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Thursday, January 12, 2006

Using "Wait-Time" To Make Questions More Effective

The use of questions is a primary way we interact with learners in both large and small groups. The skillful use of questions not only increases the number of students who participate but also increases their level of thinking. Frequently, teachers ask questions but give learners very little time to think and construct answers. This results in teachers either repeating the question or answering their own questions. A questioning strategy called "wait-time" has been shown to give some amazing results. "Wait-time" is a 3 to 5 second period of silence (silence by the teacher) after he/she asks a question. Educational research has shown that allowing this 3 to 5 second period of silence can give the following results.

  • The number of student responses increases.
  • Students who respond infrequently respond more frequently.
  • The length of student responses increases.
  • The depth of student responses increases.
  • Students respond with more confidence
  • Student-to-student interactions increase.

Well, you may be asking, "If this is so simple and the results so good, why don't more teachers do it?" Answer: Some don't know about it and for those who do, they find it isn't so easy. Teachers seem to have this tendency to fill any silent space in the classroom with some sort of verbalization or with non-verbal cues that communicate that an answer is expected almost immediately. Using wait-time takes a practiced and concentrated effort. One strategy is to ask a question and then not make eye contact with the class such as looking down or making momentary eye contact with a teaching visual (PowerPoint slide) while at the same time saying silently to yourself, "One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi."

The above comes from the Forida State University College of Medicine.

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