Thursday, January 14, 2016

"Time" In the Classroom

The idea of wait time or think time isn't new to teachers, but it is worth revisiting. Mary Budd Rowe is credited with creating the term, wait time in the early 1970s and her research still holds true today. She found the average time between a teacher's question and student response is rarely more than 1.5 seconds.  When teachers increase the time to 3-5 seconds, Rowe found concrete benefits for both students and teachers.
 For Students:  
• The length and correctness of their responses increases.
• The number of "I don't know" and no answer responses decreases.
• The number of volunteered, appropriate answers by larger numbers of students greatly increases.
• The scores of students on academic achievement tests tend to increase.

For Teachers:  
• Questioning strategies tend to be more flexible and varied.
• The quantity of questions decrease while the quality and variety increase.
• Questions often require more complex information processing and higher level thinking on the part of the students.

Following up on Rowe's research, Robert Stahl constructed the term "think time"- uninterrupted quiet time (silence) by teacher and students.  Like Stahl and many others, think time resonates for me because it implies an active time to process information, whereas "wait time" is more passive and doesn't encourage continued mental engagement.  As with the earlier research, Stahl found 3-5 seconds gives enough time for nearly everyone to consider what's being asked and formulate a response.  Stahl identified a variety of times when short periods of silence are useful instructional tools:

1.  After a teacher asks a question
2.   When a student hesitates while answering, refrain from jumping in (teacher & classmates)
3.  After a student answers (allows for elaboration and other students to respond)
4.  Pause time before speaking (gives teachers & students time to consider what they are going to say)
5.  Short pauses during a presentation (allows for consolidation of information)
6.  Within instruction (to grab the attention/set up anticipation of students)
7.  Before partner work (give a specific amount of time for each student to think individually)

Think time takes discipline and restraint!  Having said that, it seems to relate to mindfulness, and slowing the pace of our classrooms down.  The idea of "think time" resonates deeply for me on a personal level, too.  Because I think internally, in school I didn't feel as smart as the kids whose hands shot up right away and had lots to say.  Like many of our elementary students, I believed fast = smart.  Just think about the potential impact 3 seconds can have on the quieter students in your class!

As good teachers, I know you already use wait time.  My challenge to you is to look for opportunities to intentionally incorporate think time into your classroom culture - insert 3-5 seconds of silence and then notice the changes that result.  Share you idea in the comments on this post so our colleagues can follow up with you.

Personal/Professional Growth:

Using "Think Time" and "Wait Time" Skillfully in the Classroom
The Wonder of Wait Time!


  1. Great post! I love using "think" time and really discourage children from blurting out their thoughts, explaining to them how it can shut down the thinking process of the others around them. How do we coach, encourage, teach verbal children to process internally?

    1. I'd love other folks to respond to Carrie's question - both from a personal and professional perspective.

      My thinking on your specific question, is to add to your "think" time prompt an additional step - maybe a "thinker" pose learning on an elbow, chin cupped in the hand and a few fingers over the mouth. You could even have the class come up with a pose - and then have everyone do it during "think" time. After your class tries it, I'd also suggest explicitly talking with the kids who would benefit from using it as a strategy and commenting on their successful use.

      You do such a great job of setting up "think time" as part of your class culture, Carrie. It's wonderful to see you are looking for ways to come at this topic from a new angle!