The answer does not have an expiry date.

I am in the question business. Like millions of other teachers, I too am a not for profit purveyor of who, what, when, where, why and how (not in that order) in education.

The other day as our daily Math class was rolling along I became aware of some recurring patterns in the students. I noticed the same 1/3 of students participating. Statistically, that’s not bad having 10.3 students raising their hands, but as I walked through the class I remarked that it could have easily been 2/3 with their hands up, and another 1/6 only a little wait time behind them. Since Math is the study of Pattern and Order (thanks alot Trevor Brown!) my mind began to wander. I meant wonder.

Could this have been a case of simply humans being creatures of habit? Did the others just acquiesce to the serial participants? Did I give enough time for processing or what Daniel Kahneman refers to as “System 2 Thinking”? Was the question an appropriate challenge, but not too difficult that students might become frustrated either way? Were my observations evidence of learnt behaviour of students over years in the classroom? Why was this even a thing?

As the class continued, I passed through the class again and again ignoring the hands in the air in favour of those keeping their desktop from defying the laws of gravity. I saw they had the answers, that they understood, but something was holding them back from sharing. So I called on them anyway. Eyes wide, senses on high alert, and with voices sounding parched they responded.

That’s right! I exclaim. Can you explain how you got your answer because I see your work, and it is an effective way to solve the problem? Exhale. Well at least they didn’t faint from holding their breath.

My point to any and all reading this post is simply that we could be missing out on an excellent opportunity in classrooms because of our hurry-up and teach, take-up, and move on mindsets. Adapting a no hands-up and or wait time provided practice in our classrooms will broaden the number of potential participants, lead to deeper thinking, more complex problem solving, and can provide confidence to students who do not participate as fast as others.

If you’d like to try it. Simply start by adding wait time into your classroom. Take time to explain how the brain uses 2 systems of thinking. Try no hands-up participation (guaranteed to make some uncomfortable at first). Be patient because it takes time.


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