Telling Isn’t Teaching

Dinner with my childhood friend (who happens to teach third grade) inevitably turns to a discussion about this year’s “interesting” kid.  Zoe, who appears to have severe ADHD and a knack for enthusiastically engaging anything that moves, is Lisa’s 2012 Velcro kid.  Lisa was exhausted by September 8th and, of course, by Oct 1st Zoe had Lisa “wrapped around her finger”.   She still wears Lisa out, but now (with a relationship) there is warmth in her smile when Lisa details the exhaustion.   Like me, Lisa is intrigued by the challenging ones.

The main concern now is the learning of the other students.  It seems Zoe is fueled by the response her zaniness begets from her peers.  While Lisa is working with individual students, Zoe is trying to perform her clever stand-up routine.  And so now Zoe is carefully located two feet from her teacher in hopes that everyone can get to work with an intervention of proximity.   “I told her four times that this was not the time to talk”, Lisa said.  “It’s like I never said a thing!”

Well…….I’ve heard the same thing from so many teachers.  “I told them”, they say, believing that the job was done since everything was out on the table.  This statement is made about homework when there are incompletes and binder organization when papers are missing.   Transparency is cool, but it isn’t enough for kids like Zoe.

The problem is…….telling isn’t teaching. 

Most teachers post their classroom expectations.  Savvy ones allow kids to help create the details.    The most skilled teachers I know take it to the next level by teaching what they expect and reteaching periodically. 

Teaching expectations for all of your activities

The factors to consider regarding your expectations will be limited to a few issues. Expectations around these issues will vary, depending on the activity.  They will likely revolve around the following:

  1. Conversation:  How much and what type of conversation among students is allowed?
  2. Help:  How are students to request help? What should they do while they are waiting for help?
  3. Activity:  What is the activity, task, or assignment students will be engaged in? What is its purpose? What is the expected end product?
  4. Movement:  How much and under what circumstances can students move about?
  5. Participation:  What student behaviors will show active and responsible participation in the activity? What student behaviors will show lack of appropriate participation in the activity?

Being clear about what you want to see during each of your activities will be vital.  Most often, teachers are not clear for themselves.  If this is true, how do we expect kids to know what to do?  When asked what they expect during independent work, many teachers might respond something like this (exaggerated to humor us, but you get the point):

  • Conversation:    I want them engaged and working.  They can talk, but not too loudly.
    • Loud means no more than  four or five  kids at once, whispering
    • Or two kids talking quietly; or three kids talking without arguing
    • Unless I am in a bad mood, in which case they should be quiet enough that I don’t get irritated
  • Help:    If they need help, they should come to my desk.
    • Unless I am working with a student, then they should raise their hand and wait, but they shouldn’t have their hand up too long, unless I am distracted
    • I will get back to them as soon as I can
    • Unless we run out of time; and then I will get back to them when I remember

Steps to teaching expectations for activities

  1.  Make a list of the varied activities
  2.  Determine what you expect for each issue (conversation, help, activity, movement, participation
  3.  Consider using a matrix to organize the information
  4.  Create a graphic for each activities
  5. Teach the graphic before activities     Acknowledge kids doing the right thing
  6.   Monitor how well it is going by observing students during an activity


These techniques are great for your Velcro kids; your independent kids;  all of your kids. I’ve used these tips effectively with my openly belligerent Pug (who acts like a furry Napoleon) and fiercely independent husband (who hates doing dishes).

Knowing what you want, teaching what you expect and acknowledging when you see it is a step toward greater independence for you and them. For Zoe and Lisa , it could be a “game-changer”.   It keeps teachers  “honest”.    It keeps kids  “honest”.    It helps them build self-control, self-regulation and is probably even related to world peace and the reversal of global warming.

If you play with the data long enough.



CHAMPing in High School by wyork

Example of Expectations “CHAMP”ed by Colleen Hardy 

Safe and Civil Schools



Is CHAMPS evidence based?

Evidence of efficacy


One thought on “Telling Isn’t Teaching

  1. Pingback: CHAMPS with Special Education Teachers | mpnENGAGED

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s