Questioning Your Inquiry

As educators, we often refer to ‘Wait Time’ as the time between when you ask a question and when you expect an answer.

Cast out a question to your class and if you don’t provide wait time, then when the first student begins to answer (takes a bite), all your other students are ‘off the hook’ and no longer need to think (or follow your lure). Fishing metaphors aside: Provide wait time or students don’t get thinking time.

When asking thoughtful inquiry-based questions, I’m not sure wait time is as important as another kind of time?

If a question is rich and engaging, students can share ideas that ignite opposing or compelling thoughts and ideas in other students. Enthusiasm can become infectious. Discord can inspire tangential, yet calculated thinking. Common trains of thought or hypothesis can invite further investigation. Perhaps even in these cases, wait time is valuable to allow students to formulate their own ideas before hearing others. However, I think the conversation can begin to flow between students and another kind of questioning time is needed besides wait time… And often this different questioning time is not provided.

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Do we provide students (or for that matter colleagues) enough time to think about the question itself, or do we rush to answer it? …Even if we do give wait time.

Do we allow time to contemplate and question the question?

If I were to ask students, (like in this TED Talk shared below), “Why does the ocean look blue?” There seems to be an easy answer until I ask, “And why is it blue on cloudy days?”

And likewise, “How does a plane fly?” becomes much more interesting when I also ask, “And so how does a plane fly upside down?”

I’m not trying to reduce the importance, or value, of wait time, but I am asking that when we ask students big (un-Google-able) questions, are we investing enough time exploring the question itself?