TECHNIQUE # 57: What To Do
Now this might be misconstrued as ironic, however, so many of the techniques presented in Teach Like a Champion 2.0¹, at face value, seem to be stating the obvious, when in fact they are truly critical, fundamental building blocks toward building a Champion® classroom. What To Do, without being pedantic to the veteran teacher states: “Use specific, concrete, sequential, and observable directions to tell students what to do, as opposed to what not to do.” There are components within #57 that are subtle reiterations of other strategies, however, when realigning student behavior, avoiding narration of what NOT to do is critical and difficult to put into practice. Additionally, What To Do, recommends that the teacher should assess and differentiate between the various types of off-task behavior. What is obvious to Susan may not be obvious to Michael; or is that what they want you to think?
The text classifies off-task behavior into three categories:
Surprisingly, when I took a moment to sift through these categories (on the spot), while dealing with an off task student this week, I found this process to be extremely important. Within the topic of Immigration, the 5minute writing task asked of the students was: Imagine yourself from the point of view of your great-grandparents (the assumption was that they were immigrants coming to a new country?!) what were your experiences, how did you feel, etc. Many students did not jump into the writing; I narrated a few suggestions, asked students to focus on pencils moving, no need to erase or fixate on the title (evasive tactics that were an obvious function of the challenging nature of the prompt), and explained to all students “I should see pencils moving”. One student in particular, had not been productive throughout the class. Crouching, I asked to her to pick up her pencil, and write about the topic, she consistently replied “I’m confused”. My first assumption was that she was exhibiting Defiance and/or Avoidance, and then, I shuffled through the three categories listed above and realized that her off task behavior was truly a function of Incompetence; meaning genuine lack of understanding not a moral judgment. Immediately, I adjusted the language and direction I took to attempt to get her back on task.
Teach Like a Champion 2.0¹ enumerates several strategies and modes of interpretation of off task behaviors.
- Make commands/instruction specific enough that they can’t be deliberately misinterpreted. For example, telling a student “Stop That”, even if it is communicated calmly, leaves the door open to gray area/inaccurate interpretation.
- Distinguish between incompetence and defiance.
- Ask yourself if the student Cannot or Will Not.
- Give tangible directions
- Standardize the language of your instructions
‘What To Do 2.0’, a sub-section within this technique offers up the results of Doug Lemov’s observations of Champion® teachers over the past four years.
Consistent What To Do: Use the same instruction using the same words/phrases in a very streamlined capacity. Instead of saying, “Please put your pencils down. I want everyone to put them in their trays”, say “Pencils, trays. Or, instead of “Close your books, take your worksheet and make sure it goes into your writing folder”, say, “Papers, folders”.
Adding a Gesture: Pantomime the action that your instruction describes. I think this one adds a super dimension of clarification to the process. While implementing a standardized routine to your consistent phrases, have the worksheet ready and a sample folder ready, demonstrate the require action. Flourish an imaginary pencil and place it in an exaggerated manner onto and imaginary desk tray.
What To Do with Checking for Understanding: Before allowing students to move forward autonomously, verify if the student/s understand the instruction given. Cold Call a student to explain to you, in their own words, what it is you would like them to accomplish. Or, ask a particular student who seems to be moving toward off-task behavior to demonstrate what the next step is; “Point to where you are going to put your binder” or “Show me where the writing prompt is that you are going to write about”.
Simplified What To Do: Remove words and simply the steps, calmly and with pauses between each step if you feel that the instruction should be reiterated. Break down the task and provide opportunities for compliance. A student may fixate on getting the second part of your instruction correct while forgetting what the first step was.
What To Do Out Front: “Giving a What To Do direction in advance of a cue to begin a routine behavior is a great way to build facility and autonomy in that routine.”, (p.420)¹. This allows them the opportunity to process the expectation and practice following through with instruction on their own. I admire this sort of life-skill building and practice.
Assuming the Best: If the root of a students non compliance or off-task behavior is not immediately obvious, approach the student with the assumption (feigned or genuine!) that they are very capable of being compliant. “Oh, let’s clarify our next task”, “Hmm, I may not have been clear enough, when I said _____, this is how we follow through”. “I did mean ______, I know that you can do this”. This really is a valuable skill for any teacher to practice, although trying at times. Learners really do want to believe that the adults in their academic lives have confidence in their abilities.