ELL · struggling writers

Wait Just a Second!

What if I told you that you could drastically improve student engagement and learning in just a matter of seconds and with little to no prep time? It sounds too good to be true, right? Well, I’m here to tell you that such an amazing strategy really does exist! You probably already know about it, but more than likely aren’t using it to its full power. Have you figured it out yet?

I’m talking about

The Power of WAIT TIME!

Numerous studies have found that the average teacher waits less than one second between asking a question and calling on a student to answer. This short amount of time is only sufficient for the fastest-processing students in our classrooms. The vast majority of our students need at least 3-5 seconds of wait time before they are able to formulate a response, and our multilingual learners and students with special needs require even more time. As writing teachers, we know that before students start to write, they have to formulate what they want to write in their heads. By increasing wait time during our minilessons, conferences, small groups, and teaching shares, we can create more equitable learning environments that allow all of our students to be engaged and successful writers. 

Wait time has many proven benefits. Research shows that teachers who use longer wait times tend to ask fewer, but better questions (higher order thinking questions instead of low-level recall questions). By slowing down our instruction and giving students time to process what we’ve said, we increase:

  • Quality (both accuracy and length) of student responses
  • Participation of students who don’t typically respond
  • Higher order responses (reflection and critical thinking)
  • Authentic interactions between students
  • Comprehension and learning

Plus, increased wait time can cause a shift in our own expectations and beliefs of students for the better. When multilingual learners, students with special needs, and struggling learners are given the time they need to process and respond, teacher perceptions of their capabilities change. With more wait time, we are able to see what every student is capable of.

Recently, I have been working with a teacher on student partnerships and increasing participation during discussions. I was modeling a lesson and called on a student who wasn’t raising her hand, even after a 5 second wait time. She wasn’t ready to respond, so I waited some more. She conferred with her partner again and then shared her thinking. During our debrief, her teacher was amazed that she had responded at all. “I didn’t think she could do that! I need to wait longer!” she declared, having seen the effects of wait time on her own student.

In recent years, I was introduced to the idea of Wait Time 1 and Wait Time 2. Wait Time 1 is the amount of time we wait between asking a question and calling on a student to answer. Wait Time 2 is the amount of time we wait after a student answers before we respond back. Wait Time 2 gives a student time to extend their response and elaborate on their thinking. Wait Time 2 sends the message that we want to hear more about their thinking, that their thoughts are valuable. I love this infographic to remind me about Wait Time 1 and 2.

Gonzalez, V. (n.d.). Infographics. Serving Multilingual Learners of All Ages. Retrieved from https://www.valentinaesl.com/infographics.html

Wait time is simple, but it isn’t natural. It can feel awkward and uncomfortable for both teacher and students at first. That’s probably why many teachers who set out to increase their wait time usually convert back to their prior wait-time patterns after just a few weeks. To help you avoid this trap, set up some external supports for yourself:

  • Make visual reminders like a sketch of a clock or the word WAIT on index cards or sticky notes. Post them in prominent teaching places like your easel, document camera, writer’s notebook/folder, conferring binder/clipboard/device, small group meeting table, at eye level on the wall opposite from where you teach, etc.
  • Use an external clock or timer
  • Count the seconds in your head
  • Find a colleague who you can share your plans with and who will check-in and ask how you are doing.
  • Tell your students that you are working on wait time and why. Ask them to hold you accountable to giving them wait time–they won’t let you forget!

Ultimately, wait time is about holding all students accountable for the thinking work you are teaching and asking them to do. A tremendous amount of thinking is the first step of any writing. Be intentional about waiting during your writing workshop (and all of your day) and see the power of wait time for yourself!

For more information, check out this Fundamental Skills Sheet on Wait Time from the Iris Center at Vanderbilt University.