Waiting for Your Students

Kelliann Keaney

The essay below was written by Kelliann Keaney, a senior double major in Mathematics and Secondary Education, and one of our four D’Amour Student Fellows for the 2018-2019 academic year. We ask each Fellow to contribute to our blog, and Kelliann begins this year’s collection of essays with a convincing argument that professors need to wait for their quieter students to participate–even when that waiting can seem uncomfortable for us.

Arguably, the most important part of any class is class discussion, and discussions depend upon student participation. We all know that in any given class, certain students participate all of the time while others choose to take an active role in listening rather than speaking up themselves. To most teachers, lack of participation from students may be seen as students being lazy, or not paying attention. But this may not be the case. Sometimes when students are not participating, it is not due to a lack of attention, but rather, it is because students are not given enough time to properly process the question and think about their answer. One way for teachers to encourage student participation is to provide students with a few seconds worth of wait time after proposing a question to the class. This will give all students time to process the question and formulate their response.

I can think of many cases in which I have been labeled as that student who listens, but does not participate, specifically in many of my math courses. This is not due to of a lack of desire to participate; rather, it is because I cannot solve problems as quickly as others and raise my hand confidently in time to grasp that one extra participation point. Throughout my experience as a tutor, a student, and a student teacher at my pre-practicum sites, I have noticed the vitality of wait time after presenting students with a question. When teachers present a question and spend a few seconds waiting for students to raise their hand after a question, students are more likely to participate.

Every summer and winter, Allen Bruehl, the director of Assumption College’s Academic Support Center, trains all of the tutors to be the best that they can be. One thing that he always highlights during training is the importance of utilizing wait time after presenting a tutee with a question. Bruehl directs all of the tutors to ask a question, wait at least seven seconds, and then intervene if necessary. These seven seconds are vital to any tutorial. In these seven seconds, I have watched students struggle, challenge themselves, and have light bulbs go off in their heads when they are finally able to grasp a concept that they could not before. I can genuinely say that if I did not learn this seven second rule from Bruehl, my tutorials would be far less productive than they are.

Professor Jessica De la Cruz, a professor in the Education Department, shared her thoughts about wait time in a secondary math classroom to her own class of aspiring math teachers. She believes that “if you do not feel awkward after staring at your students for too long, then you didn’t wait long enough.” Similarly to Bruehl, De la Cruz tells her class of prospective secondary math teachers that they should be waiting ten seconds for students to raise their hands after presenting the class with a question. In De la Cruz’s Math for Educators course, all students participated regularly. She rarely ever called on the first student to raise their hand. Rather, she waited for more and more students to finish solving the problem, and then waited to see who else would raise their hand and be willing to participate. Utilizing wait time in her classroom gave all students the opportunity to solve the problem, understand the concept, and feel confident in the answer shared with the rest of the class.

Another barrier to full participation stems from the fact that some students feel compelled to carry the class with participation. One of my peers in the Academic Support Center, a junior biology tutor, told me that in one of her classes, she was always the one to participate. Throughout the semester, she began to feel as though it was her responsibility to answer every question presented by the professor. Due to her constant participation, her classmates began to recognize that they would not have to participate and felt as though my fellow tutor would do so for them. If her professor had properly utilized wait time, then other students in the class would have felt more inclined to participate. If her professor had utilized wait time, it could have been beneficial to the whole class. This professor would have given students more time to solve problems, understand concepts, and feel comfortable enough to participate.

As a future educator, one of my main goals is to provide a space where all of my students feel comfortable participating. I can accomplish this by utilizing wait time. Wait time is something that I have learned the importance of and hope to implement into my classroom. I will give students a fair opportunity to participate everyday by allotting them the time they need to grasp new concepts and solve new problems before being expected to participate.