How long does the average teacher wait after posing a question and calling on a student? The average wait time is nine-tenths of one second.
If we are asking students thoughtful, provocative questions, they should not be able to answer in less than one second. We need to not only increase wait time to at least five minutes, but to ensure that our questions are well-crafted, purposeful, and engage thinking. Open-ended questions are the most effective type, but they should also be on the higher levels of Bloom’s and Costa’s Levels of Questioning.
I was invited to observe a teacher who wanted me to examine the questioning technique in the classroom. We videoed the lesson and debriefed afterwards. I noticed that the teacher had intentionally crafted different types of questions and different levels of questions into the lesson. There was adequate wait time, as well as a few times when the teacher probed the student more deeply and required justification or elaboration for their answer.
These are habits that we must adopt if we are to improve education. Too many students are let off the hook, enabled, excused, or otherwise exempted from having to do the hard work of critical thinking. We often believe we are helping students by not calling on them if they are shy, for example, or if they are somewhat slow or inarticulate in forming a response. We want to save them embarrassment. But what if this is actually a harmful disservice that teaches them that their voice does not matter? What if it is our own feelings intervening in a situation that isn’t about us, but rather what is best for the student.
Another conclusion we came up with was: we need to teach students to think at higher levels. In order to do this, they must be taught what higher-level questions are. We can explicitly teach the differences between questions and help students move from the surface questions to those that delve deep into their thinking and really promote learning and understanding. They must learn also to use these questions for their own benefit in school, relationships, medical treatment, employment, college, trainings, etc.
This is a skill that is a bit difficult to master, but helpful in every aspect of life. For example, when I am confronted or challenged, I often respond with a question and bounce the responsibility back to the offender. If my husband is wrong, I will often ask him questions to have him reconsider points he may have overlooked. If colleagues are not sure where to go with a lesson, it is questioning that helps clarify their answers. Questioning is powerful, but only if you listen and use wait time to carefully consider the response. Possibly following-up with additional questions to encourage the speaker to think more deeply about the question is effective as well.