Nicole Gierlowski


St. Margaret's High

  • Assessment For Learning

What effects does ‘wait time’ have on pupils’ responses to questioning?


The concept of ‘wait-time’ as an instructional variable was invented by Mary Budd Rowe (Rowe, 1972). It was discovered that the ‘wait-time’ periods in a typical classroom lasted approximately 1 second. Rowe discovered, however, that when these periods of silence lasted at least 3 seconds, ‘wait time’ had significant benefits to pupils’ responses and helped improve their understanding (Rowe, 1986). To attain these benefits, teachers were urged to “wait” in silence for 3 or more seconds after their questions and after students completed their responses. Dylan Wiliam, (Wiliams, 2010) agreed with Rowe, stating that the length of time a teacher allows their students to answer any question is the key, guiding questions which require thought, should have an increased ‘wait time’ of 3 seconds from the average 1 second, as this produces measurable increases in learning.

In general, recall and lower-level questions will take most students 1-3 seconds to answer. Questions that require calculation, usually take 4-6 seconds to generate a response. Higher- order questions that require more thought than the simple recall questions, could take anywhere from 6-10 seconds to formulate a reply. Studies beginning in the 1980s show that if teachers pause between 3 and 7 seconds after asking higher-order questions, speculative thinking increases as does achievement (Swift & Gooding, 1983) (Mansfield, 1996). I chose to investigate the effect of increasing ‘wait time’ in my classroom as I felt the results could have a positive effect on pupil understanding and achievement in mathematics.


The aim of this practitioner enquiry was to evaluate the effect ‘wait time’ had on pupil response to questioning in the secondary classroom setting. The focus was to prepare and ask various questions that required mathematical higher-order thinking skills in order to discover whether an increased ‘wait time’ would improve the quality of response from pupils.

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