The Longer You Wait, The Better The Reward…

Reading time: 2


In 2010, Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit from a simple Twitter account through which he rapidly became the 'most followed teacher on social media in the UK'. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday...
Read more about @TeacherToolkit

How can teachers work more slowly to elicit more thinking from students?

It makes sense to slow down a little and give students a chance to think. The longer you wait, the better the reward…

Wait Time Mary Budd RoweProfessor Mary Budd Rowe was an American educator and researcher, best known for her work on “wait time“. The longer a teacher waits before insisting students answer a question, the more inference and learning can be harnessed. In some respects, when teachers do this well, they are mindful of cognitive load and finely balancing instruction and processing at once, in micro-moments.

In the complicated and busy world of the classroom, how can teachers ‘teach slowly’ in order to reap more benefits in the classroom? I’ve returned to her research paper to learn if there is anything else teachers can adopt from her work.

To do this well takes many years of practise. There are many questioning strategies that can help teachers do this on their feet, developing a range of question types to hold students to account for their learning. Examples include pose, pause, pounce bounce; cold call, no opt out and fermi questioning for example.

The ‘wait’ or ‘pause’ is a key phase in any process you use.

When teachers ask students questions, they typically wait less than one second for a student response. Further, after a student stops speaking, teachers react or respond with another question in less than one second. The concepts of wait time 1 (pausing after asking a question) and wait time 2 (pausing after a student response) are discussed.

Impact on students?

To determine what impact teacher questioning had on students, Rowe documented the astonishing speed at which teacher and student exchanges took place. “I fed the sound from the tapes into a servo-chart plotter…” which plots the speech patterns and pauses.

  1. Wait time: the accumulation of pauses between student utterances before the teacher speaks again, in most of the recordings averaged 0.9 seconds!
  2. Quick reactions by teachers appeared to cut off student elaboration.


Rowe writes that teachers “in their eagerness to elicit responses from students, teachers often develop verbal patterns that make the achievement of wait time 2 unnecessarily difficult.”

Most, if not all, teachers will recognise this, particularly under observation. Rowe recommends that teachers who “stabilize longer wait time patterns” can reap the following three benefits in class:

  1. Teachers’ responses exhibit greater flexibility. This is indicated by the occurrence of fewer discourse errors and greater continuity in the development of ideas.
  2. The number and kind of questions asked by teachers changes
  3. Expectations for the performance of certain students seem to improve.

Simple fixes for teachers could include responding to students with some of the following scripts:

  • “Yes, and…”
  • “Tell me why you think this…”
  • “What else?…”
  • “Explain to me how…”

If we factor in a wide range of learning needs, then this simple classroom strategy becomes more nuanced and requires many more conditions for it to be successful. For example, effective behaviour management, subject knowledge and personal confidence. Rowe ends with a quote from a poem that gives teachers some reassurance: “We cannot leave it to the scientists – nor any form of government – each individual must fuse a philosophy with a plan of action.”

Unfortunately, it is difficult for many people to get average wait times up to 3 seconds or longer. However, we must try if we wish to reduce cognitive load and increase a degree of self-regulation.

Download the paper.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.