving content, the process skills, and items involving probabilistic reasoning.
However, care must be taken in applying wait time judiciously. The optimal wait time for a given question should be adjusted to the cognitive level of the question, and students' responses should be carefully monitored.
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Links to a document that discusses the concepts of "Think-Time" and "Wait-Time". It includes a section on the skillful use of Think-Time.
Investigated effects of increasing middle school teachers' wait time on general questioning skills in science teaching. Four groups (10 teachers each) were used: control; group receiving printed guides on discussion/techniques; group using an electronic feedback device; group using both guides and feedback device. Results, conclusions, and implications are reported.
A paper explaining an experiment using two Middle School science teachers with Wait Time as one of the variables in the experiment. The results indicated that using a mean teacher wait-time of approximately three seconds and ensuring may increase achievement that students are maximally engaged on the instructional objectives.
This links to an abstract from a 1983 publication showing the interaction of Wait Time feedback and Questioning instruction on science teaching at the Middle School level.
Embedded in Cotton's article, Classroom Questioning, are research findings supporting the use of wait time as a classroom questioning technique. She gives helpful suggestions for increasing wait time to facilitate students' thinking and learning.
This essay, Your Secret Weapon: Wait Time, likens wait time to percolation time - good coffee needs time to brew just like the generation of good ideas in students' heads needs the proper "brewing" time.
Seifert questions, Is There a Best "Wait Time"?, in this short essay. The researcher used Internet communication to help students to assess the idea of "wait time".