Vaishnavi Bhat and Venkata Krishna Bayineni
Asking questions is an important part of teaching and learning in the classroom. One of the simplest but most important changes you can make in your teaching practice is to wait…. wait..… wait! The concept of “wait time” (also called gap time or response time) has become an important dimension of education research. When teachers ask students a question, they usually wait less than a second to get the student’s response. Furthermore, teachers react or respond with another question in less than a second after a student is done answering. The concepts of wait time 1 and wait time 2 are discussed in this article.
How often do we wait for a response before going ahead to the next question or another student? Would it make any difference at all if we waited for a response? We were curious to find out.
To give you a context, here is a rundown on wait time–
First introduced by Mary Budd Rowe in 1972, it is defined as the time interval between the teacher’s question and the student’s answer (wait time 1), or the time between the teacher’s first question and the second question to the student (wait time 2). The wait time affects the quality and quantity of student responses and the initiation of subsequent dialogues. Therefore, it is really necessary to increase the time provided to students to process what they know and to make sense of what they do not understand.
Teachers frequently try to continue the conversation by repeating the question, rephrasing the question, or calling on students if they do not react within a short period of time (sometimes as little as one second) after being asked a question. This behaviour has several negative consequences. Students are deprived of the opportunity to solve problems and formulate their answers, which is an essential process of learning. The teacher fails to recognize what the students already know and, more significantly, what they don’t grasp, which deserves further guidance. By constantly answering his or her own questions, the teacher indirectly communicates to the students that it is acceptable for them not to answer the questions because the teacher will ultimately do so. If the student is unable to answer the question after an appropriate waiting time, the teacher should rephrase the question or modify the question to resolve related or supporting concepts that are less cognitively difficult.
Mary Budd Rowe in 1972 and Robert J. Stahl in 1994 found in their research that providing a waiting time of at least three seconds, showed a significant positive impact on learning, and the student’s response time increased by 300%-700%. However, it was found that the average length that teachers pause for is 0.9 seconds.
Several other research studies have looked at the impact of the amount of time that teachers pause after asking a question has on learners. A study conducted by Atwood (1991) in the field of science education concluded that increasing waiting time can stimulate reflective thinking and therefore increase student participation. Nunan (1991) and Walsh (2002) proposed that when the extended waiting time is used, the quality of student contributions tends to be higher. Interestingly, previous researchers have noticed improvements not only in quality but also in the number of responses. Extending the wait time is considered to be an important factor that directly affects student confidence. According to Rowe (1986), there is a relationship between wait time and confidence. Once planning time is provided before soliciting responses, learners’ willingness to communicate may increase as their confidence and self-esteem increase. Mark (2011) pointed out that the longer the waiting time provided in the classroom, the less anxious the students will be, and vice versa.
Referring to wait time 1, Wilen (1991) suggested that teachers should allow three to five seconds before expecting students to answer, especially when asking high-cognition questions because students need at least three seconds to understand what is being asked to consider the available information, formulate answers and start responding. This wait time is also related to the improvement of student performance, the retention of information, and the reduction of response failures. Wait time also helps rope in slow learners and students with reduced classroom involvement.
Using a second wait time of more than three seconds is positively correlated with the results of many lecturers, including the increase in the number of higher-level cognitive questions asked and the expansion of the types of questions asked (Slack, undated; Dantonio, 1990). Using this waiting time can also enable lecturers to reduce teaching errors characterized by illogical or inappropriate responses to student comments (Swift and Gooding, 1996). It also provides time for teachers and students in the class to understand the answers before moving on.
As Tofade (2013) reported in his review, the longer the waiting time, the number of students voluntarily answering increases, and the number of follow-up questions raised by students increases. The students significantly reduced the frequency of “I don’t know” answers, and their scores on the exams were significantly improved. After increasing the waiting time, an improvement in teacher behaviour was also observed. The quality, flexibility, and diversity of questions increase, while the number of questions decreases. On the contrary, excessive waiting time may be detrimental to student participation. Depending on the nature of the question and cognitive complexity, waiting for more than 20 seconds may be considered threatening and result in poor responses.
Vaishnavi Bhat brings to light a different aspect
During the preparation for my classes at the beginning of the academic year, I was reading through literature and referring to several articles from teachers and alike to find out how I could do something different in class. Especially keeping the pandemic in mind. The main agenda for my children this year was that I want them to know and feel that they mattered in my 40-minute class and then followed the learning. That is how my quest for something creative started this year. I got in touch with some amazing people in the field of education and that’s when I came across the concept of gap time/wait time (it is known by different names). As I read more through the literature for gap time and how it makes a difference in class, I was intrigued.
