After a summer of renewal, we teachers get excited about teaching our students’ the nuance of the life cycle of a frog and why it matters, the miracle of the water cycle, the wide use of linear equations, the universal themes of Dr. Seuss, or the serious responsibilities implied by the U.S. Bill of Rights. As teachers, we know we have the goods! Yet, we must be first-rate in teacher clarity to deliver them to our students.
Then when we sense that the teachable moment is at hand, we ask them to take out a clean sheet of paper and write their response. That’s when this little dream vision begins to fade. Oh, the students are polite. Yet, when we turn back to the board and point to the essential question of the day, we may miss the looks on most faces that scream, “Write what?”
And truth be known, it is quite easy to answer the question, “Write what?” even before students ask it. But first, we have to admit that the question is always there – and that is predictable. We are the older people teaching kids with little of the experiences that shaped our lives.
Since teacher clarity is a must, we can never overlook the different worlds we inhabit.
We, the older people … Our very young students …
|… remember 9/11 (not 9-1-1)||… were born several-to-many years after the twin towers imploded|
|… talk voice-to-voice on our smartphones||… wonder why we do|
|… love to drive miles to discover and experience interesting places||… know that every interesting discovery on the globe is accessible on a google search, no hours riding in a car or flying in a plane… wonder why interesting places are so important when the latest video release is two days after my next allowance drops.|
|… write lists, quotes, quick-writes of an intriguing idea or recipe||… see little need to learn and remember anything that can be looked up when you need to know it|
Our students see a different “our world” than we do. They do not often see our teachable moment as their learnable moment. They think they will remember the new knowledge they meet … or find it easily when they need it … or simply say, “I have no clue.”
Our experience of the last two decades convinces us that all of these student deflections fade when we quantify our expectations of their written response to our writing prompt.
Turn to the next clean page in your Learning Logs
Here are the key terms from our video clip of The Life Cycle of a Frog: adult, algae, amphibian, fertilized, froglet, gills, hatch, insects, jelly mass, legs, lungs, nutrients in the tail, tadpole(always in alphabetical order)
Copy this first sentence. – “Frogs move through four different stages in life.”
Continue writing a summary of the video we just watched.
- Use 5-6 of the key terms.
- Write 5-6 sentences.
- Include descriptive details from 2-3 parts.
- I’ve set the timer for eight minutes.
Why does this practice of quantifying expectations work? Four reasons come to my mind.
- Kids know how to count.
- You remove the anxiety of misspelling new terms.
- You provide the first sentence (leave this step out so they can start coming up with it.)
- Using key terms meaningfully and referencing parts of the source engages their minds in DOK2-3 thought.
Quantifying expectations, after all, makes common sense. We didn’t need pages of cited research to tell us that teacher clarity correlates directly to desired student outcomes. You see, the evidence that it comes at the end of every school term / year is clear.1
The repeated evidence
The first time I quantified expectations in a classroom demonstration, I marveled that almost every student posted the targeted outcomes as did my host teacher of seventh-grade math. Later, she reported that her students got into the habit of writing short entries as lesson activators or closes three times a week. When she received students’ end-of-year scores on the state math test, she called, jubilant; 29% more of her students met state expectations than the students in the previous year. Both student groups had comparable demographics and previous student performance.
Coach Gibbs, physical science teacher of Dublin High School, followed this common-sense approach to responding to daily course lessons. In the first year, he reported a 50% gain in the number of students scoring proficient science learner on the end-of-course test. 12 years later, his students continue to post the highest scores among high schools in their district’s educational service region.
… and Mr. Cramer, fourth-grade math, whose students wrote out their understanding of every math lesson in a learning log. He challenged students to use half of the key vocabulary he provided in writing entries 4-5 sentences long. His principal credits him with leading the increase in student performance that moved their school from the list of needs improvement in a single year.
1 Hattie, John, 2018. “Teacher Clarify,” Ten Mindframes for Visible Learning, John Hattie, Routledge Publishing, pp. 60-62.