Time-Out! Wait Time for Equity and Complexity
One strategy I use in almost every single one of my classes is something we educators call “wait time.” But I take wait time to the next level. In a junior-level English class, discussing complicated texts like Brave New World or Frankenstein requires a significant amount of time dedicated to thinking, so I structure my class to do exactly that: after prompting students with some dynamic question, students must—before any writing or speaking is allowed—close their eyes and spend a period of time engaged in deep thought. At the beginning of the year, students usually spend 30-60 seconds engaged in such thinking, but by the end of the year, they’re challenged to use their cognitive powers for up to four or five minutes. Sounds almost silly, right?
I employ this strategy so frequently because not only is it easy to employ, but because it pushes students; it sets them up for success in many different ways. The class conversations we have as a consequence of engaging in simple, extended thinking yields college-level, seminar-like dialogue. Moreover, this strategy evens the classroom’s playing field, giving every student the time and space he needs to ramp up his responses in increasing complexity.
In a world in which focus and attention span clearly wane as iPhones and smart watches continually notify us and prohibit our sustained cognitive faculties, building-in time to retrain students is the first—and, I would argue, necessary–step toward a robust, liberal arts curriculum.
To this day, students seek me out to tell me how they realize that they’ve “never really thought before [this English class]”. I see the results in their writing and their annotation, but I mostly see it in their dialogue with each other: Ignatian Men stumbling, discovering, and pondering the most interesting issues of the day.