Asking questions is an important part of teaching. Cotton argues that “asking questions… is positively related to learning facts” (Cotton, 2001). Therefore, if we want students to learn, we need to ask questions. Rowe (1986) suggested that most teachers wait for one second or less for a reply to a question. After that, they either ask someone else or simplify the question. Wiliam (2011) suggests that doing this weakens the questions and doesn’t help learning.
Rowe (1986) argued that using ‘wait time’ can help. Wait time is when the teacher pauses during questioning. Wait time can take two forms; ‘Wait Time 1’ (when the teacher pauses after asking a question) and ‘Wait Time 2’ (when the teacher allows a pause after the pupil has answered). Rowe (1986) argues that the optimum time to wait after a question is roughly 2.7 seconds. Many practitioners round this up to 3 seconds to make it easier to count.
Fredericks compared using wait time to preparing good coffee; you give the granules time to percolate into the hot water (Fredericks, 2005). Therefore, the biggest benefit of wait time is that pupils are given time to come up with a good answer to the question that has been posed.
Rowe (1986) also suggested that wait time can increase the length of student responses by 300% – 700% and the quality of the response also increases, the variety of ability levels participating in questions increases and the need for disciplinary action decreases.
Ingram and Elliot (2015) suggest that one of the benefits of wait time is that it encourages structures within classes. By giving a pupil time to consider his/her answer, turn-taking attitudes are established, because only the selected person can speak.
Some of the literature on wait time identifies certain issues that need to be considered when using wait time. For example, Wiliam (2011) argues that certain types of question, for example, knowledge recall questions, will not be suited to wait time. If they don’t know the answer when the question is asked, giving them time to think will not help.
All sources agree that wait time can help to improve the number, length and quality of responses from pupils after questions, this then helps teachers to improve pupil understanding and to increase expectations of pupils.
To find out the effect of wait time on pupil responses to questions, two aims were set up for this enquiry. The first aim was to establish whether wait time increased the number of pupil responses to teacher questions. The second aim was to see whether the quality of those responses was different (e.g. longer or better formed answers).