What to Do - In the Classroom
The emphasis here is on the word "to". I once found a motivational cat poster that said "don't tell me what not to do. Tell me what to do." Had I listened to that poster, rather than just hang it up ironically for my roommates to see, I could have avoided much professional stress.
Once again taking a strategy from the great, Doug Lemov, in his book that every teacher should own, Teach Like a Champion, this strategy of "What to Do", is the simple wisdom saying that when correcting a student, instead of telling him what not to do, tell him what to do.
If it sounds too simple, that's because it almost is. There is some more depth to it however. The most overlooked tenet that makes this strategy relevant is this:
- Students misunderstand or tune out more easily and more frequently than most teachers realize.
So, because we have already explained something, we then misinterpret incompetence as defiance, as in, "he heard me explain it, he's just being a jerk." This may not be the case, and if we react to defiance when it is actually incompetence (or vice versa), we can cause some lasting damage to the relationship with that student, as well as the classroom.
The best way to avoid this kind of gaffe, is to abstain from using vague statements like "Pay attention", "Stop fooling around", "Cut it out" etc. and replace them with what to do statements that are specific, concrete, sequential, and observable. Instead of "pay attention", instruct your student on the actions that can show he's paying attention: "Put your feet under your desk, sit up, pencil down, eyes on me."
The previous statement gives the student a specific set of actions to do and once done, he has no choice but to pay attention.
This is the abridged version of Lemov's chapter. My goal for the month of February is to incorporate this technique into my normal routine. These simple techniques explained so well in the Lemov book (as well as various websites) are the kinds of things I wish I had mastered by now after 9 years. But, it's never too late to learn. So, give it a try and see what you can learn.