Pillar 3 Clarity

 3. Clarity

Wlodkowski points out: “People seldom learn what they cannot understand” (p. 52).

He tells us how Albert Einstein, Abraham Maslow and John Dewey were all terrible teachers—they just could not make their ideas clear. I once read a critic who said: “John Dewey and his damned language.”

Wlodkowski gives us some good suggestions on clarity:

  • We need to organize our material with logical connections, as he says: “between each part of our instructional process…so learners follow us from one learning destination to the next” (p. 53). We effectively are constructing a “road map” (p. 53).

  • Make the objective clear at the outset with “a clear introduction…so that students know what they will be learning” (p. 54). Organizing the content so learners can follow it logically to the stated objective is vital. This method will be discussed more under Ausbel’s Advance Organizers (learn by sequencing) in Section Four.

  • “Anticipate the problems learners will have with the material” (p. 54) and try to “create good graphics, examples, analogies and stories to make ideas easier to understand” (p. 56).

  • “Continually use words and descriptions that are familiar to learners….the main goal is to avoid being vague” (p. 55).

  • Use “confirmation checks.” As noted earlier, I find this to be very helpful. Ask learners to repeat back what was just taught using their own words. If you need to go over something again, do so in a non-judgemental, even humorous way so learners are not being implicitly criticized. Don’t be afraid to ask learners if what you just explained was clear and maybe try to get a rhythm of checking back with learners as you go so it becomes a natural part of the teaching-learning dialogue. Learners can even come to anticipate and expect to be asked. This technique can help keep learners engaged and ensure clarity.

  • Develop a way for learners “to comprehend what has been taught if not initially clear” (p. 57). Recognizing that many of our literacy learners will be hesitant to say, “I don’t understand,” here are some useful tips Wlodkowski gives us:

    • Have a stated policy of staying late after class or beyond tutoring time to go over things again.

    • Build a buddy system so learners can check with each other, like the volunteer “energy level observers” described previously. If more than one learner is confused, you can structure a “check back team” of 2 to 3 learners who will listen to concerns of peers during class breaks and then raise those questions on behalf of “unnamed others” when back in the classroom.

    • If literacy levels allow, have learners use a personal journal that they can pass in to you weekly. They can share their impressions, concerns, highlights and criticisms. You can reply in the margins or use their feedback as a one-on-one discussion point in conversation with the learner, if that is comfortable for both of you.