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Should Wait Times be longer for primary school students

Should Wait Times be longer for primary school students?

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

In the lively environment of a primary school classroom, the Wait Time after asking questions to your class can easily find itself shortened. However, to allow students to process questions more deeply and encourage thoughtful and considered responses, Wait Time management is key – and this may be especially true for younger learners.

In our search to discover more about how Wait Times can be used specifically with primary school aged children, we recruited the help and wisdom from Teacher and Team Leader, Sarah Oberle. We had the privilege of interviewing her for the Expert Insights series on the Teacher CPD Academy. She gave us some valuable insight into some practical wisdom.

So, here’s what we learnt from Sarah Oberle about implementing Wait Times into a primary classroom practically and effectively …

Understanding the mindset of primary school aged children

Primary school children are naturally more impulsive, which means that they may act spontaneously rather than giving thoughtful consideration to what they say. As Sarah highlighted, children tend to have “a drive to be first and to be quick” and often race to be the first to have their hand up. This urgency often results in students raising their hands before they have fully processed the question or formulated a response. They can also often equate being first with being intelligent, which is not true.

Keeping this in mind is essential, as it serves as a good reminder that due to children’s natural tendencies. As Sarah points out, “it’s an uphill battle trying to break that thought process”. So, even though attempting to extend Wait Times may feel awkward and unnatural, being intentional about this is key.

Understanding why we subconsciously rush our Wait Times

Several psychological factors can tempt teachers to rush through their Wait Times. Recognising these can help you to consciously slow down and provide more adequate Wait Times. We have a whole blog dedicated to the reasons why teachers unintentionally rush their Wait Times, but here is a brief outline to recap:

  • The Action Bias This is the tendency to prefer action over inaction, especially when being observed. Teachers may feel the need to “do teaching” continuously, equating activity with productivity.
  • The Superman Complex Teachers often rush to “save” students from struggling, believing they are helping. However, this can deny students the chance to think deeply and retrieve answers independently, which is a crucial aspect of learning.
  • The Curse of Expertise When teachers are highly knowledgeable about a subject, they may find it difficult to understand why students struggle with concepts that seem obvious to them. This can lead to impatience and a tendency to rush.
  • Misconceptions about learning Effective learning can sometimes appear slow and uncomfortable. When teachers forget this, it can prompt them to fill the gaps too quickly.

By becoming aware of these subconscious biases, teachers can intentionally slow down, providing students with the time they need to process and respond thoughtfully.

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Modelling Wait Times well

Modelling Wait Times effectively is essential for demonstrating to students the value of thoughtful consideration. Here are some strategies for modelling Wait Times:

  • Think aloud Use think-aloud strategies to demonstrate the thought process involved in answering a question. For example, as Sarah pointed out, a teacher might say: “I was going to say this, but then I thought about it more and realised…
  • Focus on pausing and thinking Intentionally pause after asking a question, giving students time to think. This can be reinforced by saying: “Let’s take a moment to think about this.”

Intentional modelling can rapidly impact classroom dynamics and can help students to break their current thought process that they need to give quick answers to appear intelligent. As estimated by Sarah, in “typically…about a month and a half”, effective Wait Time management can become a regular part of classroom culture if practised consistently.

Key phrases to use in the classroom

In her interview, Sarah pointed out some specific key phrases which can be used to reinforce the importance of Wait Times and encourage thoughtful responses. Here are some examples:

  • I’d rather you be the last and do your best, than be the first and you rushed – This encourages students to take their time and focus on the quality of their response rather than speed.
  • First we think, we don’t just blurt it out… then we raise hands – This reminds students to consider their answer before indicating they are ready to respond.
  • I’m definitely not going to call on the very first person right away – This signals to students that thoughtful consideration is valued over quick responses.

These phrases can be incorporated into daily classroom routines, gradually shifting the classroom culture towards valuing deep thinking and learning.

Final thoughts

Effective Wait Time management is a powerful tool for enhancing student learning in primary school classrooms. By understanding the mindset of primary school children, recognising the subconscious biases that lead to rushing, modelling Wait Times well, and using key phrases, you can create an environment that encourages your students to put more time and effort into their responses. As Sarah adds “learning to wait… is a hard concept for 6- and 7-year-olds” – so even though it may be difficult, don’t give up.

As an added bonus, teaching students to think hard about their verbal answers can also extend to multiple learning behaviours throughout the classroom as Sarah pointed out, such as in written work.

Thanks again to Sarah Oberle for sharing her expertise with us. Do you want your staff to learn more from her and an all-star line-up of experts as part of your in-house professional development? Join the Teacher CPD Academy.

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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