One of the most popular stories at the website of Education Week last week was a column by an instructional coach in Illinois named Lisa Westman. In it, she detailed the “4 Phrases All Teachers Say, And No Students Understand.”


The phrases Westman indicts?

  • “Behave”

  • “Work in your groups”

  • “Study”

  • “Finish your work”

Our teachers this week added to that list. Elaine Jardon, a middle school math teacher, says it hardly ever goes well when she tells kids: “Show your work.”

“I usually just get kids writing numbers in little thought bubbles on their paper,” she says. “Though what I really want is to see their logical chain of thought.”

David Muhammad, a high school government and international relations teacher, says something seemingly straightforward rarely is: “Put down your phones.” Seems students literally put them down below their desk. “And they can text without looking at it,” he says.

LuAnn Fox, a high school AP English teacher, has more theoretical problems. “We have lots of discussions about rigor. And my kids, I think, just understand rigor to be more. More work, more stuff to do. And it’s not about a deeper understanding,” she says.

Both Westman (at her website) and our teachers offer tips for being more concrete with your instructions in class. Elaine, for instance, suggests doing a Looks Like/Sounds Like brainstorm and writing good behaviors down on a T-chart before putting kids to work. And if kids get off task, she says, “I can just point back to the chart we made.”

LuAnn, though, haves philosophical advice: “I’ve been doing this more than 20 years, and you think you have it all down and know how it’s going to go. And it turns out they do something where you think, ‘My gosh, I’m not ready for that,” she says.

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