This is the second edition of Just Try-It Tuesday! This weeks tip is inspired by watching my son play soccer this weekend. During the game a ball was rolling to a player, and the kid just kicked the ball back to the other team without really thinking about where the ball was going – a common occurrence in youth soccer. I heard a coach shout “C’mon! make good passes!”
While that is good advice, I don’t necessarily think it was helpful. Is that player going to suddenly take the time to self-reflect and teach himself the subtleties of a good pass? Chances are if he knew those things he would have done so the first time. A more helpful coach may try to wait for a break in the action and say something along these lines:
“Hey, next time that ball comes to you, and you have time. trap the ball, get your head up, and knock it to someone wearing the same color shirt as you are.”
Topic: Giving Clear Directions
Just Try-It Challenge: Ask Yourself, “How many times do I give directions that are too vague and require students to figure out what I really mean?”
Sometimes we assume a lot of our students when we give directions. For example, we may be preparing a short mini-lecture and begin with something like, “Everyone pay attention, we are going to talk about…”
Inevitably, a student, let’s call him John, keeps his head down as you begin and the following exchange occurs.
You: “John, I asked you to please pay attention.”
John: “I was listening! Gah!…” (in a Napoleon Dynamitesque voice).
These situations can escalate into meaningless power-struggles where John is trying to defend his innocence by trying to prove he was paying attention and the teacher is forced into the role of either trying to prove he wasn’t, addressing his poor attitude with a consequence, or ignoring the exchange altogether – none of which are ideal.
Getting into an argument to prove he wasn’t paying attention is a waste of precious learning time and petty. Giving him a consequence is unfair, because he very well may have been listening and therefore – paying attention according to his own twisted teenage version of paying attention. Ignoring the issue altogether diminishes your authority in the class.
We could spend time talking about John’s attitude and how he should be more respectful, but I would rather take a more preemptive approach and avoid situations like this altogether by giving clear directions to begin with.
Clear directions are made of these components:
Specific: Think precise actions
Concrete: Think simple vs. abstract
Sequential: When skills are complex listing actions may be necessary
Observable: Directions should be observable, so that you can see compliance and therefore hold students accountable easier.
Example: “Okay class, I am going to talk to you for a little bit about…. When I am talking I need to see everyone’s head up, your notebooks are opened, and you have a pencil in your hand – just in case I say something life-changing…”
In the above example, if John’s head remains down, there is no argument to be had; he is clearly being defiant and has no leg to stand on. There is no need to prove anything to John. Providing clear directions helps a teacher protect the learning environment by avoiding pointless power-struggles with students.
Clear directions also extend to academic expectations as well. Consider the examples below:
Instead of: “Use good definitions on your handout”
Try: “I need your definitions to be in complete sentences and include the academic vocabulary we discussed.” (specific)
Instead of “Look for evidence in the article”
Try: “When you find evidence in the article, underline it” (observable)
Instead of: “Talk to a partner about this”
Try: “Make eye contact with someone seating next to you, take turns brainstorming ideas in writing, the partner with the longest hair goes first; you have 2 minutes. Go!” (sequential)
Instead of: “When you are writing just be creative!”
Try: “In your writing take some risks by using, action verbs, specific adjectives, figurative language, and the different syntax strategies we talked about.” (concrete)
When you get frustrated with students not meeting your expectations, reflect on the quality of your directions. While good directions will never solve all of your problems, making sure your directions are specific, observable, sequential, and concrete will remove any guess work for your students.