What can you do in a second?

November 14, 2011 at 11:27 pm Leave a comment

The Passage of Time

Image by ToniVC via Flickr

More than you think, probably. As you glance at these words, your brain is processing an astounding amount of information each moment – perceiving it, filtering out the insignificant bits, interpreting the ones that matter, filtering some more, matching the sensations to memories, making sense out of the result, deciding how to respond to it, and putting together all the actions needed to produce that response.


Unless, of course, something goes wrong. And since there is so much going on, there are so many ways to go wrong. Every person with a learning disorder has a glitch somewhere in the above process. That doesn’t mean they can’t do it, just that they have to work harder. Maybe their brain will do some of this hard work for them automatically, if they focus long enough, or maybe they’ll have to consciously make up for the missing piece – perhaps by taking a detour around the regular circuits (“I can’t remember what that word says, but I can sound it out.”)

I’d like to posit that many learning disorders can be accommodated in regular classrooms with  no extra work and only a few minutes a day.


Here’s how it’s done: Every time you ask a question, wait. Don’t say anything. Don’t even rephrase the question. Let those brains process what you’ve said and compose an answer. THEN call on a student to respond. Any other way, it won’t work: Every time, and don’t say anything.

Here’s why: The quickest kids tend to get called on the most. Even when teachers make an effort to call on everyone, the ones who need more time are often still grasping for the answer while everyone waits and looks at them. Either way, if I tend to need more time, I quickly realize that it’s better not to volunteer answers at all. And if I’m not answering, or bound to answer incorrectly anyway, I don’t really have to pay attention to the question either. I’ll just quietly disengage from this lesson, thanks. But if I know that I’ll have a fighting chance at answering questions, I can take it. It doesn’t matter anymore that I’m not the fastest or the first, because by the time the teacher chooses who will answer, there are 15 hands in the air. Nobody’s jumping to call out, either, because they know that this is the way this teacher does it every time – being first is not the advantage. Instead, even the “quick” students take a moment to reflect, processing the lesson on deeper levels, or maybe just taking a breath – nothing wrong with that! The teacher gains the opportunity to see how many of the students are engaged and coming up with an answer, instead of just finding out whether the first one to raise his or her hand has it right.

The no talking rule is important – if you claim to be giving time to think over the question, but meanwhile you’re rephrasing the question, naming who’s gotten it (“I see three hands up… four…”), or giving hints, I can’t focus on the question – I need to pay attention in case you’re saying something important. My brain won’t do that automatically like the fast kids’ do, so we’re back in the uneven playing field.

You already wait a few seconds. Try waiting just a few seconds more and see what a difference it makes!

More on time… stay tuned!

Clip art licensed from the Clip Art Gallery on DiscoverySchool.com


Entry filed under: Special education, Teaching, Uncategorized. Tags: , , .

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