Clarifying Your Teaching With Clear Communication
contributed by Molly Bruzewski, Ed.S.
Ed note: This is part 2 on strategies that promote a team approach to academic achievement and high-performance teaching. Part 1 was Every Classroom Is A Team And Every Teacher Is A Coach. Strategies 2 and 3 appear below.
In the same way that students appreciate teachers who articulate their expectations and model them consistently, our staff appreciates it from us.
The availability of data reports around student achievement is providing us with opportunities for success like never before. True, these reports often have us zero-in on deficiencies in student learning, but as the Head Coach, you take that data and rally your team. You ask, “Is there one specific thing we can do to raise student achievement across the curriculum; across our teams regardless of our classroom philosophies?”
If the ultimate goal for every student in your building – whether in elementary, middle or high school – is to become a contributing citizen and be fully employable, begin with this end in mind. Your data are showing that students have communication deficiencies. Rally your teams and begin to dig in.
As you scan the literature and websites for essential skills for employees, among the top skills is the ability to speak and write effectively. Research demonstrates that written language proficiency follows oral competencies. Would it benefit you to zero-in on developing a plan around speaking in complete sentences? To begin, get your Playbook out, identify some strategies that anyone could use in their classroom, and begin to model what that might look like.
Staff meetings are a great place to set the stage to launch this practice. If you choose to embark on this mission, is it possible to stir up controversy if you expect staff and students to speak in complete sentences?
Use clear, complete sentences.
Children develop the ability to communicate in complete sentences between the ages of two and three. Developmentally they are ready. But in today’s hectic home life, and in our ever-increasing “texting” generation, many of our students are working from a deficit when it comes to their ability or their tendency to communicate verbally and construct complete sentences.
In her BLOG, The B.E.S.T. Literacy Connection, Sarah Whitt cites research done by Dr. Kathy Cooter of Bellarmine University around the “mean length of utterance (MLU).” The mean length of utterance by students is tied to their aptitude and ability to write and express themselves. In many schools, teachers are the “main violators,” as they use approximately five words per sentence, and often without the inclusion of challenging or academic vocabulary.
Therefore, find websites that provide strategies for modeling speaking in complete sentences. And, when addressing someone who asks why we would “practice” speaking in complete sentences, you may reply, “That is a great question, Teacher A. This isn’t a practice we have focused on. You’re right about that. I have been guilty of not being intentional about speaking in complete sentences, as well. However, we need to model our expectations and speak in complete sentences because our students are the ultimate beneficiaries. Thank you for asking!”
This second practice is an intentional one. We often do not pay attention to our communication with students, nor with one another. But, it comes back to our first practice, if we want to see this done well, and if we want to raise the academic caliber of our students, Educators Model.
Use individual and whole class instruction differently and intentionally
Instruction at any level is tricky.
Whether an administrator or teacher, our audience is in a constant state of flux. We are constantly competing for their attention. Advertisers employ a variety of rules for getting your attention – the rule of 151 or the rule of seven, for example – indicates the number of times people must hear a message before they understand or act.
This means that the first time you “deliver” information to your audience, it doesn’t mean they have heard it. Therefore, pull out your Playbook, invite members from Team 1 and 2 that you have witnessed getting students to process information well, and invite them to plan with you.
To start, you may choose to model 21st-Century learning. In Education Week’s BLOG, 5 Reasons You Should Flip Your Leadership, author Peter DeWitt recommends that building leaders begin to flip their meetings by covering the announcements and less critical information through a simple podcast or webcast.
You may also add a hook to your message by introducing “what is to come” at the next staff meeting and provide a preview. Set the stage and provide literature to support where you want to take your team. Next, if you know that the information you have to discuss at your next meeting will take about 40-45 minutes, and you have one hour for the whole meeting, plan your strategies carefully. Get your facilitators to help you with the processing activities to be used throughout the meeting.
When you get your group face to face, with your selected facilitators, model “teaching to the whole group.” What is your message? What do you need to share? Balance your message with processing time, allowing the group to turn and talk, or ask questions, to clarify. Vary the processing activities for the purpose of seeing them implemented in classrooms.
Provide teachers with the resources and guidelines on how to use them. As you teach to the whole group, remember the first practice – Educators Model. Use strategies you would like to see your staff engage in as they teach. Make the strategies universal and easily adaptable to any learning environment. Teachers love strategies – especially ones they can use in their classroom the very next day.
Remember, student achievement is a Team Sport. It takes all teams collaborating around common goals to ensure their success.
Modeling – Playbook Practice 1; Speaking in Complete Sentences – Playbook Practice 2; Obama’s Use of Complete Sentences Stirs Controversy, November, 21, 2008, The BLOG, Huffington Post; The B.E.S.T. Literacy Connection, The Power of Speaking in Complete Sentences, Sarah Whitt, Feb. 13, 2012; Whole Group Instruction – Playbook Practice 3; Education Week BLOG, Finding Common Ground, 5 Reasons You Should Flip Your Leadership, Peter DeWitt, July 6, 2014; image attribution flickr user vancouverfilmschool; Clarifying Expectations With Clear Communication
Molly Bruzewski, Ed.S. is an education consultant in Michigan. Her expertise is in curriculum mapping and assessment, classroom instructional strategies, online teaching and learning, and she serves as a Great Expectations (GE) methodology instructor. Bruzewski is passionate about teaching excellence and believes GE provides a comprehensive approach to student success in all classrooms.