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Want students to follow directions? Do a little dance!

Susan Notes: Maybe this is especially meaningful for us middle school teachers, but I think everybody can enjoy the message.

Education, politics, United Teachers Los Angeles, Los Angeles Unified School District, all things Carnegie, some things Hilbert, and many different things from guest bloggers

Andy Hilbert

Do you ever tire of giving the same directions twenty-million times to the same group of students?

"Mr. Hilbert, what do we do when we're done with the test?"

"For the seventeenth time, put the test on the overhead projector and start reading on page 73."

Sound familiar?

LAUSD's Intern program taught me to respond to requests to repeat instructions by sternly pointing to the instructions written on the board. Now that I am developing jowls and the stern "teacher look" is beginning to appear to be permanent, it is my duty save new teachers from thousands of dollars of plastic surgery. There is a better way!

I gave a test Wednesday and not one of 150 students asked me to repeat the instructions about what to do when they finished the test! Impossible you say. Did I tell you I teach Eighth graders in a middle school? It is possible, but you must be bold enough to do a little dance.

After giving instructions section by section for the test, I concluded by saying, "Now listen to and watch me very carefully. Students, this is what you do once you have completed the test." I took a test paper and danced my way to the overhead projector. I turned one way, twirled my arms, turned the other way, twirled my arms, and right before I placed my paper on the overhead projector, I pointed to the sky twice (John Travolta style).

Since the class was laughing uproariously, I asked, "Did everybody get that? Do I need to show you again?"

Of course they wanted to see it again, so I repeated, "Now listen to and watch me very carefully..."

But guess what happened? All the test papers made it to the overhead with the repeated directions, exasperation, and the stern "teacher looks" replaced by a few good laughs. Not everyone did the dance, but I was surprised by some dancers whom I had previously thought to be introverts.

This is an extension of something I have learned about getting students to follow directions: add process steps. Instead of telling everybody to turn to page 72, say (as you are demonstrating) "everybody very slowly and carefully turn to page 72, like this." Some will imitate you and turn the pages slowly and carefully. The rebels will turn quickly, but everyone will turn to page 72. I mix it up of course: "tap your nose twice, tug your ear once, rub your belly and turn to page 72."

So, the next time you find yourself repeating instructions and giving stern teacher looks only to be further ignored, give specific process instructions and enjoy the process! (Do a little dance.) Your students will follow.

— Andy Hilbert
HorseSense and Nonsense


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