Explain it all
This week I was inspired by Mike Johnston’s Tedx Talk on The Art of Delivering Information. Johnston believes that all students are capable of learning, but how students learn depends on how the information is delivered. As teachers, we must explain things every day. This might mean explaining the same concept in multiple ways for different learners. This is why the teacher is so important. However, the ability to deliver information in multiple ways is not always easy.
This is why he calls the ability to explain things to one person an art form. “It is a talent,” Johnston says. Explaining things well takes practice. It requires teachers to put themselves in the shoes of a student. When teachers are learning something, we must be present. Think about, What do you feel as a learner? What made the delivery of that information powerful? Or not so powerful? Being present during our own learning experiences can help us be better delivers of information.
His message also calls us to be more caring. If we care, we explain something until a student gets it. This doesn’t mean doing monumental things. If we just change the way we think about something, then those “light bulb” moments can come for those we learners who needed us to care a little more.
Johnston’s message also applies to the ways in which we deliver information through visuals. Not all students will understand a visual in the way we intend it to be used. This is why feedback is an important part of refining the art of explaining. Students are a great source of feedback. They are the ones receiving the information we deliver.
Teachers can determine how well students receive information in several ways: reading a student’s body language, using formative assessment results, listening in when students turn and talk, etc., or we can also ask students for feedback. According to Jennifer Gonzalez, from the Cult of Pedagogy, one of the benefits of asking students for feedback is that it increases student engagement. Gonzalez states”If some methods of delivery are better received than others, then they’re likely to result in greater learning gains as well.” By asking our students for feedback, we can figure out what methods work best in our classrooms. This led me to think about the visuals used in my classroom and the effectiveness of them.
Reflection on My art of Explaining
One visual I consistently go back to is my Ask 3 Before Me visual. I introduce this visual at the beginning of the year to get my students in the habit of thinking about their questions before asking me for help. We brainstorm necessary and unnecessary questions together. Then we role-play scenarios where “Ask 3 Before Me” might be used. Students discover that many questions they have can be answered on their own or with the help of a classmate.
When students forget and ask me questions such as, “Where do I put this when I am done?” I reply, “did you ask 3 before me?” Most likely, their response is to turn around and find a classmate because they have not.
Refining My art of Explaining
Before I introduced this visual to my 4th-grade students this year, I thought about the effectiveness of this chart. Last year, I remember repeating “Ask 3 before me” many, many times. Maybe, this meant my visual wasn’t actually that effective. Furthermore, students would often tell me that they had already asked 3 classmates and still could not find the answer to their question. This got me thinking. Maybe, I needed to rethink this concept.
If students were often left without an answer to their questions after asking 3 classmates, maybe there were other ways to get them to problem-solve without using me all the time. First, I asked my students for some ideas. Then, I did some searching and found an idea that matched well with what my students had offered as helpful ideas.
Ultimately, my students and I came up with a visual that offered more than one way to get help, rather than to depend solely on their classmates. My new visual, “Try 3 Before Me,” puts more responsibility on the learner. Students must first ask themselves. This means they can stop and think about how things usually go in my classroom. For example, where do I usually ask students to put their classwork when it is complete? Or the learner might focus on any directions that were given.
If students still need help, they move onto step 2: Look Around. They can look for directions that are written down or they can look at what their classmates are doing. Getting students in the habit of using the world around them is a good habit. Many times students can figure things out like what to take out of their desks or what to put away based on what their classmates are doing. Steps 1 and 2 put the responsibility on the learner.
Finally, if students are still stuck, they can proceed to step 3: Ask a friend. I especially like this visual better than the first one because there is more responsibility on the learner and it offers more strategies than just asking their classmates.
I have also seen firsthand that this visual aid is more effective than the one I was previously using. This year, students are asking me less unnecessary questions, solving their own problems by using the environment around them, and going back to my written directions before asking their classmates or me. I want my students to feel comfortable asking questions in my classroom, but I also want them to think about the questions they can answer on their own. This allows more time for the necessary questions.
Although this is one simple way I am working to refine my art of explaining, it is a start. In the meantime, I’ll keep asking students for feedback, and most importantly, caring enough to work on my craft of delivery so that what I teach makes sense for everyone.