Wait time

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Wait time is the duration of a pause after a teacher poses a question. Wait time allows each student to begin to formulate his or her own response to the question. Studies have shown that students of color and female students benefit when wait time is increased.

How to incorporate wait time

  • Increase wait times for all students.
  • Be mindful of differential teacher-student interactions in the classroom.
Studies have shown that teachers devote a differential amounts of wait time to male versus female students and students of minority race versus Caucasian students. Myra Sadker, a former professor of Education and Dean of the School of Education at American Univeristy, and David Sadker, also a professor of Education at American University, investigated the effect of these different wait times on differential participation in the class discussion. Their study and observation of undergraduate classrooms found that teachers unconsciously gave white males more wait time than female students and students of color. Sadker and Sadker hypothesize that longer pauses after questions convey a "vote of confidence" for the student's answer and, thus, motivate participation. This bias in favor of white male students' participation in class ultimately disadvantages the success of women and students of minority races.
  • Let students know you are going to give them some time to think about your question.
  • Codify and track participation in class discussions.
  • Include group and presentation work.

Evidence of Positive Effects of Wait Time

Studies compiled by Robert J. Stahl, a Professor in the Division of Curriculum and Instruction at Arizona State University, show that increasing wait time to 3 or more seconds results in positive effects for both teacher and student. Typically, a teacher waits between 0.7 and 1.4 seconds after a question before beginning to talk again. Stahl proposes increasing this wait time to at least 3 seconds. (Duell, however, finds negative effects of extending wait times to 6 seconds.) For students, increasing wait time increases the length and accuracy of question responses, increases the number of appropriate responses volunteered by students, and increases the academic achievement level (e.g., test scores) of the students. Additionally, teachers who implement a longer wait time also tend to ask higher quality questions, vary their questioning strategies, and ask questions that challenge students to use more complex information processing skills.