How many times does this happen? You’re having a classroom discussion, your students are talking and then…crickets. You’re a great teacher, so you know that you need to provide adequate wait time, but that silence is deafening. All too often, I used to jump in and provide an idea or add a follow-up question to try to keep the conversation going, but then the focus goes from the student-centered discussion to, the teacher has the answers. Here are some things you can do to provide wait time in student-centered discussion.
One of the best things you can do so that students know that you aren’t about to step in and give a hint or an answer is to look busy. I don’t mean that you should be walking around the classroom or to be removed from the place where the discussion is taking place.
Staying busy could look like writing down student ideas. I see this as a great opportunity to be jotting down student ideas that had been shared. At the end of discussion I give a quick summary of the responses to review.
You could also be tracking which students are sharing. I go into great detail what this looks like in another post about measuring student participation in discussion. With how important it is to have all students participating, knowing which students are and are not participating is important so that you can plan to get more students involved in discussion.
If you can’t think of anything else to write, sometimes I just start marking down dots. Really it doesn’t matter what it is that you’re writing, but dots will at least make it look like you’re busy, and more importantly, you’re not in the discussion.
Don’t Make Eye Contact
If you’re trying to stay out of the discuss, one of the worst things you can do is to make direct eye contact with the students. Doing this brings you into the discussion and students will no longer think that they are the ones discussing. It then turns into a question and answer session between the teacher and the students. Good-bye student-centered discussion, right?
What works for me is looking at the tops of the everyone’s heads as I look around. Sometimes looking at the students makes them feel nervous and actually prevents them from talking when they may have otherwise.
When the discussion stops, sometimes I will just start counting in my head. It stops me from saying anything and it gives my students the wait time they need. Now, you may ask: what should I count to? The longest I’ve waited is counting 20 one thousand, and believe me it was uncomfortable.
I wasn’t the only one who was uncomfortable, the students were too. While I was counting and we were all uncomfortable, someone was thinking of an idea and after that time, someone shared and the discussion continued.
I wouldn’t wait much longer than 20 seconds, though. Maybe there’s just no more to say.
If No One Says Anything
Sometimes after you’ve counted and you’ve tried to stay busy, no one says anything. In that case, I have a couple of options.
First, I’ll say, “Who would like to add on?” This wording is really important. It implies that there must be someone who can add on.
Don’t say, “Does anyone want to add on?” or “Any other ideas?” This makes it really easy for kids to think, “No” and then the discussion is over. Kids stop thinking of what to say.
You can also summarize the ideas that students have already shared. Sometimes hearing ideas that someone else has shared can spark the discussion again.
Add a question that refocuses the discussion. Maybe your students went way off in left field with a question. Sometimes a clarifying question that brings the discussion back to where it started.
Whatever you do:
DON’T ADD YOUR OWN IDEA!
I know it’s tempting, and I’ll be the first to admit, that it sometimes takes all I have in me to not say something. It will pay off dividends in the end. Decreasing teacher talk and increasing student talk is the key to meaningful student discussions. Wait time in student-centered discussion is tough, especially with the lower grades when the attention span is so short and that little piece of thread on the rug is so interesting.
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