The Wait is Over

We have become a nation of impatient people. Waiting a few minutes for a document or site to load on our computers sets some people on edge… I’m still amazed that we have so much information at our fingertips that waiting for something to download doesn’t bother me as much as others. I’m just happy to be able to do my doctoral research from my home in West Virginia.

Our students each want our attention immediately. Raising a hand to wait to be called on by the teacher is painful for many of them. I have a new student who raises his hand and starts talking immediately. He makes me laugh… He just can’t wait! So, how can we teachers help our students to learn to wait… as patiently as possible? I found an article on the psychology of waiting that I have adapted to the classroom. Hopefully these ideas will help you to help your students to WAIT.

1.Uncertainty makes waiting seem longer. How long must I be patient?  I’ve been waiting FOR-E-VER! When I am facilitating a discussion in class there are a few things that have been helpful to me in keeping order and helping students to wait to speak. When several students have their hands raised, point to the students in the order in which you will call on them so that they know when they are next… and they will help you to remember! If remembering the order would be difficult for you, have a student write the names on the board and erase when that student has been able to ask his/her question or make his/her comment.

When using a Socratic Seminar or student led discussion, use a paper tent to put up on the desk when that student would like to participate, then the lead student can choose from those.  Just knowing that the leader sees the “flag” or paper tent is often enough to keep the student from getting impatient.

2. Occupied time feels shorter. Look at any line in any store, and you will see adults occupying themselves with their Smartphones to entertain themselves while they wait. Why do you think grocery stores put the candy and Hollywood tabloids by the registers… to entertain you, occupy your wait time… and get you to buy something else! One way to occupy your students while they wait in a discussion is to encourage them to pay attention to the speaker before him/her. Too often students focus on what they have to say rather than listening to others. Have the student summarize what the previous speaker said before making his or her own comment.

Teachers have often asked me how I am able to have conference with each of my students. I have been doing this for years. I like to be able to talk with each of them about grades, writing, work, behavior, life, etc. So, while they wait for their turn, I have a curricularly connected video playing with a list of items to accomplish to keep them busy while I conference.  I will often say to the student next to me, “Ok, in about a minute, I am going to look up and remind the class about what they should be doing, so be ready!” I can’t tell you how many students love to be a part of that conversation.

3. Unanticipated and unexplained waits are worse. If you have told your class that you will have their tests scored or papers graded by a certain date, and you just didn’t get them finished – we’ve all been there – tell them!  Let the students know that it will be a couple more days.  You don’t need to tell them all of the details, just let them know that it will take you longer than you thought.

4. Unfair waits are much more aggravating than equitable waits. Don’t return each paper until you have them all scored… that way all students must wait the same amount of time for the results of the test. Try not to call on the same student first each time. We teachers get into habits… break them! If you know you usually call on boys before girls because the girls in your class wait more patiently, mix it up! Whatever your natural habits are for calling on students, break them.

5. Knowing that the wait will be worth it makes it easier. When I need to wait for a doctor or an appointment of some kind, I expect that when it is my turn that the service provider will be as patient with me as he/she was with everyone else. If I get excellent service, I don’t mind waiting a bit. If I wait for a table at a restaurant, the service should be stellar, and the food should be excellent… or it wasn’t worth the wait.  Make your conversation with the student worth his wait. Take your time with each one, within reason, and within your class time constraints. Thank the student for waiting to be called on and then give that student the same rapt attention you gave everyone before him. That will help him to hang in there and not give up on you.

There is only one of you… but many students. They will need to wait for your attention.. just make the result worth their patience.

Reference:  “The Psychology of Waiting” by Adrian Furnham at Psychology Today