Differentiate your Instructions

Expecting an immediate response or speedy compliance to teacher instructions requires not just hearing that instruction, but also time to process and understand what is required. What techniques can you use to ensure both understanding and compliance?

In spite of apparently having gained the attention of all pupils in the class group, and being clear in your verbal delivery of any instructions, there will still be some members of the group who appear to:

Have not heard you
Have not understood you
Have chosen to ignore you
Have then gone on to disrupt you
Have gone on to disrupt other class members

This invariably leads to you needing to repeat your instructions, answer constant queries or at worst, have to then manage further behaviour problems relating to, disturbing others, answering back and/or being generally “off task.”

This is not only true of group situations, but can often occur when speaking on a one to one basis with an individual pupil. He or she may not be concentrating on the conversation or may even be having problems in processing the information. Rather than going down the negative route with the pupil and focussing on their reluctance to comply or their apparent failure to hear and understand, it may be necessary to differentiate the manner in which you give the instruction and/or information.

Simple techniques to ensure the pupil has heard and understood what you have said can quickly and easily avert any possible escalation of disruption. Techniques such as:

Tactical ignoring
Take up time
Rephrasing your instructions
Checking for understanding
Involve a third party
Gaining attention

will help pupils get to grips with what is being said and what is expected of them.
As many of us are only too aware, some pupils are just looking for an opportunity to avoid engagement with an activity and will initiate or prolong the whole process by claiming not to have heard or understood.
Here are some practical tips to avoid the inevitable time wasting, questioning, constant reminding and possible challenging or disruptive behaviour.
Gaining attention: If you do not have the attention of the individual pupil, or the group of pupils, then it is unlikely that he/she will either hear or understand what is required. Consider teaching all pupils “how” you will ask for their attention. Your technique should then be taught in just the same way that you would teach any other part of the curriculum.
Teach the skill/technique, check for understanding, give the opportunity to practice the skill, repeat and consistently reinforce the technique.

Take up time/Tactical ignoring: Some pupils may simply need a little extra time to process and apply the instructions they have received. be prepared to give these pupils a small amount of time/leeway to comply rather than expecting an immediate reaction. In some cases it may be necessary to, for a brief moment, to ignore their initial response. This technique of tactical ignoring may seem a rather passive approach and may, if used for an extended period, lead to further disruption and escalation. However to give the pupil a moment or two rather than immediately following up your instruction with a negative comment or “look” will help to maintain a low level approach to your management. It is important not to allow the “Tactical” ignoring to become simply “Ignoring!”

Rephrasing/Checking for understanding: Before giving instructions, think carefully about the phrasing and verbal content. If you use language which the pupil/s cannot understand, or you give the instruction when you have not got their attention, then expect a failure to comply.
Understanding is not simply related to the actual content of the instruction, it is also important to consider physical proximity. It may be necessary for you to move closer to the pupil who is likely to misunderstand before speaking. Also, consider using the pupils name, and even asking them to repeat back what has just been said. For some pupils, the use of key words or phrases and “secret” signals can also help to focus their attention.

Involving a third party: Focussing too much attention on a particular pupil can have a negative effect on their ability to understand and comply. They may view your persistent attention as being too intrusive and feel you are “picking” on them. Try involving others at crucial times, i.e. Check for understanding with other pupils in the group even though you are confident they have heard and understood.

Finally to fully reinforce any of the above tips and techniques, it is important to use positive recognition with any pupils who are having difficulty with complying to instructions. Pupils who do listen to, demonstrate an understanding and respond to instructions should receive  reinforcement via your positive praise and reward. A simple “Well done,” or “Thanks,” even a thumbs up will help to reinforce and differentiate your instructions.

2 thoughts on “Differentiate your Instructions

    • Hello Lilian

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