Playing the Waiting Game

The Breakroom, a new office comedy show created by UCWbL staff, depicts everyday tutoring scenarios in the writing center through a satirical lense. The latest episode discusses an often overlooked, yet incredibly important technique that can be applied during any tutoring session.

Devin Leigh’s character, Zorno, is the perfect example of a dangerously high-strung tutor. When he sits down with Nina, a DePaul student seeking feedback on her literary analysis essay, Zorno has all the right intentions, but seems terrified of the silence between question and answer that is natural for almost any type of discussion. As Nina struggles to organize responses to the barrage of questions, Zorno continues to interrupt, bombarding her with one nervous comment after another. The scene is painful to watch no matter how familiar you are with tutoring theory and practice. Noone likes a blabbermouth. Like any conversation, it is important for both participants to allow ample time for their partner to formulate a response.

Though Zorno’s acting was impeccably painful, the character whom I found to be particularly interesting was Charlotte. (Natalie Desjardins). As Zorno dumps some coffee into his sugar and vents about his problems with Nina, Charlotte mentions “wait-time,” a teaching concept that is just as important in the writing center as it is in the classroom. The idea sounded familiar and seemed like common sense, but I wanted to know more. So I conducted a bit of research and found a few studies on the application of wait-time in the classroom and its relation to the quality of student responses to questions.

The concept of wait time was first used by science education innovator Mary Budd Rowe in her article “Payoff from Pausing.” After conducting classroom studies with the science Education Research division of the National Science Foundation, Budd found that “the average wait-time teachers allow after posing a question is one second or less,” and “students whom teachers perceive as slow or poor learners are given less wait-time than those teachers view as more capable.”

Kathleen Cotton, a small schools researcher, discussed similar results in her own study. In “Classroom Questioning,” Cotton discusses her results. She notes that after the wait-time technique was applied in classrooms, the overall length and correctness of student answers, as well as the number of unsolicited responses increased, while the number of “I don’t know” and no answer responses decreased.

As a result of these findings, it is reccomended that teachers provide a wait-time of at least three seconds for each question asked during a class discussion. The same technique can be applied in our tutorials at the Writing Center. Especially because our meetings with students are informal discussions, it is important for the tutor to make his/her peer feel comfortable in discussing the piece of writing. One of the best ways to do this is to ask questions and give the peer as much time as he/she needs to answer.

After receiving some advice and a pep talk from his fellow tutors Charlotte and Dubs, Zorno meets with Nina again and plays the waiting game. As we knew from the beginning, all Nina needed was a few moments to gather her thoughts before answering Zorno’s questions. By Leaving time for his peer to speak, Zorno is able to understand her concerns about the essay and lead the tutorial in a more focused direction.