Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

01.04.17Engaged Cerebral Classroom Culture: Aidan Thomas’ Master Class on Wait Time


The TLAC team and I had a blast at our weekly video meeting this morning.  The highlight was a series of Wait Time examples from Aidan Thomas’ math class at Uncommon’s Leadership Prep Bed Stuy in Brooklyn.  From one lesson of Aidan’s, Joaquin Hernandez presented us with seven examples of Wait Time (there were more left on the cutting room floor as well!). Individually each clip tells a tiny story about the power of Wait Time and the lives of students in the classroom. As a group, they make an amazing case for how this simple, subtle, quiet technique can change a classroom for the better.

Background:  The average teacher waits less than a second between asking a question and calling on a student to answer. The speed of that interaction can have a variety of negative effects on a classroom.  For example, it can mean that only those who think very fast can get their hands up in time to participate. As a result, those who do raise their hands are unlikely to have thought as deeply as they might, and those who are not as fast—either because they struggle or because they are cerebral, deep thinkers—learn over time that they will never get their hands up in time and just maybe stop trying. So, waiting just a few seconds can be a game-changer. In Teach Like a Champion 2.0 and in our workshops, we often discuss some key tools to making Wait Time work better. One of them is ‘narrating hands’… socializing students to want to raise their hands by spending some of your “Wait Time” noting and encouraging hand-raising. We also talk about using nonverbal moves that show the class that you are looking carefully for students who are raising their hands. And we talk about the power of socializing students to not be afraid of taking risks. These moves can help teachers get more hands in the air and more kids eager to participate—more kids assuming that they are going to participate all class long.

Anyway, we all went crazy for the clips from Aidan’s class because they demonstrate these and other aspects of Wait Time so effectively, so I’m going to share the clips, one by one, with a bit of commentary to help unpack Aidan’s moves.

Cut 1: Aidan asks: “The slope, M, is equal to what?” and then waits about 6 seconds before calling on John.

Thomas Wait Time Cut 1 from Uncommon Schools on Vimeo.

Interestingly, at about three seconds, there still aren’t any hands in the air. A lot of teachers might assume that students don’t know the answer.  But Aidan cranes his neck around as if he’s just waiting for hands to start coming up. And as you can see they do just that: First, we see just that one girl in the center, but then by the time we get to six seconds, almost every student we can see in the frame has raised his or her hands. This is to say they have all answered the question and have therefore already done the cognitive work. Now they are showing their willingness to discuss it publicly. It’s a double victory.  Aidan shows his appreciation with the short phrase, “Love the hands I’m starting to see.”  This is an example of narrating hands and reinforces the culture of hand-raising. And you can see his students’ response. When he tells them he notices and he appreciates raised hands, he gets even more of them in the air.  His smile doesn’t hurt either.

Cut 2: Here, Adian asks, about a graph of a line: “What’s wrong with that?”

Thomas Wait Time cut 2 from Uncommon Schools on Vimeo.

This time he waits about five seconds before calling on Derek.  Again, you see him craning his neck, taking the time to look and showing students he’s looking for and appreciates hands. But this cut is a bit different from #1 because he gets lots of hands right away. Maybe that’s in part a result of the encouragement he gave in the first cut. Maybe it’s because the kids are more excited about this question or know they answer. But Aidan does something subtle and important. He does not react right away to those enthusiastic hands  Look at the young man in the maroon sweater, for example. He’s dying to be called on. Often when we see a hand like that, we’re moths to the flame, calling on the student right away.  But that of course robs other kids of the chance to get in the game, and it ensures that everyone in class thinks the problem all the way through. There’s an important point in that. The cognitive work is in the thinking as much as (or more than) the talking, so even if you’ve got a kid offering what you know will be a great answer, it still makes sense to wait.

Cut 3:  The question is: “What were some of the things we talked about on Friday,”

Thomas Wait Time Cut 3 from Uncommon Schools on Vimeo.

Even before it’s out of his mouth, Aidan is subtly encouraging and suggesting hand raising to his students by modeling it himself. His hand is raised as he asks the question to remind them of what to do in response. Then he uses another approach to narrating hands, counting the raised hands he sees. This allows him to subtly acknowledge almost every kid who raised a hand and also to draw attention to how many hands are raised. And you can see the result.  As he starts counting raised hands, other students decide to participate and raise their hands as well.

Cut 4: Simple question, but a hard one: “How did they do this?”

Thomas Wait Time Cut 4 from Uncommon Schools on Vimeo.

This cut is interesting because Aidan only gets three hands. If this frustrates him, he doesn’t show it.  There should be some challenging questions in class that some students can’t answer. But now that Aidan knows kids who do know the answer are likely to raise there hands, this question has provided him with a new and key form of data–he knows this is a potential problem area because there are only three hands, but again this data is only telling if raising a hand when you know an answer is normal behavior. Otherwise, it’s impossible to differentiate lack of knowledge from lack of interest.   This of course underscores why Aidan’s narrating hands in some of the other cuts is so important.  Also worth noting: Aidan gives students 14 seconds of Wait Time here to wrestle with the problem!

Cut 5:  Question: “What is going to make graphing this one slightly more challenging?”

Thomas Wait Time Cut 5 from Uncommon Schools on Vimeo.

Nice example here of a third approach to narrating hands. Aidan praises the (for him) right side of the room for better engagement. This not only shows his appreciation but sets up a tiny bit of healthy competition with the other parts of the room, which you can see reflected in the hands that spring up on the left.  Also nice that Aidan thanks DJ for getting involved and rewards him with the chance to answer.

Cut 6: “This is a tricky one….Four times X +3, etc”

Thomas Wait Time Cut 6 from Uncommon Schools on Vimeo.

Here Aidan narrates hands again, but his narration is powerful and energetic, and he praises each student who takes a risk: “One, two, three, four people know…”  There’s a bit more looking for hands and a big smile as he calls on Kaylene. It’s a great example of a teacher socializing kids to love and even relish the tricky questions, not fear them.

Cut 7: “Now this is where it gets challenging…”

Thomas Wait Time Cut 7 from Uncommon Schools on Vimeo.

This cut is important especially for what it shows about Aidan’s self-discipline. There are a ton of hands up right away. And there’s a boy in the front row who is literally waving his hand to be called on. But Aidan knows he still needs to wait. He looks away from that student and bides his time so everyone can think it through. Then he calls on a different student.

Hopefully these seven clips together give you a sense not only for how Aidan’s use of Wait Time builds a culture of engaged, cerebral participation, but also HOW the specific moves he uses in implementing Wait Time help him to build that culture. In case it’s useful here’s all 7 in one place.  Thanks a ton to Aidan for sharing his teaching with us!

Aidan Thomas Wait Time Montage (All cuts) from Uncommon Schools on Vimeo.

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