Whether it’s from spending the past two years in and out of physical classrooms or some side effect of social media giving teenagers the need for instant gratification, my middle school students, last year more than ever, were struggling to exercise patience in the classroom.
I was consistently met with the sound of my name ringing out across the classroom as I tried to weave my way around to each student and support them—not to mention the students who wouldn’t call out from their seats but instead would come right up to me with their needs.
Although it can feel frustrating to have so many students requiring your attention all at once, this situation does create an opportunity to help students build their ability to demonstrate patience.
My students usually entered their frenzy of asking questions when I’d given them a task to complete independently. To support them in building their patience, and to provide myself the opportunity to gauge their learning before assisting them, I developed three strategies to make waiting easier for them.
3 Ways to Encourage Students to Develop Patience
1. Give them time. When I set my students up for an extended period of independent work, I post a timer on the board so they can better pace themselves. This also allows me to give them a specific portion of the time during which they can ask questions. I typically dedicate at least the first 1 to 2 minutes as silent work time so that the students have a chance to read the directions and make a first attempt at the assignment.
Once those first 1 to 2 minutes are over, I let students know that they can silently raise their hand if they need help. I write down each student’s name and begin making my way to them one at a time. I let the students know that I will get to every student who asked for help within the time given for the activity. I remind students to move on to another problem if they are stuck until I can get to them. Students are generally more willing to wait for help when they are confident that help will come.
Additionally, by setting the standard that students cannot ask questions during the first few minutes, I ensure that every student actually gets started on the work independently, as opposed to waiting for individual support before even reading the directions.
Another way I use time to support students in building patience is to tell them when I will get to them. If I am helping one student and another comes over with a question, I will tell them to head back to their seat, and I will be there at a particular time (usually about 5 to 10 minutes from when I ask them to sit down). This helps even my most eager-to-ask students, as they know that they are guaranteed my attention in only a few minutes.
2. Give them criteria. Some students will immediately want help before they have started working through a problem. To avoid this, I outline for students what must be done before they can ask for help.
This provides an opportunity to ensure that all students are at least attempting some component of the problem independently, and this strategy can easily be combined with the one above. Generally, the criteria might be that a student has to at least annotate the problem and attempt to write either an equation or a model before they can ask for help.
Many students realize that they are actually more capable than they had thought, once they start working and no longer need to ask a question. Not only does this help students build patience in waiting for teacher support, but also it encourages them to be more independent when it comes to approaching challenging content.
This is an especially important skill for middle and high school students, who may be facing high-stakes exams in the future and will need to know how to get themselves started on problems, even when those problems seem overwhelming.
3. Give them an option. Sometimes, even once you’ve given students time and criteria, they will still need to wait to have their needs addressed as you support other students in the room. To help these students build their ability to remain patient in the classroom, have options in place for them while they wait. This can be a classroom expectation you set earlier in the year or something you roll out with your class when it’s needed.
Tell students what their options are for when they’re either waiting for help or if they finish their work early. Some potential options might be independent reading, a math review worksheet, or journal prompts for students to respond to.
To help students most easily take advantage of these options, have anything they need readily available somewhere in the room so they can independently access it and continue working or reading at their seat.