By Olivia Stumpo, ACH Clear Pathways/Community Writing Center Intern
It happens every semester in my education classes. The professor prompts the class with a question. He or she stands there, staring at our blank, avoidant faces in silence. After a moment, the professor breaks down into a classic teacher line: “Here we have wait time, the hardest part of teaching,” followed by some awkward laughter and the resuming of the lecture. In theory, wait time seems easy, but in the new days of zoom and online learning, it may be harder than ever. Everyday I see my professors struggle with the black screens and non-responses, but I will say that it has gotten better since the fall semesters.
From the teacher side of this problem, patience is hard. I didn’t realize the struggle until I started working with older students. Preschool age students that I used to work with are eager to answer any question even if they are completely wrong. Those kids never made asking questions difficult (getting a clear answer is a different beast). The early middle schoolers that I now see biweekly are tired, even annoyed, by after school time. They’ve been answering questions all day, and frankly they don’t want to be wrong. As a student, I completely understand. There is a lot of anxiety involved with sharing ideas; in doing so you are opening your thoughts up for judgement.
So then, how do I, as a teacher, deal with the silence of an online classroom. First and foremost, I look to my students. Reading their expressions helps me to decide whether or not they understand the wording of the question. I look for furrowed brows and the genuine look of question marks. Next, I try some rewording or explaining. I try to bring the question into middle school terms. This is an idea we’ve talked about in a number of my classes, namely Child Psychology and Adolescent Literature. Finally, if rewording does not work, I answer the question myself. This could be anything from giving my own personal experience to my analysis. Following this I always add time for student input. Once we get to this point, 1 or 2 students are willing to share.
Going forward, I plan to pay attention to the types of questions I’m asking. It’s important that these questions engage students academically and intellectually. In doing that, hopefully the wait time between question and answer will diminish. In times of extended silence, I will remember to breathe and exercise patience.