In this week’s Parent Pedagogy 101, we will discuss the power of wait time, a strategy to provide your child with time to think and process information. It is a skill used by master teachers that can be applied at home, too. Wait time also blends seamlessly with the use of the what, how, and why questions and highlighting mistakes from our first two Parent Pedagogy 101 Insights posts.
Part 3 in our series: The Power Of Wait Time
“One, two, three, next! One, two, three, next!”
“Dad!! Slow down. I can’t go that fast!”
A father and daughter are sitting at the kitchen table with a pile of flashcards between them. The dad is insistent that his daughter learn her math facts – or more accurately, memorize her math facts and be able to recite them in the time it takes to count to three.
“One, two, three, next! Faster, Kelly. You need to go faster.”
“AHHH, stop Dad! Mom, Dad isn’t being fair. He’s going too fast!”
The daughter, flustered and upset because this is not how her teacher does it at school, storms off to find her mom. This story is one that my family shares with laughter now, but I can tell you it was no laughing matter when I was 6 years old. With the best of intentions, my dad put me through flashcard drills over and over again with little to no wait time. I eventually memorized the facts, but not without a few tantrums and tears. To improve this process, my dad didn’t need to ditch the flashcards, just increase the wait time and add in a few questions when I got stuck. Flashcards can be a good tool to use when learning, especially when using sufficient wait time – and this strategy is applicable to much more than just flashcards and math facts.
(Video Credit: Wait Time, Forney Independent School District)
Wait time is the period of quiet that happens between when you ask a question and when the child responds. Whether we think about a teacher with a room full of students or a parent with a child, the impact of wait time can range from disrupting the learning entirely (not good) to strengthening the response and understanding of the child (yay!). Children need time to absorb new information, connect it to what they already know, and formulate an answer. Wait time can vary between activities, such as practicing addition facts or explaining how gravity varies on different planets, but more thorough responses are more likely to occur when a child is given a longer wait time.
How it works:
When asking a question or working on a project with your child, resist the urge to interrupt the silence with the answer or your thoughts. Take a few breaths or count to 10 before jumping in to assist. Exercising a sufficient amount of wait time may feel uncomfortable at first, but that just means you are on the right track. Remember, 5 to 10 seconds is the sweet spot!
My dad was on the right track when he counted to three to establish a wait time, but it was not nearly enough for the skill level I had at the time. Instead, he could have counted to six in his head, not out loud. If I was still unsure or got the answer wrong, a follow-up question could have guided me in the right direction without telling me the answer. Here are a few examples:
- How are you thinking about this one?
- Is there another fact you know that could help?
- What other fact could help you figure out 5+6?
- What is 5+5? How can that fact help you think about 5+6?
- Could you draw a picture?
Silence does not always indicate a lack of understanding or attention. The silence between a question and the answer is used for processing, recalling past information, and building a response. It may feel awkward and uncomfortable to wait, but remember you are providing space for your child to think. Try not to jump in with questions or the answer. Take a few breaths and count to 10.
See it in action:
In this video from Teach Like a Champion, teacher Maggie Johnson skillfully uses wait time during her English lesson on To Kill A Mockingbird. You will see three questions posed in this short clip, each with more than 5 seconds of wait time. As you watch, it may seem like the time flies by – but when you are the one waiting, 7 or 8 seconds can feel like several minutes.
(Video Credit: Wait Time featuring Teacher Maggie Johnson, Teach Like a Champion)
- (0:13 – 0:22) In the first question, you will see Ms. Johnson wait, and wait a little more, after asking her question. She provides her students with 8 to 9 seconds to formulate their responses. As she waits, Ms. Johnson glances around the room, smiling at her students with encouragement.
- (0:33 – 0:44) In the second question, Ms. Johnson provides over 10 seconds of wait time to allow for more thoughtful answers to her question, “What is agitating him?”
- (0:49 – 0:57) Her students then receive 7 seconds to think through their answers to the third question.
Children and adults alike learn at different paces, and extending wait time is a great way to promote learning. It may be challenging to wait at first, but remember you are learning a new strategy, too. Teachers experience this same challenge and must practice to hone this skill. On the Teach Like a Champion Blog: Doug Lamov’s Field Notes, Doug Lamov shares:
“The average teacher waits less than a second between asking a question and calling on a student to answer. The speed of that interaction can have a variety of negative effects on a classroom. For example, it can mean that only those who think very fast can get their hands up in time to participate. As a result, those who do raise their hands are unlikely to have thought as deeply as they might, and those who are not as fast – either because they struggle or because they are cerebral, deep thinkers – learn over time that they will never get their hands up in time and just maybe stop trying. So, waiting just a few seconds can be a game-changer.”
(Engaged Cerebral Classroom Culture: Aidan Thomas’ Master Class On Wait Time)
Next time you are working with your child, try waiting a little more, count to 5 or 10, and see how the waiting can help your child produce more complete answers. You can do it!
Join us next week for Using Proximity To Keep Your Kids On Task.
Kelly Zunkiewicz is a national award-winning teacher with a decade of teaching experience. She has insight into the minds of educators and students and understands what makes great teaching happen.