You are in your teaching groove.  You have just delivered a fantastic lesson.  The flow was good.  Your students looked engaged, and they participated throughout the lesson.  You think to yourself, “They get this!”  You are at the point where it is time for the students to work on an assignment so they can show what they have learned.  You carefully give the directions for the assignment and head to your desk to grab a drink of water so you can watch your students get to work.  As you glance around the room, several of your students are doing just that.  They have the materials they need out on their desks and are busy completing their task.  However, you notice that Emily is just sitting at her desk with a puzzled look on her face.  Ben has some things on his desk, but one of them is the wrong book.  Chris has his hand up and is anxious to talk with you.  Jessica is out of her seat and on her way up to see you.  What happened?  The lesson went so well.  You gave what you thought were thorough directions for the assignment.  The kids looked liked they got it when you were talking.  How is it that now it appears that at least four of them didn’t get it at all?

If you have taught for any length of time, this scenario is probably one you have encountered at least once.  It can be frustrating to you as the teacher, especially since you thought your lesson went so well.  It might be tempting to just write it off as students being lazy or “not paying attention”.  While there is a chance this may be true, it is more likely that there are other things coming into play that can affect your students’ ability to be able to hear your directions for their assignment and then be able to get right to work and get it done correctly.

There are many factors that can inhibit your students’ ability to understand and then execute your directions when you are teaching.  Sometimes these factors are things you over which you have no control. Your student didn’t eat breakfast, didn’t sleep the night before, is having conflict with a friend, has a sick parent at home. These situations can make it difficult for a student to focus on instruction.  Other factors that affect a student’s ability to understand classroom instruction and directions include issues like ADHD or auditory processing problems.  If a student has ADHD, there are many things in the classroom competing with you and your instruction for his or her attention.  They may be dialed in for the beginning of the lesson, only to zone out just before you wrap it up and give them instructions for the assignment.  If a student has auditory processing issues, they have trouble making sense of what they are hearing.  They may be listening intently to your instruction, but when you ask them to take out their book at turn to the assignment on page 37, they take out the wrong book or just sit at their desk staring into space.  (For more information on the difference between ADHD and auditory processing issues and how they affect a student’s ability to listen in the classroom, check out this article from Understood.) Taking a minute to consider why a student might be having issues understanding what is going on in your classroom can go a long way in adding to your patience when dealing with your class.

One Intentional Thing

No matter what causes students to have difficulty listening to and understanding instruction and directions in the classroom, there are some things you can intentionally put in place to provide an environment that helps all students know what is going on.

  • Watch your speed. Be sure to speak slowly and clearly when you are teaching.  When we are excited, we tend to speak more quickly, and that can make it difficult for kids to keep up.
  • Don’t just rely on verbal instructions and directions. Make use of your whiteboard or anchor charts as you are teaching.  Write down key words and phrases as you teach and give directions.  Written words don’t disappear, spoken words do.
  • If you know listening is a struggle for a particular student, come up with a silent signal that you can give that student to alert them to the fact that important key information is being presented.
  • After you have given directions to your whole class, offer a second chance to hear them.  Invite students who would like to hear them again or who still have questions to meet with you at the front or side of the room.  This allows those students who understand the task to get to work, and those who still have questions to be able to get the help they need.

What about you?  What do you do to help ensure students understand what you are teaching?  Please share your ideas in the comments.



Author: Intentional Teaching

I have spent 20 years in education, as a classroom teacher in a public school, to serving as an early intervention provider, to my current position as a literacy coach in a public school. One of the best parts of my job is collaborating and sharing with others about kids. This blog is intended to be a place of collaboration and sharing for people who work with kids.

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