How Online School Can Transform Learning Wait Time

A common myth about online school is that students don’t learn as well online or get comparable grades to brick-and-mortar students. The truth is online school formats generate possibilities to transform learning in meaningful ways. A typical schedule involves a combination of both independent lessons and live classes. This balance encourages independent problem-solving and group learning equally. Studies show that small shifts in teaching schedule can make all the difference academically—one of these being the concept of “wait time,” which fits naturally into the online learning format.

What’s Wait Time? 

Wait time refers to the pause between asking a question and allowing a student to respond. Invented in 1974 by Mary Budd Rowe, the researcher found that the time between classroom question and answer was 0.9 seconds or less. Through the study, Rowe found positive results from purposely adding wait time between 3-5 seconds.

The purposeful pause from teachers resulted in an increase in student volunteers, correct answers, and test scores. For teachers, it increased the quality of their questions and led to higher-level lines of questioning. A 1994 study by Robert Stahl validated the previous results and proposed that the phrase “think-time” more accurately portrays what happens within the 3-5 second pause. The additional time waiting ultimately encourages students to think about the question, and their resulting answer.

How it Works

In print, 3-5 seconds may not seem all that long. But in practice, that pause can feel significant and uncomfortable in a classroom. But once put into practice and the pause is established as the norm, the wait time can give students more confidence. Most importantly, wait time gives more students the opportunity to answer. A student should never be classified as a “slow learner.” But when not every child can answer right away, the concept may be solidified between classmates, even when it’s perfectly normal to think at different paces. Wait time can be a simple fix to increase participation and level the playing field.

Education Consultant John McCarthy  explains that wait time meets the needs of both internal and external thinkers. Those who think by talking aloud will have to fully think through their response before talking, while those who think internally will have sufficient time to feel confident enough to speak up. Researcher Martin Nystrand found in a 1997 study that without wait time, the question and response dialogue remained surface-level: “Almost all teachers’ questions, moreover, required students to recall what someone else thought, not to articulate, examine, elaborate, or review what they themselves thought.”

In addition, wait time can prove even more beneficial if an additional 3-5 second pause is taken after the initial student response. This encourages a response from another student in conversation with peers. The additional pause motivates other students to think critically and reflect on the learning material. The best part? Wait time is an easy addition to a classroom setting, requiring minimal time and no change to curriculum, while yielding significant positive results.

Why Online School Provides the Best Environment for Wait Time

Senior Public Policy Lecture Dan Levy says that wait time is “one of the most underused weapons that an instructor has at his/her disposal.” If it’s so easy to implement, it’s baffling that it’s underused in education. That’s where online school comes in. A 3-5 second pause in a brick-and-mortar classroom is a greater challenge—students may be uncomfortable in the silence or spend the time looking around at how their peers are reacting rather than thinking about the question.

In an online school format, virtual live lessons make the buffer time feel more natural as students virtually raise hands and unmute. Every student can have more confidence in their answers by being in a comfortable environment and having the additional time to think. Live classes also provide opportunities to engage in thoughtful discussions with peers after a question is asked with smaller breakout rooms and an organized view of each student in class.

The benefit of wait time is additional time to think critically, so online school’s addition of individual lessons and recorded classes allows time beyond the 3-5 seconds. All students can think at their own pace and without the pressure of competing for speaking time. With recorded lessons, students can even go back if they didn’t fully grasp a concept to provide a personalized experience for learning success. In all class formats, the difference is clear. Online students get the most time to think and reflect for better learning and academic performance.

Enroll in a Stride K12 online school today to allow your child to think and learn at their own pace.

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