Have you ever tried one of those recipes that pop up on Facebook? I’ve tried two. One was a potato dish and was resounding success, especially since I topped it with cheese. The other was for my cookie addiction and it was a dismal failure. I was so disappointed. I love cookies! If I had read through the instructions before hand, I would not have even tried it. It was missing a few major steps like the order of adding ingredients as well as baking time and temperature. Also, from the picture it looked like bar cookies and, well, yeah, that didn’t work. I wasted perfectly good chocolate chips.
This is what happens to your students when you weren’t clear with your expectations. It could be for a lesson or for behavior. Either way, clarity is key. Clarity is the clear pure liquid in your management pie. It requires time, at least at first. I found that taking a few extra minutes to show what I wanted paid off with fewer lessons that fell apart, the kids behaving like maniacs, and work I could gladly grade and, even show off. It gave me the ability to get creative, authentic work out of the most scattered second graders. We all want to do our best work; we just need to be shown how to do it sometimes.
Explaining is more than the blah, blah, blah of you, the teacher, talking at your class. We all have a tendency to do just that even though we know many of our students are visual or kinesthetic learners. If you take the time to visually show, succinctly explain, and, ideally, model what you want the activity to look like then you have taken the wild card, guessing what to do, out of the game. With a multi-step project, being clear what set-up and clean-up looks like, and what to do when the students are done, gives the kids a bigger chance of meeting your expectations. If this becomes routine, asking the simple question of “What can you do when you finish?” will allow them to take ownership of their behavior.
Write the steps where everyone can see them. Put examples of finished products where the class can look at them, and then allow them do just that. Make materials needed accessible and show how things should look when they are done. The majority of your class will take these instructions and soar. Then step back and let them work. There will be a few who need your support to stay on task but with everyone else doing what they need to do; you will have the time to help. If a child gets off task, ask him to remind you what he should be doing or how he should be doing it. That clarity liquidity lets you focus on the parts of the pie that need your extra attention.
Unfortunately, with the push to meet all the changes in the classroom, the tendency to rush, rush, rush through instruction is upon us all. The thing is, however, that clarity is the most teachingest part of teaching. If you aren’t clear in your expectations, things fall apart pretty quickly.
Clarity requires slow and steady, even though everyone on the sidelines, our administrators, school boards, and even Arne Duncan, are shouting to hurry up. It is the pacing of a marathon not a sprint, something those outside of a classroom frequently forget.