Well, we certainly aren’t able to try out a lot of ideas that we have in our class for an umpteen number of reasons. But curiosity got the better of me in this case. And I experimented. But before I ventured to, I did my research to give my experiment some structure and shape. More so, to ensure I simply don’t set my foot into oblivion.
With the pandemic going on, let’s keep in mind that my experiment was limited to online classes.
Here is the beginning of my journey and what I have learnt in a span of four weeks with gap time:
• First thing off the bat, it was not bang on, not inch perfect with the timing and the pause/gap from the start. As with anything, I had to constantly remind myself to wait at gap 1 and gap 2.
• The silence was eerie, and due to the newness of the concept, the students and I as a facilitator were lost in the beginning. But things fell into place, and yes we still have those moments but the children know better now and I am more confident and articulate my questions better.
• There were times I had to repeat the question multiple times due to network issues that compromised the gap time.
• This (online classes) also made it challenging to get authentic answers. We had to work on constant reminders of not stating googled answers. And then put the onus on students and work on trust.
• I had trouble with gap 1, as giving positive reinforcement after the response,took uptime. I needed to set my pace and needed more practice.
• Time management: A good number of students were just not interested in responding and given online classes, they got away with it. But I did not budge, I didn’t take silence for an answer. The class didn’t move ahead until the student responded. Yes, this was not feasible every single time but after a couple of tries, the students knew they couldn’t get away without responding.
Currently, I feel that I have set the ball rolling. My students know that their responses will be awaited. And so, the next time their names were called, they were better prepared to answer. They also understood that despite the time provided, if they are not able to answer, that’s okay too. This aura is set in class. Of course, we still work on constant reminders and reassurance.
Another technique to promote student participation is to use think time, and this is closely connected to the idea of wait time. A period of continuous stillness imposed by the teacher to allow all students to digest the question and prepare an answer is known as think time. Because some students process and reply to questions faster than others, enforcing a thinking period during which no responses are acceptable helps all students to digest their thoughts and construct an answer.
Taking it forward
• Some things I would change going forward, being more specific or even changing my questions to getting an expected answer.
• Work on patience with myself and make peace with not finishing my planned activities for the class.
• Use ‘think time’ activity more often in class.
• Plan and manage time better.
• Explore and experiment in different scenarios (questioning while assessing projects or in-class assessment, etc.) and see how that goes.
Last, but not the least, I wish not to restrict myself to experimenting with gap time in classrooms but with daily interactions with students and others alike. I feel this wonderful concept of pausing can go a long way and as mentioned earlier, in this fast-paced life, we could all give each other a little extra time, be it a moment or half.
Acknowledgements: We are thankful to Dr. H. S. Nagaraja and Mr. Vallish Herur, Prayoga Institute of Education Research, Bengaluru for providing support and required facilities. We also acknowledge the cooperation extended to us by the Vijaya Bharathi Vidyalaya School management and students during the evaluation phase.
• Alsaadi, N. S. M. and Atar, C. (2019). Wait-time in material and classroom context modes. International Journal of Contemporary Educational Research, 6(1), 53-69.
• Nicholl, Honor M and Tracey, Catherine A. (2007). Questioning: a tool in the nurse educator’s kit. Nurse EducPract. 7(5):285-92.
• Rowe, Mary Budd. (1972). Wait-time and rewards as instructional variables, their influence in language, logic, and fate control. Paper presented at the National Association for Research in Science Teaching, Chicago, IL, ED 061 103.
• Stahl, Robert J. (1994). Using “think-time” and “wait-time” skillfully in the classroom (ED370885). ERIC Digest.
• Toyin, Tofade. et al. (2013). Best Practice Strategies for Effective Use of Questions as a Teaching Tool. Am. J. Pharm. Educ. 77:155.
Vaishnavi Bhat is an educator invested in alternative education. She is keen on exploring and experimenting with different learning approaches. She currently works as a research associate at Prayoga Institute of Education Research. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Dr. Venkata Krishna B is a Senior Researcher with eight years of experience, currently working with the Department of Biology, Prayoga Institute of Education Research, Bengaluru. He is currently working on different study areas of research pertaining to school-level Science learning. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.