Feb 28

This 3-Second Change Could Have a Huge Impact on Your Students’ Learning

February 28th, 2018 by Austin Butler

Have you ever noticed that you can gauge a person’s wisdom by how quickly they respond to questions?

Sometimes you ask someone a question and without even a second of thought they’re blurting out an answer.

On the other hand, there are those individuals who calmly take their time to consider a question carefully before composing a response.

In most cases, this second type of person tends to provide a more thorough and well-reasoned answer.

In fact, many of history’s greatest minds have attributed their success to having plenty of quiet and independent think time.

Albert Einstein is credited with saying, “the monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulate the creative mind.”

Turns out, there’s evidence behind this—

Silence can be a powerful tool when it comes to deepening students’ learning.

Why Wait Time Matters

Children and adults alike process information in different ways.

Some of us are external thinkers, we need to talk through an idea before we can fully understand it.

Others are internal thinkers who need to think independently about an answer before they can verbalize it.

Studies have shown that oftentimes when teachers pose a question to a class, they call on a raised hand within one second of asking the question!

The selected student (usually an external thinker) will share out his or her partially formed idea before other students even have a chance to think about it.

Researchers have found that even waiting as little as three seconds to call on a student can boost understanding for the entire class.

A three-second pause is one way to give students more independent think time, but teachers can do even more.

There are plenty of teacher moves and practices that can help you take advantage of the power of silence. Below are just a few of our favorites.

Think Pair Share

For all the reasons teachers love this technique, one of the best is that it requires a designated amount of time for students to think in silence.

Before students can share with a partner or raise their hand with an idea, all students are required to think independently. Use a timer and require at least 30 seconds of silent think time.

Worried that students will zone out? Many teachers use a variation of this technique calling it Write Pair Share so that students need to use silent think-time to put their idea down on paper.

Hold Your Tongue

While you may not think so, most teachers love to talk.

How many times have you given directions and sent students off to work when ten seconds later you’re jumping in with additional clarifications or redirections?

Set yourself a new rule: no teacher talk during the first few minutes of independent work time. Use a timer if you need to, but hold yourself to keeping your mouth shut.

In time, this practice will also hone your skills at giving precise directions the first time so that every student can hit the ground running.

Stop and Jot

Let’s say you pose a question to the class and sure enough you see the same six hands shoot into the air. Sound familiar?

Next time, pose the question and do a Stop and Jot. Students have one minute to jot down their ideas before you’ll take hands.

You’re likely to find that you not only get more hands in the air, but also a more diverse group of students participating.

I See, I Think, I Wonder

This is a phenomenal activity for engaging all students in deep independent thought.

Project or distribute a thought-provoking image or piece of art. Give students 1-2 minutes of silent think time to merely observe the image and start to formulate ideas about what they think is going on.

Then, have students share out first the things they see in the image, then things they think (inferences), and then things they wonder about the image.

Oftentimes your less-patient students will be amazed at the tiny details that other kids notice, showing them the value of slowing down.

Wait… not yet…

Get comfortable with wait time. For teachers who have a lot to cover in a given lesson, it’s tempting to call on the first hands up because it moves the lesson along more quickly.

Unfortunately, this means that the majority of your class won’t have a chance to process their answer before someone else is already sharing out.

Instead of calling on the first hand, wait.

Tell students that you’re going to wait until you have 80% of hands in the air. This not only gives all students more time to think but sends a message to reluctant participants that you want to hear their ideas too.

With a little practice and discipline, teachers can create a learning environment where more voices are heard and students are thinking and learning on a deeper level.

How else do you build silent thinking time into your daily lessons? Share your ideas in the comments below!


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