Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Think Time

There have been studies that looked at the length of time teachers pause after asking students questions. I ask this question of teachers during the professional development I'm asked to do about instruction and differentiation. Their guesses are pretty close to the results that researchers found.

Researchers found ranges of .7 to 1.7 seconds that teachers pause.

That is less time than to take a breath. Considering that an inhale is required to speak, only students with an immediate answer, and who is ready to articulate immediately has a chance to respond. And in some cases even they don't have enough time to "start" speaking. What researchers and other educational thinkers suggest is pausing for 3 or more seconds. Pause time is dependent on purpose and situation, but extending beyond the current pause rate has been found to give benefits to learning. Students are given time to think through the question, compose their answer, and speak.

This Ferris Beuller clip is a great parody of 0.5 pause time creates:

Reflective responses, and other answers that require critical thinking, I suggest pausing for 5 to 15 seconds. 10+ seconds may seem an eternity--I've done this, I know--but it gives consideration to the internal thinkers who are sometimes known as intraverts. (Link 2) These thinkers need personal time to consider their thoughts and check for understanding before they feel comfortable sharing with others. In 3 seconds, they will most likely not be ready to answer the question, unless the required response is based on recall or low level understanding. 5 seconds might be a stretch.

Used judiciously, 10 to 15 seconds is also a class-management tool. Ask a question. Pause for all students to consider the answer, because anyone of them could be called on. After the waited time, call on a student to answer the question. Don't wait for volunteers. Up to 15 seconds is plenty of time for most students to formulate an answer depending on the expect complexity of answers.

3-5 seconds of wait time is useful in other ways, such as pausing after giving students time to articulate their questions, teacher pauses in a lecture to give emphasis to a concept, thus allowing students to digest the information, or giving students time to consider the response by a peer or teacher.

What's important is recognizing that the giving of pause, or think time, emphasizes the value of the question being asked and the quality of answer expected.

What is ‘Think Time’?

Information processing involves multiple cognitive tasks that take time. Students must have uninterrupted periods of time to process information; reflect on what has been said, observed, or done; and consider what their personal responses will be.
Robert J. Stahl

The Role of Wait Time in Higher Cognitive Level Learning

Kenneth Tobin

Western Australian Institute of Technology

Wait time is defined in terms of the duration of pauses separating utterances during verbal interaction. The paper reviews studies involving wait time in a range of subject areas and grade levels. When average wait time was greater than a threshold value of 3 seconds, changes in teacher and student discourse were observed and higher cognitive level achievement was obtained in elementary, middle, and high school science. Achievement increases were also reported in middle school mathematics. Wait time appears to facilitate higher cognitive level learning by providing teachers and students with additional time to think.