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Giving Students Directions: Are You “Talking to a Wall?”

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not listening

My mother used to complain that it was “like talking to a wall” when she tried to give my brothers and me directions to do something. And I’m sure every teacher has felt the same way. There’s just something about a mom’s and a teacher’s voice that invites kids to tune out!

Educator Angela Watson, in fact, following a fabulous discussion for Studentcentricity on giving directions in class, had this to say: “The more students hear your voice, the more likely they are to tune you out, and before you know it, you’ve become the teacher on Charlie Brown.”

Her advice?:

It’s a challenge, but try to speak only when you have something important to say, and resist the urge to fill every moment of instruction with commentary. Remember: the person doing the most talking is the person doing the most learning, so that role should go to the kids.

Educator Amanda Morgan, who was also part of the conversation, adds this advice:

* Connect First:  Whether you're waiting for your class's full attention as a whole or taking the time to get down on a child's level for one-on-one directions, take the time to make eye contact and make a connection before you start talking.

Break it Down:  For young children or for children who struggle to process multiple directions, break larger tasks into individual steps to give them time to process and follow through before adding on.  You may also be able to do this by creating a picture chart for tasks or processes that occur regularly, in order to give more support to children who need it.

* Say What You Need to See: Make sure that your words are not only clear, but that they state what you want to see, not what you DON'T want to see. Help your students to have a clear picture in their own minds of what you hope to see them do once they follow through.

For more great advice, listen to the discussion here.

Also, you can check out the articles Angela and Amanda have written on this topic:

            *”How to get students to follow directions the first time”: http://thecornerstoneforteachers.com/2013/05/how-to-get-students-to-follow-directions.html

            *”Are You Unintentionally Telling Your Students Not to Listen to You?”: http://www.bamradionetwork.com/edwords-blog/are-you-unintentionally-telling-your-students-not-to-listen-to-you

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Rae Pica has been an education consultant specializing in the development and education of the whole child, children's physical activity, and active learning since 1980. A former adjunct instructor with the University of New Hampshire, she is the author of 19 books, including the text Experiences in Movement and Music and, most recently, What If Everybody Understood Child Development?: Straight Talk About Bettering Education and Children's Lives. Rae has shared her expertise with such groups as the Sesame Street Research Department, the Head Start Bureau, Centers for Disease Control, the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, Nickelodeon's Blue's Clues, Gymboree, Nike, and state health departments throughout the country. She is a member of the executive committee of the Academy of Education Arts and Sciences and is co-founder of BAM Radio Network, where she hosts Studentcentricity, interviewing experts in education, child development, play research, the neurosciences, and more on teaching with students at the center.

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Guest Friday, 28 October 2016