You probably learned early on in your teaching career that your very best explanations sometimes don't get through to certain students.
You would never blame the student, so where can you look for ways of developing your explanations?
Of the many possible ways, I suggest the looking at student and subject.
When you are explaining, which of these two are you focus on most?:
It's about balance, isn't it? Every situation requires you to find the balance. And the balance keeps moving whilst you are explaining. Sometimes a tap-tap-tap with the hammer, sometimes a twist-twist-twist with the screwdriver.
If you are focusing on the student and you aren't getting through, change your focus to the subject. Be clear about the terminology you are using, minimise jargon. Refer to simpler examples, use metaphors, show diagrams, refer to earlier completed exercises. You might say:
- Here's an example we did last week. How does that help?
- Here's a diagram that might be clearer.
- What xyz means is ...
And, if you are focusing on the subject and you aren't getting through, change your focus to the student. Notice how motivated they are, and work with that. Notice how panicked they are and work with that. Notice what they already know and work with that. You might ask:
- How challenging is this? And what is a good thing to do when things are this challenging?
- How calm are you right now? And what is a good thing to do when you are this calm?
- What have you done that's worked before? And how might that help you here?
- Who else could give you the explanation you need?
That last question is more to do with sharing the responsibility for learning amongst the learners. Teaching is a great way to learn too. And it gives teachers more space to think when they are not expected to explain individually to every student. That's not practical in a school setting.
Before we move on, I'd like to ask about your habits.
When explaining, do you usually pick up the hammer or the screwdriver?
I mean which do you focus on first?:
- The subject
That's a tricky question because there's no best answer. I am inviting you to notice if you have a habit of focusing primarily on just one. If so, then I encourage you to soften your focus next time and choose the other. See what happens.
I have a further question about your priorities too.
Which do you feel is most important:
- Your explanation is correct
- The student understands
Again, I am inviting you to notice your priorities and be vulnerable, caring and courageous enough to change them in the moment.
The former priority can lead to you giving one size fits all explanations, so I would challenge that. Not because the explanation is wrong, but simply because the student doesn't understand.
The latter priority could lead you giving different explanations to every student which, apart from being exhausting, can lead to confusion when other students overhear your tailored explanation, or share their tailored explanation with another student.
Just a final question. How true do you think this statement is?
There is an explanation that will be understood by every student
My answer is, "The correct explanation is always - the one that works, not the one that always works." Because there isn't one that always works with all students, all the time.
Yeah, they are all different, aren't they?
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