One Saturday morning my wife and I went to the community center to watch 2 teams of 8 year old boys play basketball. Watching 8 year old boys do almost anything is fun. For me, listening to what their fathers say during the game is at least as interesting. A father sitting behind us would say the same thing each time his son's team made a mistake. He would plead with them "Come on you guys, play smarter!!!!!!" I wondered if any boy on that team knew what he meant by that. I'm confident they heard him but I am equally confident that the words carried no meaning to them. To say 'play smarter' sounds good but it is too vague to most people, especially little boys. That type of counsel is incapable of moving people forward and helping the process of learning.
In the book Teach Like a Champion author Doug Lemov tells of a time he was playing soccer and while on defense the coach would continually yell, "Defense, you guys, defense." Then he says, "We were pretty aware that we were on defense, though, and also pretty aware we weren't playing it especially well." Then he got another coach who broke down the art of defense into six understandable, sequential steps. During practice the coach would work the boys through the steps. Then, in a game the coach would remind them of the steps with just a few words and the boys knew what those words meant and would adjust accordingly.
Teaching students how to be members of a class and how things are done in the classroom takes time, but far less time if we are able to put things in a series of steps, or practices that will quickly enhance the learning experience. Here is one example for the way we could begin class: when I teach a class I want students to come into the classroom and before they sit down I want them to have three things. I want them to have their books, a notebook to write in and something to write with. The first week of school I will remind them constantly not to sit down until they have their things. Some years I would create a little acronym for them to remember, something like "BBP" (book, binder, pencil) or "BNP" (book, notebook, pen). It didn't matter what it was as long as it urged them, and reminded them, to be ready as they sat down. It was a concrete step for them to follow.
Students get annoyed when I say, "Why aren't you ready for class?" It isn't enough to say, "Get ready." In order to be effective and to give them some way to measure their readiness, I have to give them solid, meaningful steps.
Concrete steps work in a lot of different situations in class. If I am going to put the students in small groups I can't just say, "Get together and talk about this." That is a recipe for disaster. I have to give them something to think about, give them time to think about it and formulate a response, then put them in groups and appoint a leader, and tell them what I want them to do with the thoughts they have just had and how to work together on it. Finally I have to tell them what type of outcome I am looking for from the group and how much time they have to accomplish the objective. In the beginning of doing small groups I would even write the steps down and give them to each student. They could then see step one, step two, and so on and follow along. After not much time they would know how to do things and could follow the steps and have a much better experience.
Setting it up like is initially time consuming, but the result is so much better. Students do better with structure. Classes run smoother with structure. The teacher needs to lead the way to create that structure in the classroom.