How do we create environments for wonder and inquiry to flourish?
“I always know who the teachers are,” quips my friend. Curious, I lean in to hear more. “It’s not how they look or what they say,” she continues. “It’s how they walk. It’s fast, even on vacation!”
Schools (and teachers, generally) are set on high speed. This doesn’t just apply to stride, but also to speech, hand movements, decision-making, reaction-time, and heart rates. No wonder we have an ever-growing industry in education devoted to lowering stress levels through mindfulness, meditation, and yoga.
Here’s the thing: deep inquiry is really hard to do in a rush. It’s a challenge to be curious when you’re stressed, afraid, or distracted (unless that curiosity leads you to feeling less stressed). I find myself frequently needing to recalibrate my speed. The energy of my students combined with time constraints and my lesson plan create a “perfect storm.” If I’m not careful, I become manic. I forget things, speed through instructions, overlook students, and forget that…
We’re not all like this, of course. Much of our speed is nurtured by culture, personality, and upbringing. My husband, Tim, for example, teaches middle school PE. This is arguably one of the most potentially frenetic teaching environments around. But Tim is the most chill person I’ve ever met, even at work.
His calm disposition pays dividends, too. There is something different about his energy, and they crave it. When he speaks, students really listen. There is a level of trust implicit in a lower speed. A slower speed communicates beliefs like: “I don’t need to micromanage you,” “I will take my time and I know you can handle it,” “I’ll make space for you and your questions,” and “taking our time is important.”
Schools, as they currently operate, may be the worst possible environments for developing critical thinking, problem solving, creativity skills (for students and teachers). But schools are human-made. And, as humans, we can change them!
We all bring an energy, or ‘speed,’ into our work with us. How might you describe your speed? What contributes to this? How does your speed support or hinder student inquiry? How can you change your speed?
Like most inquiry moves, extending thinking time is all about balance and harmony. There’s something to be said for speeding up and slowing down. When we’re on supersonic speed 100% of the time, however, it can backfire on learning.
Below are several micro- and macro-level ideas for you to consider as you extend thinking time for you and your students. Let us know which ones work and add others that you’ve tried in the Comments section below.
Rate of Speech (“Talk Speed”)
Are you fast talker? Do you slow your speech at critical moments to keep students engaged? Are your students able to follow your speech, especially ELL students? Do students ask you to repeat things, or have they given up and now just tune you out like white noise? Do you pause to allow students a few more seconds to absorb information, make sense of it, and/or construct new ideas, before moving on? Check out these resources to calibrate your speed!
In Professor Chris Emdin’s brilliant 7-minute talk, he shares ways to engage audiences (students) and ‘create magic’ by adjusting voice, tone, and gestures.
How can we measure things like talk time, wait time, and even talk speed? Hattie and his team at the University of Melbourne offer an app that allows you to record a class lesson and get feedback on these very questions.
Questions are the heartbeat of inquiry classrooms. How much time do you wait between asking a question and soliciting an answer? Do you call on the first hand up or can you wait until most hands are up? Are you OK with a little silence? Check out these resources to help remind you to wait a bit longer.
This one-minute video beautifully drives home the importance of waiting just a couple more seconds than we normally do (3-5 second being optimal; .7 being typical).
Wait Time Tally (Download the Wait Time Tally PDF on the Inquiry Partners website)
Not sure what your wait time is? Curious about who you tend to call on (i.e. first hand up)? Invite a colleague in (or ask a student) to track it for you using a stopwatch or smartphone. Then, average out the number of seconds you typically wait.
Rate of Movement
What are your gestures like? Are you dancing the Hula or blitzing through the Charleston? Do you speed-walk through the hallways and around the classroom? Are you speed-walking through your life? What do your gestures and movements communicate to students? How about parents? Are you making time for yourself? Are you breathing? As funny as that last question might sound, hyperventilating students and teachers are more common that you might think. Here are a couple exercises to help you inhale and exhale.
A simple exercise for students to focus on their breathing, using their hand to track their inhales and exhales.
Revisit Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. This guy has the optimal rate-of-movement thing down pat. He’s not annoyingly slow, but methodical, intentional, calm, happy, and un-rushed. He takes time to change into a sweater and sneakers. He addresses the camera with questions…and pauses. It’s actually relaxing watching his show.
Kath Murdoch in her TEDx talk “The Power of Ummm…” describes her car as a “wonder bubble” for her two children. It was a place in which inquiry thrived. It provided a time for pause and reflection. She says it was “a chance for us to pick up loose threads…to let big ideas come in.” How can we create these kinds of environments in our classrooms?
Similar to car rides, walk & talks provide students (and teachers) with new environments and the chance to be in the company of others without having to make eye contact. This is a powerful routine, especially for ELL and students who are feeling marginalized or shy.
Setting aside areas of the classroom for choice activities is a feature we expect to see in pre-school and lower elementary grades. What about middle and high school classrooms? It’s time to reconsider!
The school year and day may be out of your immediate control, but how can you reorganize class time to breathe in more reflection opportunities in the time you do control?
Artist, Lynda Barry, offers this unique way of centering students of all ages on the power of reflective writing. I use this with my undergraduate students several times a quarter to unleash and generate new ideas before writing a paper.
There is no shortage of advice for helping students extend thinking time through creative mindfulness techniques. My personal favorite though is #12: Spidey Senses (great for all ages).
Your turn! How do you extend thinking time for yourself, your students, and your colleagues? Share in the Comments section below. We’d love to hear from you!