Thursday, 3 May 2012

Giving better instructions

Communication break-down is never so immediately evident as when there is a glaring gap between what you expect and what you 'get' after issuing some instructions. 

Be it as simple as moving places to sit with a new partner, or as complex as the production of a travel brouchure: there are ways of doing it RIGHT, and ways of doing it WRONG.

When you get it WRONG, at best, it will make for some time-wasting and confusion.

And at worst, it can lead to unmet objectives, confusion, even DISASTER.


And I admit it. It took me a very long time and not a little outside observation and expertise to really take in the fact that

my instruction giving was not good. Messy. Confused and confusing. Inefficient. 

Even then, it took me a time to accept that in fact, it is actually possible to improve it.

I tended to think that giving and responding to instructions are at the very messy 'coalface' of communication, and so are inevitably doomed to be plagued to some degree by the need for repetition, misunderstandings, clarification, rectifications and renegotiation.

There is a little - just a little - truth in this. Even when dealing in a first langauge giving successful instructions is rarely 100% confusion-free.


It is still eminently possible to GIVE BETTER INSTRUCTIONS

And here are some recommended steps to get there:

Be aware that as a teacher your instructions are an essential part of students' performance.

Instruction giving is when you are not teaching, but leading.

When you're about to give instructions, go to a quiet place inside yourself. Focus. Concentrate. Think about what you want to be done. And how. This needs to be made very explicit.

Next have the STUDENTS focus. Don't begin until they are all quiet, listening and aware they NEED what you're about to tell them in order to complete what follows. 

Make it as clear and succinct as possible.
Write key points on the board if necessary, including page numbers, exercise numbers, the minimum requirements for the task, or what have you.
One of the best ways of doing this is to provide a model of what you are expecting.

SPECIFY HOW students are to work

If instructions are very complicated and involved, go for BITE-SIZED instructions. One step at a time.
  • grouping
  • time limits. I always opt for a time limit that makes the students groan but get straight down to work rather than one that makes them think they have plenty of time to waste.

Don't have them start until you are certain that your instructions are clear and understood.

Check that the students know exactly what you want.

Asking "Do you understand?" is not enough.

Ask specific check questions relevant to the instructions such as
"WHAT are you going to do?"
"HOW MANY exercises are you going to complete?"
"How long do you have?", and so on.

Another effective strategy is to have students paraphrase what they're going to do next.

Be ready to STOP the whole group
Once the activitiy is underway, monitor  carefully to be sure students are producing what you had in mind. If you find an  group veering wildly from what you intended, stop the whole group, get them to focus again and restate the instructions as necessary.  Don't fall into the trap of adjusting instructions group by group; precious learning time is lost!


Most of all, be aware of how important instruction giving is to the success of your class. Adjust your style as neccessary but don't be satisfied until instructions are truly effective in having students getting down to work in the way you wanted, and producing the types of results you intended.

Good luck!

And please, share any of you best ideas here!

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