Teacher clarity comes from many sources:
1. Being clear about what you want your students to know and be able to do
2. Clearly explaining new content to students
3. Clearly demonstrating relevant skills and processes that you expect students to do
4. Give students practice tasks clearly focused on what you want them to know and be able to do
5. Checking that students have a clear understanding of the new material
And as Shaun Killian says in this excellent blogpost accentuates we have, perhaps, been a little too focused on structures and uniformity and not the skill of how we actually deliver our explanations. This is particularly strange when we consider that 10% and 30% of lesson time being spent explaining (Brophy & Good 1986) and so it is easy to agree with the findings of Fendick that the biggest single aspect of teacher clarity comes from teachers speech.
A simple device can quickly improve our clarity.That being signalling, and we now that expert teachers use more signalling during their explanations (Brophy & Good 1986) and so should become part of our pedagogical content knowledge.
There are five ways we can effectively signal important information to students (Hargie 2006). in using these, we indicate new terminology, definitions, examples, connections, or relationships. We also signal changes or transitions in information during our explanations .
1.Signposting statements that set the structure and the direction of the explanation such as, “I would like to now explain the seven steps that lead to a pregnancy”,or, “We’ve just seen that the ground up sugar dissolves faster than the sugar cube. Now we want explain why this happens”
2.Framing statements signal the beginning of a sub-section to a complex explanation such as, “So those are the main causes of the Cuban missile conflict. Now let’s look at how the events unfolded during the crisis.”
3. Foci statements draw attention to key ideas such as, “So this is very important”, or, “Be careful not to confuse …”
4.Linking statements connect different parts of the explanation, such as, “This leads to…” or, “So when this happens, it causes…”
5. A written cue can be simply noted upon the whiteboard or found in a task sheet or on a PowerPoint slide to draw attention to exactly what students are supposed to do or know.
Developing this skill will start in our planning, where we need to identify the features of the content to allow us to consider potential turns of phrase that would increase its clarity. This leads us to these planning questions.:
1.- How does each activity connect to the next? What information in one activity is useful in the next?
2.- What is the context for each activity or explanation?
3.- What are the main ideas? What are the potential difficulties?
4.- What are the “chunks” of the explanation? How can these be connected?
As always teacher reflection will be a key to developing this skill. Since what you say is one of the few moments when the art of being a teacher becomes concretely visible recording ourselves and listening back to what we say or have a trusted colleague listen to you and write down what you say we can quickly get access to how well we already use this skill.
My interest in the idea of sharing pedagogical purposes comes directly with the contact I have had with the Project for Enhancing Effective Learning at Monash University in Australia. Now each of these teachers were very active in establishing learning agendas with their classes. The impact they were having was inspiring. Each classroom tool can have a purpose beyond delivering content, and this needs to be shared.
I suppose the purpose of this website is collate, crystalise and open dialogues about how to increase this within classrooms. As the quote from Carl Bereiter illustrates this classroom methodology can empower our students.