What is one of the things that trainees struggle with on the course?
I think the main thing is grading their own language and giving instructions.
What do you mean exactly by grading your language?
What I mean is that trainees need to be able to speak clearly by using simple words that students understand and at a speed that they can follow. Too often, we see teachers gabbling away at low level students as if they were native speakers.
So what can teachers do to avoid this?
Well, firstly it’s worth scripting what you are going to say, particularly your instructions. Once you have written out your instructions, you will be able to edit them for any unnecessary words and any redundant language – try it you will be surprised! Also, rehearsing helps a great deal. Find an empty classroom and practice standing at the front of the class giving instructions. Hopefully, you should be able to monitor your own language and judge if you are being too wordy or speaking too fast. Plus, if you have rehearsed, you are less likely to be so nervous when you are in your observed lesson. As we know, nerves can make us panic and start speaking quickly.
True, but rehearsing sounds a bit much.
Well, it’s not really. Practice makes perfect. The clearer we are with our instructions, the better the lesson will go. When you think about it, everything we do in the class involves instructions. Therefore if we are able to give clear instructions most of the time, there is nothing we can’t do in the class. Conversely, if we aren’t able to instruct clearly, then it limits you in terms of activities that we can and can’t do.
So what else should we do to give clear instructions?
Make them as visual as possible. So, for example, if you are using a course book, show the pages to the students and point to where they need to look. Or if you have a visualiser or an overhead projector, put the page or the worksheet on it so students can see what they will have to do. Then walk students through the task by doing a demo with the students. So, for example, if you are doing controlled practice tasks, do one or two questions with the students to ensure they have followed your instructions.
Then ask ICQs (Instruction Check Questions)?
Yes and no. If by doing one or two clear examples with the students makes the task clear, we don’t need to ask check questions. Unless we are very strict at nominating students, most likely it will be the strongest students who answer our ICQs anyway. What we really want is for the weaker students to understand and they are more likely to find a clear demonstration easier to understand. If the task is clear by the demo or it’s a task that the students have done many times, most likely we won’t need to ask ICQs. If, however, there is a part of the instruction that isn’t clear from the demo, then a well-worded ICQ is useful.
I hear trainers often talking about ‘display questions’, what do you mean by that?
Display questions are ICQs that are often asked mainly for the sake of asking ICQs as opposed to actually checking the task. So, for example, a teacher may instruct students on quite a complicated task then simply ask questions, such as “Who are you working with?”, “Are you going to be writing?” or “How much time do you have?”. Before asking these questions we need to ensure students actually understand what to do first, then we can check other aspects of the task, if needed.
So what you are saying is that it’s better to do demos and only use ICQs where necessary?
Absolutely. Remember at low-levels, they may not have language ability to understand the ICQs so you have to rely on clear demos.
Any other advice on giving instructions?
Just remember that it’s impossible for students to understand instructions every time first time. So once you have given your instructions, monitor the class and make sure they are all on task. Don’t be afraid to stop the task to re-instruct if you notice quite a few students are confused. For me, this is a sign of a good teacher, responding to the needs of the students.
Thanks for your time.