Friday, February 17, 2017

Clear Instructions in the Classroom

What do Clear Instructions look like in the classroom?

Essential Teaching Skills

While there are many factors that can help or hinder learning, the act of giving clear instructions is clearly one of the most crucial.  

John Kongsvik and TESOL Trainers train teachers in scaffolding, working with ELLs, giving clear instructions
Scaffolding is the key to everything
The way that we give instructions can make or break an activity.  Without clear instructions, students may become confused, may lose confidence, and may not get the most out of the experience.  Without clear instructions, we may find ourselves ending an exercise with a less-than-warm feeling.

In the last post, we explored how to BE CLEAR when giving instructions.

This time, we’ll take a look at what this essential teaching skill really looks like in the classroom.

 Clear Instructions in the Classroom

 "Speaking is easy, communicating is a miracle,"  Caleb Gattegno

We’ve all been there.  We all know what happens when the students are clear on what they are to do; we’ve also experienced what happens when students aren’t clear on what to do or how to do it. 

The previous blog explored seven steps for giving clear instructions:

John Kongsvik and TESOL Trainers train teachers in scaffolding, working with ELLs, giving clear instructions
Who can summarize what we are going to do?
1.             Break things down. 
2.             Explain the activity.
3.             Create a step by step outline. 
4.             Let students see what the activity looks like. 
5.             Experiment with a student. 
6.             Assess their understanding. 
7.             Repair misunderstandings. 

Now, let’s take a look at how these steps play out in the classroom by observing a teacher in action....

....The class just finished practicing an exchange related to what people do and the teacher wants to prepare them for an information gap where students ask one another questions in order to collect all of the information. 
  1. The teacher shows the information gaps and asks students if each paper has the same or different information (the latter).
  2. The teacher tells the class that they will work together to complete it.
  3. The teacher writes a set of simple steps on the board:
  4. John Kongsvik and TESOL Trainers train teachers in scaffolding, working with ELLs, giving clear instructions
    Giving visuals supports students
    • Take paper
    • Find partner
    • Decide A or B
    • Ask questions
    • Write down responses
  1. The teacher models the activity for the class (role-playing both students).
  2. The teacher and a student models the activity.
  3. Two students model for the class.
  4. The students give a thumbs up or down for their understanding.
  5. The activity begins.
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Looking back at these steps gives us the chance to explore the seven steps of giving clear instructions.  

  • For the macro-view, connect the seven steps to clear instructions to the steps the teacher took (see below for possible responses).
  • For the micro-view, examine each of the seven steps to clear instructions by asking yourself the following questions:  
John Kongsvik and TESOL Trainers train teachers in scaffolding, working with ELLs, giving clear instructions
Step by step increases engagement
Breaking things down
  • Were the steps digestible enough?  
  • What about the steps made them digestible?
Explaining the activity:  
  • How many different ways was the activity explained?  
  • What kind of language do you think the teacher used to explain it?
Creating a step by step outline:  
  • What’s the benefit of writing out the instructions?  
  • What role does brevity play?
Letting students see what the activity looks like:  
  • What’s the benefit of showing students what an activity looks like first?  
  • When might you choose to not do this step?
Experimenting with a student:  
  • How does this step benefit the students?  
  • How does this step benefit the teacher?
John Kongsvik and TESOL Trainers train teachers in scaffolding, working with ELLs, giving clear instructions
What are we supposed to do?
  • How does the student to student model help us assess their readiness?  
  • How might other students benefit from seeing it done by two of their peers?
Repairing misunderstandings:  
  • How does this step-by-step process help repair misunderstandings?  
  • If the students seemed confused, what might the teacher do?

Of course, there are many factors that influence how we give instructions.  A familiar activity may not include the steps that a new activity may have.  Comprehension and confidence levels of the students also play a key role.

Communicating, as Gattegno said, is much harder than speaking.  Consciously considering how to make our instructions clear before we give them is a definite way to set ourselves up for success.   After all, what sense are instructions if they aren't clear?

By John Kongsvik, Director - TESOL Trainers, Inc.

TESOL Trainers provides experiential professional development.

TESOL Trainers offers a host of professional development for 21st-century educators.  

Our teacher training workshops are highly engaging.   There are no lectures, no PowerPoint presentations.  

The experiential approach we use empowers educators.  Participants take our strategies back to the classroom immediately.  

If you believe in excellence in teaching and excellence in learning, contact us to see how we can help.

TESOL Trainers
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We are TESOL Trainers and we provide experiential professional development for K-12 educators.  

TESOL Trainers offers the most transformative SIOP professional development that is available.  

Contact John Kongsvik, the director of TESOL Trainers, for more information on how TESOL Trainers, Inc. can set you up for success.

Look at what educators from around the world have to say about John's empowering approach to teacher training:  TESOL Trainers reviews


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