More than questions???

In my previous post, I noted the importance of teacher questions for engaging students, yet questioning is not enough!  A good question is not effective if the teacher does not wait for the answer!  Unfortunately, the average wait-time that teachers use is around one second, not even as long as it took to read this sentence.  How can a teacher expect students to respond thoughtfully after only a second of process time?  By increasing wait-time from 1 to 3 seconds, the length of student responses increases 300 to 700 percent and failures to respond decrease.  Student-student interactions increase and thoughts are supported by evidence more often (Rowe, 1986).  Additionally, teachers ought to wait after a student responds for up to 4 seconds.  Our gut reaction is to confirm or deny student ideas, instead we ought to look to other students for additional input or their reactions to what the first student said.  By using this second wait-time after a student response (wait-time II), my students explain their ideas more fully and evaluate other students’ responses rather than waiting for the “all-knowing” teacher to provide the “right” answer.  To further draw out student thinking, I often ask the class what “jimmy” means by his response.  Asking these clarifying questions to the class removes pressure from one student and demonstrates that I expect all students to be engaged with the discussion.

During wait-time teachers can further encourage student response by providing positive non-verbal behavior: looking interested and open to ideas, making eye contact with students, accepting all student answers equally and not giving negative responses to student input.  Additionally, the teacher can move around the room amongst students to draw attention toward the group instead of toward the front of the room.  As a side note, I make it a point to not call on individual students.  When calling on an individual student before asking a question, or right after asking a question, the rest of the class is allowed (or encouraged) to mentally “check-out”.  I want EVERY student in my class to be thinking about EVERY question I ask.

The teacher behaviors described previously (questioning, wait-time, positive non-verbals, etc) can be grouped as the Central Core of Effective Teaching (CCET) (Clough et. al, in press) and need to be used extensively when dealing with students.  Using the CCET can lead to a better understanding of students’ prior knowledge and thinking.  Using wait-time II is especially important so that the teacher does not get only one answer from one student.  Ideally, the teacher can get a feel as to the thinking of many members of the class.  Understanding what students think about content is important in light of what we know about how people learn (explained in a previous post).

The teacher behaviors of the CCET are also the best tool teachers have for promoting student actions congruent with their student goals (See previous post).  By asking extended-answer questions and asking students to clarify or elaborate, a teacher is forcing students to think critically about content, communicate their answers clearly, be actively engaged in learning, as well as use and continue to gain a deep understanding of content.  Through in-class discussion and evaluation of ideas students are learning to be respectful during conversation as well as being encouraged to be creative with ideas.  When a teacher guides students to accurate conceptions (instead of just telling), students are learning to evaluate their own knowledge. Also, although the teacher is guiding student progress, students are not aware of the teachers influence and feel they are learning on their own; giving them confidence in their learning abilities separate from being told the right answer.

Importantly, we must shift from asking questions that require only one word or yes/no responses.  We cannot generate discussions from these low-level questions.  Wait-time II is pointless if every student already knows the answer is “yes”. If we want students to think, we have to give them something to think about.

In my next post, I will address some classroom management strategies I use to “pull-0ff” the classroom environment I have been describing thus far.  Yet, consider how actually engaging students with the strategies above create a proactive classroom management system.

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4 Responses to More than questions???

  1. mrsfollis2 says:

    Have you tried Socratic Seminars or any other question based activities? Students generate questions and respond to one another. (OK, for regular circle discussions, I sometimes cheat and chime in, but I strive to keep it to a minimum and only ask questions/point out connects, then quickly retreat!)

    Formulating and answering complex open ended questions and making connections are key in authentic learning. If I ask and answer the questions, I’m the only one really learning. (Students merely regurgitate.) Nice post!


  2. Kahille says:

    YES!! I always stay away from “yes” or “no” questions…it’s easy to say “Have you ever heard of…?” but this is boring! I like to say “Tell me what you know about…” or “What comes to your mind when you hear the word, term,etc…?” This is how I do it in informal science education – based in inquiry. Because there is no “wrong answer” per se, everyone gets credit for responding – it is my job as an educator to help clarify the student’s thought process, or just help them articulate. Unfortunately, as students get into upper grades (HS) they are so trained not to think, it takes much longer than 1-3 seconds to get a response, because most of the time they are not used to answering with words other than “yes” or “no”. But the challenge is a rewarding one. Thank you for this awesome post!


  3. What an excellent post! Thank you for this.

    The administrators at my school who perform evaluations make sure to note wait time in their observations. It’s a simple things for most teachers to fix – just a matter of developing a new habit. I love the idea of Wait Time II, and will use it in my role as a new teacher mentor.


    • jerridkruse says:

      While it seems quite easy to just wait, most teachers and students are so uncomfortable with silence, they quickly resort back to simple one word answers and less than 1 second of wait time. Recording yourself and counting your wait time can really help you develop that new habit.


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