Student motivation is one of the trickiest pieces of teaching. Building a dynamic classroom culture where all children are delighted to be in your room and are eager to learn is often extremely difficult; however, creating a compliant classroom can be straight forward. The quickest way to an on-task classroom is to give clear instructions. Here are some tips for giving clear directions I’ve put together from various sources including Lee Cantor, Fred Jones, and my own experience of various classroom disasters:
- Before class, write critical instructions on the board: This can include directions for what students should do when they first come in, step-by-step directions for what they should do during practice time, instructions for what you want them to do when they finish an assessment, etc. Then when you verbally give the instructions, point to what you have written on the board. This way, students who have zoned out are at least watching you point to what you want and will know where to look when they are trying to figure out what they need to do.
- Provide a visual of what you want next to your written instructions: I always tape an extra copy of the handout we will use on the board or if we’re using our notebooks I’ll draw the notebook page on the board and write in the heading, page number, and other formatting details I want students to be sure to include in their own notebooks.
- Wait for perfect silence and 100% attention before you begin giving directions: For pete sake do not talk over children. This is a good way to lose your voice and become really frustrated.
- Deliver your instructions in the front of the class with your shoulders squared, your feet grounded, and your chin titled up: This is the moment to look like the boss. Colleagues, don’t judge me but I remember reading The Dog Whisperer by Cesar Millan when my crazy Australian Sheapard (Jack) was totally out of control and he kept talking about the importance of the quiet authority you needed to project with your body posture in order for your dog to accept you as the alpha. Needless to say I had, as Oprah says, an “aha moment” with lasting positive effects for both Jack and my students.
- Speak loud enough to be heard but do not yell: This I learned from the brilliant Martin Winchester who said when he really wanted to make a point he lowered his voice to just above a whisper. Don’t misunderstand me, there is a real place for using your “teacher voice” but try the power of the almost-whisper when you really want to drive your point home.
- Begin instructions with “I am going to give you instructions now. Wait until I say “go” before you start moving.”: Lee Cantor correctly identifies how if you don’t tell students (or a room full of adults) to wait until you are finished, they will stand up, start talking, get out their supplies, etc. and miss the rest of your instructions.
- Give sequential instructions: Use words like “first, second, third” or “now, then, after” so it is perfectly clear what students should do and in what order. This is also a great moment to use the written instructions on the board so students can follow along visually.
- When finished, ask if students have questions and pause: When I say “Does anyone have any questions?” I always spread my arms wide and smile. Then I count to five in my head while holding the “I want to hug you all!” pose. I found students are more likely to ask for clarification if I spread my arms, smile and wait. Something about that combo . . .
- Release students to the task and narrate behavior: Say “go” (or whatever your signal is) and then begin to narrate the behavior of students who are doing what you have asked. “Raul is opening his binder, Janet is getting out her pen, Sarah has begun annotating the poem . . .” This is classic Lee Cantor but holy cow narration works! It give students who have zoned out another chance to hear what they need to do without getting in trouble. Narration should be neutral and not attached to praise “Good job Raul! You opened your binder!”
- Immediately circle the room or go up and down your rows 1 – 3 times: This lets you make sure all students are following instructions. You can also continue to narrate as you walk. It also gives the impression to the students that you are everywhere – you are physically near all students in the exact moment they need the most incentive to follow instructions. Physical proximity is a great corrective tool that is non-confrontational but certainly puts some physiological pressure on reluctant students.
Ok teachers what have I missed? Other tips for giving clear instructions?