Guest Contributor: Sherri Singer, Department Head for Social & Behavioral Sciences at Alamance Community College

The long pause: we’ve all experienced waiting an eternity in our classrooms hoping for just one student to respond to our questions. Articles and advice from tenured faculty flow about  the value of the long pause. If we wait long enough, they will respond.

And sometimes they do, with a disappointing answer, leaving you hanging in the middle of a failing classroom discussion.  Or  we sometimes get one student responds who, and responds and responds.  Classroom interaction and discussion is a balancing act that can perplex even the most seasoned faculty member but it can be managed.

Vary your methods

Rather than depend on that long pause to provide you with a golden nugget of information, try varying your questioning methods. Many students are terrified to speak in class. They worry about embarrassing themselves or providing incorrect information.

This semester, start your classes out with easy, confidence-building questions. These questions can be opinion-based, brief factual quizzing from the text, or even yes or no questions. Ask questions that are low stakes and provide each student with a chance to respond. Establish an expectation that students will comment in class and encourage their responses.

Acknowledge your students

Acknowledge each student response. Move about the classroom, make eye contact, and compliment well-thought out answers. Use your classroom position to control responses: walk toward them as they speak and away from them to indicate that their time is up. Discussion-monopolizing students can be controlled by asking for group responses, limiting responses to three sentences, or calling on individual students.

Compare classroom discussions to business meetings and memos. No one reads a four page memo in it’s entirety, but almost everyone will read a brief one. Encourage and reward concise responses. Relating this classroom skill to a workplace skill can help you curtail long responses and encourage shy students.

And when all else fails, use the long pause.