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Clear instructions win every time!

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What does effective learning look like and how does it happen?

Clear instructions are essential for all our young people so that they are not bored or demotivated!

The more I knew in class, the more I understood”clear and precise‘most important. I have evolved over the years different strategies to help me and other colleagues become more effective in their studies.

In my new adventures as an academic, as I read more widely and understand a little more on effect sizesresearch results and recommendations, the more and more I understand that clear instructions from a teacher can make a big difference development of knowledge – the basic foundation for unlocking opportunities for all children, especially the most disadvantaged.

How learning happens

In their first book, How learning happens (2020), Carl Hendrick and Paul Kirchner have made brilliant contributions to the teaching profession. This is a book that has been on my teacher’s desk since it was published.

In them new In the book (left), the authors examine what effective teaching looks like with Jim Neal, an educator based in the US. Even before reading this entire book, I believe it will be another seminal text that will influence many (research-hungry) educators and their teaching practices.

What I love most about a book like this is that it offers teachers something practical to draw on from academic research, something digestible to read in a short amount of time, with guidance, key takeaways and QR codes for further reading.

Burning The Strawman

Although it is available, the first chapter I tackled was chapter 12 as I already had some getting to know Barak Rosenshyn.

Many teachers who work in social media and blogs will be very familiar with the research of Barak Rosenschein. I lost track of how many teaching and learning policies I have seen references to 10 or 17 principles of effective teaching. It’s not bad. It is important that schools are informed about the findings of the research and do you offer schools a hymn sheet for teachers so that they can adopt these principles.

As always, the danger is that they become a checklist for observations and can stifle the creativity of individual teachers, especially experienced teachers. I have yet to meet a single teacher who could remember all 17 principles, very few read the original article. I have worked to simplify the 17 principles into a short and memorizing teaching method which draws on research to unlock effective teaching, whether you are new to the profession or a wise soul.

Detailed instructions are not boring!

U How learning happens, the authors explore A Synthesis of Research on Open Learning (Rosenshine, 1986). They emphasize why clear instruction is important for all our young people, and that it is not boring or demotivating. Quite the opposite; it can be lively, playful and very effective.

The authors summarize the findings of the article in three key points:

  1. The instructions should be clear and precise
  2. Instructions must be carefully sequenced
  3. The instructions should be checked frequently for understanding.

The chapter covers practical terms and offers some great examples of clear instructions in action. In particular, an explanation of why explicit instructions should not be confused with didactic instruction.

There is a big difference.

Didactic teaching is where the teacher talks and the students listen. This no effective instruction. Effective teaching is when a teacher carefully plans and delivers lessons that are clear, precise, consistent and frequently checked for understanding.

There is a clear distinction between direct instructions (Siegreid Engelmann), who uses a very strict approach compared to Rosenshine, who developed his own approach – clear instructions – summarizing what effective teachers do. I will not repeat everything principles in great depth; summary below:

  1. Set clear goals
  2. Review previous knowledge
  3. Explaining new material in small steps
  4. Give clear instructions
  5. Give active practice
  6. Check for understanding
  7. Offer guidance along the way
  8. Provide systematic feedback
  9. Allow plenty of time for practice.

The authors quite rightly emphasize the danger of the above becoming a “checklist or algorithm”, a set of rules to be followed in order to obtain the desired end state: learning.

Explore the research and take it one step further?

Rosenschein summarized all of his research into six functions of learning, using his research on what good teachers do.

  1. Review
  2. Presentation
  3. Guided practice
  4. Corrections and feedback
  5. Independent practice and
  6. Weekly and monthly reviews.

It is very similar to four strategies that I have adapted to further simplify the work of Rosenshine.

In the book, the authors go into detail about active participation and how these guidelines can be adapted for different learners, emphasizing the need for more overview, and the step should be smaller and less represented. The chapter concludes that Rosenshine offers some very useful research into the effectiveness of teachers and instructional procedures, using empirical research (observation and experience) to look at how the mind acquires new information.

My own conclusion comes from reading the original articles this blog post:

Now that we can list the basic functions required for systematic learning, we can turn to examining the various ways in which these functions can be performed effectively.

How learning happens this is an essential book for all teachers.

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