Teaching Students to Use Think Time (Educators too) | Steve Barkley

Teaching Students to Use Think Time (Educators too)

Many years back I studied, what at that time, was called wait time, sometimes pause time, and I looked to implement it in my own classroom when questioning students. I also taught the strategy and coached the strategy to many teachers.

The early research on wait time was done by Mary Budd-Rowe. Her research examined the impact of teachers increasing the average length of pauses after their questions and after a student’s response. She found extra pauses of two to three seconds could produce pronounced changes, usually regarded as improvements, in students’ use of language and logic, as well as in student and teacher attitudes and expectations. She identified that as a result of wait time, one could gain

  • an increase in the length of student responses,
  • an increase in the number of unsolicited, but appropriate student responses,
  • an increase in speculative responses,
  • a decrease in the number of students failing to respond,
  • an increase in the number of responses by students identified by their teachers previously as “slower learners,”
  • an increase in the scores of students on academic achievement tests.

The words TIME TO THINK on a clockStudies also indicated that when teachers practiced wait time, positive changes occurred in the teacher’s own behavior.

  • Their questioning strategies tended to be more varied and more flexible.
  • They decreased the quantity and increased the quality and variety of their questions.
  • They asked additional questions that required more complex information processing and higher-level thinking on the part of students.

In other words, teachers used the pause time themselves to implement their own thinking, which positively impacted the teacher’s next move.

A post on the ASCD website titled, “Applying Think Time to Formative Feedback” by Jackie Acree Walsch illustrated how we can multiply the impact of pause/wait time by teaching students what to do during the pause. (What I would label as teaching a student learning production behavior)

One idea from Walsh that caught my attention was a suggested change in our vocabulary. Instead of asking students for an answer to a question, ask them for a response. For me, that word change seems powerful. An answer suggests that I should “know” the answer, I know the solution. A response could be to describe what it is I’m thinking. A response encourages participation and may provide the teacher with a valuable understanding of the learner.

The pause after asking a question and before calling on a student to respond communicates that the question is valuable and worthy of some thinking time. In my coaching sessions, I frequently ask teachers, “If you could put a finger on a student’s head and hear what’s going on inside, what would you want to hear?” The response indicates the kind of thinking the teacher is hoping the question sparked.

Walsh provides questions students can ask themselves when the teacher provides that first pause:

* What do I think the question is asking?
* What connection can I make with what I know?
* How can I best express what I’m thinking to this question?
* What questions, if any, do I have about this?

After calling on a student, I recommend the teacher consciously think about adding an additional pause so that the student who was called on can reframe, think through, gain confidence, and bring back the thoughts that they had because sometimes, especially if the teacher’s using random questioning, there’s this kind of blank that hits me when I hear my name.

The next pause comes after the student stops responding. There’s a pause before the teacher gives any indication about the accuracy or probes the responding student. This allows the student’s words to lie there, both for the student to still be thinking, and for other students to consider the response. If this second pause is new to your students, you’ll find that very often, they quickly will change their answer because having not gotten immediate positive feedback from the teacher, they make an assumption that their answer was wrong.

happy cute little kid boy thinking and searching idea processHere are the questions that Walsh suggests the responder to the teacher can ask him or herself during that pause:

  • Did I communicate clearly and completely?
  • Do I want to change my response?
  • What other information including evidence might I add?
  • What do I wonder about this topic?

She provides another set of questions for the other students in the class who have just heard the responders’ words. These questions help the teacher communicate that everyone should be engaged throughout the exchange. “It’s not that I’m on a break as soon as a different student has been called upon.”

Here are questions for the rest of the class to be considering:

  • What do I think the speaker meant?
  • Do I agree? If so, why?
  • Do I disagree? Why?
  • If I agree, what can I add? If I disagree, what am I thinking is the response to the question?
  • What questions do I have about what the speaker said?
  • What questions do I have about this topic?

Walsh recommends that we take the time to teach students how to use think time. I would suggest we are empowering the students with a critical, lifelong skill that’s connected to learning. It’s the way that I learn in almost any setting; in a presentation or in a small conversation with colleagues.

Consider providing students with Walsh’s questions as a “cheat sheet”, a reference. What’s the payoff for you and your students from investing time in teaching, practicing, and coaching how to increase learning outcomes by using their own self-questioning strategies?

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