Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning
The posting below looks at the intriguing concept of "active waiting" as it applies to class preparation and teaching. It is from Chapter 2, Wait (Rule 2), in First-Order Principles for College Teachers: Ten Basic Ways to Improve the Teaching Process, Robert Boice, State University of New York - Stony Brook. Anker Publishing Company, Inc., Bolton, Massachusetts. Copyright 1996 by Anker Publishing Company, Inc. http://www.ankerpub.com/ Reprinted with permission.
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Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning
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What makes active waiting different from the passive kind? It means getting ready, often implicitly and preliminarily, while waiting. So at first, active waiting seems more difficult and time consuming.
Just as important, active waiting requires patience. It means waiting and reflecting and preparing ideas and other material for teaching without impulsive rushing. It means taking the time to test
lecture and discussion materials to see which of them will engage students as active learners who comprehend-before settling on classroom content. And active waiting even extends to actual
teaching: It includes the patience of presenting materials slowly and clearly enough to promote ready comprehension in almost all students.
Said another way, active waiting requires the patience of not trying to prepare or present everything you know. Active waiting, because it promotes early and informal starts, brings the kind of reflectiveness essential to good decision-making and economical presentation.
Active Waiting Aims for Long-Term Rewards
Active waiting requires the kind of patience that tolerates short-term discomforts (such as temptations to do something else more immediately rewarding than preparing for teaching) in order to gain longer-term rewards (e.g., students who learn more). Active waiting means subduing the part of yourself that admonishes you to put off thoughts of teaching improvements until you are completely caught up on other things. Active waiting, surprisingly, means being able to do two or more things at once (e.g., preparing for teaching during the little openings that occur even during busy days, while nonetheless making enough progress on other things). Oddest of all, active waiting also means suspending disbelief. You might, for instance, believe that efficiencies could work for other people by not for you ("I've always been kind of disorganized and happily behind schedule; I could never stand this").
Active Waiting, Then, Is a Matter of Pausing Reflectively and Preparing Preliminarily
It means starting preparations well before formal sessions of working on teaching (e.g., by merely inducing us to think and notice during lulls in other activities). It helps teachers spend more of their preparation time on finding imagination and motivation through the playful, unrushed organization of materials.
Active Waiting is Economical
Because this patient reflection helps simplify material by way of repeated exposures and reexaminations, lectures can be presented with fewer main points and more explanations of each. And when the preparations are patient, simple, and reflective, so are the presentations. Teachers who learn to pause and notice during preparations show the same kinds of timing and listening in class.
As a result of these economics, the pace is less taxing for teacher and students. The enjoyment of teaching grows from both sides. The students learn and retain more.
Active Waiting is Educational
Active waiting also facilitates learning for the teacher. It teaches you what kinds of active waiting work best for you; for example, calming and slowing in class while taking time to consider links between points you've made; pausing until students solve problems. It coaches you to examine what goals (if any) you are setting for student learning, while preparing reflectively and patiently. It
encourages playfulness and discovery during work at teaching. And, active waiting helps moderate the perfectionism that pressures many of us to suppose that we should make no mistakes, that we must know everything, that we ought to be in constant control.
Active waiting works because it softens its opposites, perfectionism and impatience. Patience-not impatience-fosters playfulness, tentativeness, and tolerance.
Make haste slowly
Other Benefits of Active Waiting
Active waiting has many other benefits, some of them hard to imagine until experienced. It brings serenity because it is neither tense nor pressing. It provides a growing mindfulness of having something important and worthwhile to say before saying it. It promotes a more causal but focuses attitude toward preparing and presenting; teaching that once had to be written out is now more easily and enjoyably done from conceptual outlines and diagrams that often fill but a page per
class. With active waiting, and decisions about the final structure of the content are put off, classes are more spontaneous and more likely to involve students as active participants. And, not least, with active waiting there is more opportunity for discovery in teaching.
Discovery proves to be so much fun that it generates enthusiasm and hooks people on teaching, even on campuses where teaching is not overtly rewarded. One more advantage of active waiting is worth
mentioning: Teachers who practice it get reliably higher ratings by their students (Boice, 1995a).