Since distance learning and online instruction has rapidly become the new normal for students all over the map, navigating this new forum has presented both teachers and students with learning curves. Through just the first few weeks of digital/virtual instruction, I personally have recognized an increased need for concise, explicit, and thorough directions on assignments. What I initially thought were clear instructions have often been met with various questions.
It sounds obvious—of course students need to be provided with specific directions on any given task. However, we teachers have been relying on face-to-face explanations, visual models and examples, and chunked verbal guidance without ever realizing what it would be like to take all of those supports away. Well, now we know. Even with video platforms like Zoom, Screencastify, etc., the ability to fully instruct, explain, and clarify is somewhat muddled. As beneficial as these tools can be for distance learning, these platforms simply do not provide the same level of guidance that face-to-face classroom instruction provides.
Now that teachers have begun to anticipate the various (numerous!) questions that students pose while distance learning ramps up, we can certainly recognize the importance of modifying our way of providing written directions.
- For tasks that are going to require multiple steps, teachers need to present students with each individual step separately. This also means that each step will likely require its own set of directions. For example, an English teacher chunking a five-paragraph essay for students should provide specific instructions and requirements for each paragraph, separately.
- This could mean creating a unit checklist; drafting a week-by-week calendar with steps labeled for certain days; or creating a sample of each separate paragraph with each sentence highlighted to demonstrate key components.
- Introducing an assignment in steps also allows students to ask more specific questions when necessary. Instead of receiving a bunch of emails saying, “I’m confused about the essay,” students can specify exactly which step they need clarification on.
- This level of micromanaging an assignment might seem excessive, especially for older students. However, providing step-by-step instructions while chunking a multi-step task will be crucial for student success during distance learning. This is especially true for students with different learning needs or executive functioning deficits.
- It would also be helpful for teachers to include suggested time management tips for assignments as well. A top complaint that parents are voicing is the amount of time their children are spending trying to decipher their assignments.
- Teachers should consider including the amount of time that each task should take in the instructions. That way, students who may plan on taking an hour to complete a 20-minute assignment can adjust their workload appropriately.
- Use specific language in the directions that you would like students to use in their assignment. For instance, directions for analyzing a videotaped science lab should include content-specific language that students need to know as part of the unit. For example, teachers should bold or italicize the terms hypothesis or variable so that students key in on important aspects of the task.
- Add specificity to your standard rubrics. What teachers thought was a clear rubric is likely lacking since we are unable to verbally explain grading as we typically would in class. If the history essay rubric requires “mastery in voice and structure,” teachers should clarify what that should look like.
- For instance, the rubric might need to include guiding questions for each category. Do you maintain present tense throughout? Do you introduce your body paragraphs with sound claim statements? Do you utilize unit vocabulary throughout?
- This level of specified directions may seem tedious at first, compared to our normal way of orally explaining tasks in the classroom. However, front loading assignments with ultra-clear directives will allow your students to not only comprehend the task, but also regain a sense of confidence in this new method of teaching and learning.