Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Silence from a class... it almost never means “Yes!”

Image source: 8 seconds.
I got some giggles in class recently when I used my usual tactic when I ask "does anyone have any questions?" after covering a topic by waiting longer than normal for responses. When I explain that I wait at least 8-10 seconds before continuing, I mostly get nods of approval as students see the value in giving extra time to compose questions.

According to Roger Johnson from the University of Minnesota back in 1977, we should wait "at least 8 seconds after asking for questions from a group of learners - before you say anything else as an instructor!” His reason for this is that it turns out when the average instructor asks, “Are there any questions?”, they wait about 3 seconds. According to Johnson, it takes an audience (in my case a class) "a few more seconds to process your request, formulate questions in their minds, scan the room for other people’s responses and decide to actually ask".  He then advises us to count to 8 before continuing and that we will see an "amazing difference". It might not work for every instructor/lecturer, but I feel it works for me and is appreciated in class - it works and I get more questions. I'm careful not to wait too long because more than 10 seconds can lead to an awkward prolonged silence and it may appear that an instructor is dragging things out.

A student commenting on this topic told me when asked "Do you understand this", that any silence from a class more often than not means "confusion"and "hesitation". It almost never means “Yes!”.

So my advice to all educators echoes that of Johnson - wait at least 8 seconds for responses. It's only five seconds more than the standard 3 seconds, and does not take any effort.

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