Figure-it-out time

I get frustrated when I give directions for an activity and students immediately have questions about what to do. How can I help them become more confident and self-sufficient?  —C., Michigan

Students have us trained! We offer directions or suggestions, and students know we’ll go over them again (and again). Some students panic right away if they are confused about something. Others are perfectionists, afraid to make a mistake, and want constant reinforcement (and some aren’t paying attention).

My students did a lot of projects and I would work with students individually. When other hands went up, I would acknowledge the questioner with a “wait-a-minute” gesture, indicating that I would be with him or her shortly. Once I reached the student, I often heard “Never mind; I figured it out.”

I was intrigued. Wait time was a staple in my classroom discussions, and I wondered if students benefitted from comparable “figure-it-out” time during investigations or activities.

In my action research, I asked the students about their original problem and how they solved it. Their strategies included I asked a friend, I re-read the directions, I thought about it, I tried something to see how it worked, I looked at the rubric. A high-five or thumbs-up from me reinforced these strategies, and we modeled them in class.

We rush to help students in our desire for them to be successful (and obviously we must respond immediately if a student is engaging in unsafe or disruptive behaviors). But sometimes, students just need time to figure out a solution themselves.

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  1. Ms. Conner
    Posted October 10, 2016 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

    I am a senior pre-service teacher in Iowa and I think that wait time is exactly what we need to be going towards in our classroom instruction. I am doing research right now over the affects of teaching with live animals in the classroom. Each week I teach a new lesson eighth-grade physical science students. All of the lessons have many hands-on components to them and are all based on inquiry/discovery learning.
    I have found that if you start the students off at the beginning of the year with this method, this will become the new normal for them, or part of their routine. I briefly explain the directions for an activity or lab at the beginning of the period and have a summary of what I covered on the board. At this point, the students are free to work with their groups to explore the concepts of that day. When students come up and ask me a question about the instructions, I direct them to their other group members first. I prompt them with “Who did you ask first?” This method allows the students to figure things out on their own, or with their group members before coming straight to me with their confusion. This approach creates a lot of collaboration between students and is all based on my constructivist style to the classroom.

  2. Mary Bigelow
    Posted October 11, 2016 at 2:18 am | Permalink

    Thanks for sharing your ideas! It sounds like your students are learning to become more self-sufficient.

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