Education Opinion

Wait Wait..Don’t Tell Me!

By Susan Graham — October 13, 2011 2 min read

I love trivia games.

My favorite TV show is Jeopardy. Have you ever noticed when a player seems to have trouble working their buzzer? I found out about that. You can’t buzz in until Alex finishes the question. It’s not enough to know the answer. You have to have fast reflexes and a sense of timing. In fact, I’ve noticed that some of the best players buzz in first without knowing the answer, but anticipating that they can figure it out before their time runs out. One could argue that speed may matter more than knowledge in some cases. Buzzer insufficiency is my excuse for never trying out for the show.

I don’t usually listen to the radio, but I love NPR’s Wait Wait....Don’t Tell Me. I regularly pull it up on my computer and listen. Wait Wait is an interesting contrast to Jeopardy because the right answer is secondary, there is no buzzer that cuts you off when time is up, there is no penalty for being wrong, and the prizes are minimal. It’s the engagement of the game that motivates the player and appeals to the listener.

Wait Wait
is more about wondering than knowing. The possibilities are more engaging than the absolutes. It’s also interesting that there is only one short segment, the Fill in the Blank Lightening Round, that is timed at all. Most game shows are about reaching the goal of winning a prize by providing the correct response faster than the other contestants. Wait Wait is more about the thinking out loud journey of problem solving than arriving at the “right” answer.

As I listened this week, I thought about wait time in the classroom. Wait time is one of the hardest things about teaching. Mary Budd Rowe’s research on wait time revealed that teacher wait time between asking a question and redirecting was often less than 1.5 seconds. But when wait time was extended to a minimum of 3 seconds these differences occurred.

For students:
The length and correctness of their responses increase.
The nu

mber of “I don’t know” and no answer responses decreases.
The number of volunteered, appropriate answers by larger numbers of students greatly increases.
The scores of students of academic achievement tests tend to increase.

For teachers:
Their questioning strategies tend to be more varied and flexible.They decrease the quantity and increase the quality and variety of their questions.
They ask additional questions that require more complex information processing and higher-level thinking on the part of students.

When I talk to teachers these days, they often mentioned feeling rushed. They have so much content to cover, they need to keep up with the pacing guide, they need to keep everyone motivated, and they need to make sure the kids are ready for that big test. Recalling the teacher’s information is so much faster than taking time for students to puzzle out their own understanding.

There’s probably not a teacher out there who has never had a student say “Wait, wait. Don’t tell me!” Wait time is a hard skill to learn and in our current teaching and learning environment, there is a great deal of pressure to move on and move faster. It may be counter-intuitive, but sometimes the longer you wait, the faster they learn.

The opinions expressed in A Place at the Table are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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