Listening to myself speak to my students (and to my daughters, for that matter) I find I make a lot of assumptions.
I assume kids understand what I want them to stop when I tell them to stop.
I assume kids understand what I expect them to do when I tell them to get it together.
I assume kids understand what I am praising when I say good job.
I don't just assume kids understand all the implications and inferences behind my words, I also assume they can do whatever it is I am asking.
I assume when I say sit still that they are able to control their body enough to do so.
I assume when I say whisper that they know how.
I assume when I say slow down and walk that their enthusiasm and excitement can be restrained.
If I truly want my words to have meaning, either that kids will get from them what I truly mean or that they will be able to do what I am asking, I have to be more explicit.
Instead of stop, I need to say stop poking the child next to you.
Instead of get it together I need to say put down the blocks, take a deep breath, count to 10, then try again to play.
Instead of good job I need to say I am really impressed with how thoughtfully you solved that problem.
Instead of simply saying sit still, I need to help students recognize what that means and learn strategies to make it possible. (I also need to only ask them to do so for reasonably periods of time.)
Instead of simply saying whisper, I need to practice doing so with them and help them feel what a whisper is.
Instead of simply saying slow down and walk, I need accept that there are times when that is too much to ask.
I've been mulling this over for some time, but this Responsive Classroom post really hit home.
My school has been doing a big push on teaching executive functioning skills for exactly this reason! Someone realised a couple of years ago that we were telling students what to do before we had taught them how to do it. I have seen quite a change in just the two years I've been here! It is SO IMPORTANT to be explicit, clear, simple, and direct!
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