Access to Learning Through Clear Directions

Access to Learning Through Clear Directions

Below, I’ll try and clarify the “clear directions, clearly understood” statement I made in a recent email to staff.

When we give students directions (or instructions) for a lesson, ordinarily, we want them all to be able to do the tasks we describe. Directions, then, should be put forth in simple terms. If, for example, one of the intended aspects of your lesson is for students to learn new vocabulary, let me just say that this (the directions part) may not be the best place to introduce it.

Likewise, if your inclination is to provide directions to students as follows:

Combine the 2-hydroxy-1,2,3-propanetricarboxylic acid in suspended form (i.e., citric acid in a naturally occurring solution) from the citrus × aurantiifolia with the extracted fluid of cocos nucifera, blend it thoroughly, and ingest the resultant beverage completely.

Wouldn’t the task be more immediately accessible if you were to just say this instead:

“Put the lime in the coconut and drink them both together. Put the lime in the coconut and drink them both up.”

Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting that we “dumb-down” the learning. I am simply pointing out that while the more astute among your students will get the first version, almost everyone will get the second one.

Subsequent expectations and performance can be spiraled up or down elsewhere in the lesson according to students’ abilities and needs. More advanced students, for example, could even rewrite the simplified version of the instructions in a more complex manner using elevated vocabulary.

Bonus Move: Demonstrating the process for students with an actual lime and an actual coconut (or various other media) will help to cement the concepts, promote participation, and launch vocabulary acquisition (especially for students who are new to English). The name for this technique, as you may know, is using realia.

Sincerely, Bill

Postscript – the humor clip: