Why Blog

I’m passionate about finding ways to simplify comprehension instruction and learning. I’m concerned that we are defining comprehension too narrowly as an accumulation of five or six meta-cognitive strategies when cultivating comprehension involves so much more than that. We need to help children acquire accurate fluent reading skills and strategies; build background knowledge; develop their oral language and vocabulary; make reading-writing connections, and acquire a repertoire of meta-cognitive strategies to use as and if needed.

So I invite you to join me in blogging about this ever-so-important topic. I look forward to hearing your ideas, teaching strategies, book recommendations, classroom stories, etc., basically anything that will inspire a healthy conversation among colleagues.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Some Explicit Teaching Guidelines

I like to hang out at PS 54, an exemplary elementary school in the South Bronx, where the teachers and administrators are forever pushing my thinking. In fact, being there is like having ready access to a great big bowl of mind-candy with an “Eat up!” sign taped to the side. And, believe me, I partake. (I only hope the teachers I work with learn as much from me as I learn from them.)

At the moment, the school’s literacy coach, several K-3 teachers, and I are thinking through a fairy tale and folk tale unit and will use traditional tales to demonstrate main idea (in this case "theme"), noting important details, and story grammar (character, setting, problem, etc.)  

In addition, I want to help teachers consider ways to be more explicit in their teaching. I want us all to become better at letting children in on what we’re thinking and demonstrating, and what students themselves should be doing throughout the lesson—instead of only focusing on directly teaching the focus skills and strategies. As I see it, although the terms are often used interchangeably, there’s a real difference between direct instruction and explicit teaching. Direct instruction means that you’ve decided to teach something head on rather than have students uncover the information, skills, or strategies themselves. Explicit teaching has to do with the delivery of a lesson and how to make our thinking clear to students and keep them on track.

Here are some explicit teaching guidelines:

1.    Identify what you want to accomplish. You can’t reach your objective if you don’t clearly know what it is.

2.    Tell the students what you’ve planned and why so that it both makes sense to them and is meaningful. (See January 9th blog post.)

3.    Build on the context you and your students have created. Whenever possible refer to what you and the students know and have experienced together, e.g., “you remember yesterday when we…, it’s like when Carlos said…, what I’m showing you now is similar to what we did when we read…”

4.    Speak simply and honestly with students. Don’t beat around the bush or turn the lesson into a series of numbing questions and answers. Tell students what they need to know, and ask questions only when you genuinely need an answer, so you can attend to the point you’re making.

5.    Be explicit with students throughout the lesson, not just at the beginning. Explicit teaching involves more than just telling kids up front what you will do, what they will do, and why. It involves clearing a path for them all through the lesson so that they stay focused and don’t get sidetracked.

6.    Connect, connect, connect—one idea to another, one book to another, lessons that came before to what you’re doing now or what will come later.

7.    Bring the lesson full circle by restating what you’ve shown them—what you’ve said you’d show them at the start of the lesson. Invite them to try this strategy out as they read on their own, but don’t expect young children to follow through without plenty of additional guided practice.

As I write these guidelines, I’m fully aware that they’re easier to write than to implement. However, this is something to work toward, to eventually become better at. It’s important to be explicit.


  1. This is such a powerful reminder for me. I find myself drifting away at time from explicit teaching to direct teaching - YIKES! - without even knowing it. It's the CONNECT, CONNECT, CONNECT part that I need to slow down on and let happen. I've been so rushed lately to move on that I blur over the connections my kids are making between prior learning and what we're uncovering now. Thanks for the reminder to SLOW DOWN.

  2. you can count on me to remind folks to slow down—i'm the slow-down queen! and it's a tough spot for us slow folks to be in when everything and everyone around us is moving crazy fast.

  3. I love your blog. It is like being at one of your workshops. No, it is even better because I get to participate and learn from you every day!
    Thanks, so much, Sharon.

  4. thanks judy...wish we lived closer but this works for now!