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How does the Hawthorne Effect influence teachers' Wait Times

The Hawthorne Effect’s impact on teachers’ Wait Times

4 min read
  • Questioning, Cold-Calling & Wait Times

Have you ever put more effort into something simply because you knew you were being observed?

The Hawthorne Effect is a common phenomenon where people change their behaviour because they know they are being watched. It could well be that this effect has a significant impact on how you teach your students when you are being observed.

So, how does the Hawthorne Effect change your behaviour during classroom observations? Is there anything you can do about it? To gain a deeper understanding of this intriguing effect, this blog will explore:

  • What is the Hawthorne effect?
  • How does the Hawthorne Effect influence your Wait Times?
  • How do Wait Times influence your students’ learning?
  • 3 strategies to tame the Hawthorne Effect

What is the Hawthorne Effect?

In 1924, at the Western Electric Company’s Hawthorne Works factory, a team of researchers conducted a series of experiments to see how changes in lighting and rest periods impacted worker productivity. Surprisingly, they found that productivity increased regardless of the changes. They quickly realised that this wasn’t due to the changes in conditions, but that the act of observing the workers itself encouraged them to adapt their behaviour. This led to the discovery of what we now know as the “Hawthorne Effect”.

But how does this fascinating phenomenon play out in the classroom? Let’s take a closer look.

How does the Hawthorne Effect influence your Wait Times?

When you are being observed, you may unconsciously or consciously alter your teaching practices. Specifically, when it comes to your Wait Times.

Wait Times refer to how long you wait after you ask a question before you solicit an answer. Research has shown that if we can leave an optimal wait time, it can contribute to improved student outcomes, such as increased participation and higher-quality responses.

However, due to the pressure of being observed, teachers might shorten their Wait Times as a result of Action Bias. Action Bias describes how we feel better when we are doing something. In this case, it may be the need to fill any silence with more information or questions, leading to a more rapid pace in the classroom.

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How do Wait Times influence your students’ learning?

If Wait Times are too short, they can lead to various negative consequences for students, impacting their overall learning experience and engagement in the classroom. Here are some of the most notable consequences that educators should be aware of:

  1. Reduced cognitive processing time – Insufficient Wait Times may not provide students with enough time to process information, think critically and formulate well-considered responses.
  2. Decreased student participation – When students are given less time to respond, they can be less likely to engage in discussions or share their thoughts, particularly those who require more time to process information or feel less confident speaking up.
  3. Increased stress and anxiety – A rapid pace in the classroom can create a stressful environment for students, making it more challenging for them to focus and learn effectively.

3 strategies to tame the Hawthorne Effect

To counter the Hawthorne Effect’s impact on your Wait Times, multiple strategies can help. Here are some approaches you can take:

1. Count the Wait Times

    Once you decide how long you want to wait, it may be a good idea to silently count the seconds in your head. This practice can help guard against rushing, ensuring that you’re giving all your students enough time to process the information and respond appropriately.

    2. Provide a consistent environment

      Try to keep your classroom environment as consistent as possible during observations. This can help reduce any anxiety you might feel and eliminate the need for Action Bias. By doing so, you’ll be able to create a more genuine representation of your usual classroom dynamics.

      3. Engage in self-reflection

        Take some time to reflect on your own teaching methods and Wait Times. How long do you leave? What factors do you weigh up? Asking yourself this will allow you to pinpoint areas that need improvement without the added pressure of an external observer.

        Final thoughts

        The Hawthorne Effect plays a significant role in shaping your Wait Times when being observed. By recognising this phenomenon and implementing strategies to manage its impact, you can enhance students’ cognitive processing and participation. Ultimately, this will create a more effective and engaging learning environment for students.

        To learn more about Wait Times and other strategies that accelerate student learning, book our Retrieval Practice and Science of Learning CPD workshops. We’ll teach you everything you need to know, from what the research says to our favourite classroom-ready strategies.


        About the editor

        Bradley Busch

        Bradley Busch

        Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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