The Three-Second Pause In the Classroom

A mindfulness technique for creating some space during discussion—in and outside of the classroom.

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What’s the big hurry, everyone?

So often, we’re in such a rush, when we’re in conversation, we don’t give others time to formulate a response. And when they do, we jump right on it with our response. Feeling the pressure to get through lessons, teachers often fall prey to this habit as well. Research shows, though, that allowing wait time increases student responses, raises student’s confidence, and improves achievement. Adding a little mindfulness to this proven educational technique is a great way to help consciously create pauses during classroom discussion. This practice can be used in other environments, such as meetings, with similar positive results.

When you use this practice in the classroom, for the first few times let children know you’ll be waiting three seconds before calling on someone—giving them time to consider their answer—and that you’ll be waiting a little before you respond. Time will not, in fact, be wasted, since the quality of discussion usually improves when the environment is more spacious. Surprisingly, these “steps” can all occur in a very short period of time.

1. Pose the question

Ask your question. Now, since students know what to expect, they’ll allow you to take a pause.

2. Breathe

Start with a nice, deep breath.

3. Notice

Be mindful of that breath, and if you’re standing, feel the weight of your feet on the ground.

4. Broaden

Allow your awareness to open up so you take in the entire class.

5. Scan

Look around, noticing each student as they raise their hands. Choose a student, perhaps one you haven’t called on much lately.

6. Listen

As she delivers her answer, listen mindfully and take a bit of time to consider it (as you said you would).

7. Probe

Do you have a follow-up question for her? How can you respond to her answer in a way that encourages higher-order thinking and problem-solving?

Read more about how mindfulness is helping children and teachers, in and outside the classroom in the October 2015 issue of Mindful magazine.

Excerpted and adapted from Mindfulness for Teachers: Simple Skills for Peace and Productivity in the Classroom. © Patricia A. Jennings, 2015. Used by permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company.