Sunday, December 15, 2019

Directions You Can Do

One of the biggest frustrations I experienced as a teacher was when students did not follow directions. I'd invest time creating and organizing activities and lessons only to become frustrated with the "What do I do?" or "I didn't know I was supposed to ..." or "How do I ... " questions.

Do you share my frustration? 

I recently encountered this again and I spent some time reflecting. I really put some thought into it. I've come up with something that feels huge. And I fear you may not like it. But hear me out.

We are doing it to ourselves.

We give our students activities and worksheets and scripted lessons. We have "directions" in bold print. We tell our students to read the directions. Then ...

We read the directions to them. We dissect the directions for them. We clarify the directions. We ask if they have questions. Then we answer each question as they work through the activity.

And then we are surprised. Why can't our students follow directions? 

We are doing it to ourselves.

At the beginning of this school year, I made a pledge to myself to be more intentional. Directions are an easy area to be more intentional. Here's the recent scenario I experienced ... the one that inspired today's post. And I saw that I have a choice in how I behave.

I regularly work with small groups of students and recently, we were working on the "Thankful Thoughts" activity. I found the students were struggling. They didn't know what to do or how to do it. Then I found myself explaining the directions (that I wrote on brightly colored speech bubbles so they couldn't be missed). After all, they are "only 4th graders". And, we didn't have a lot of time. 

And then, I stopped myself ... if I explained this - and allowed myself to make the excuses-  what were they really learning? It was in that moment that rather than explaining the directions, I went back to a routine I had when I was still in the classroom full-time. I told students to read the directions to me. This changes things. It puts the ownership back on them. Forcing them to read it out loud also allows me to gauge if they truly don't know what to do, or if they haven't read it.

This leads me to ask, "Do we give our students a chance to read and follow directions independently or are we doing them a disservice when we spoon feed the directions?" 

With a new calendar quickly approaching, let's be intentional and work toward creating less frustration for ourselves and at the same time, students who can follow directions. When we include directions, let's give our students - no matter how young - the opportunity to read and follow the directions. Independently. Not on everything, but we have to start somewhere. Try it with a lesson or two. Let your students show you what they can do. And then let's work toward letting them fly!

And kudos to those of you who have already learned this lesson and are already on the road to giving your students the space and time to read the directions. Thank you.

Have a question or comment? Feel free to comment below, reach out to me on Twitter @kiefersj, or email me at


  1. This was huge in my classroom. I also added the instruction to stop at the end of each sentence or bullet & clarify if they understood. If yes, move to next, if not, re read. Simple & basic reading skill. Only wish I had done this earlier, such a huge stress reliever & after a while they do it on their own without seeking help...