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    by Mike McHugh

Teaching Children To Follow Directions
Date Posted: November 29, 2007

Sooner or later, most teachers will confront students who do not know how to follow directions or who perhaps lack the discipline to pay attention to detailed instructions. In some instances, students exhibit these weaknesses because teachers have failed to place sufficient emphasis on the why and how of following directions, while in other cases students have simply become lazy or careless in their study habits. Regardless of who may be at fault, however, the fact remains that both students and teachers suffer when the specific details of an assignment are ignored or are not followed properly. As any experienced teacher can testify, students who cannot or will not follow directions are prone to frustration, and often end up wasting a great deal of their teacher’s time.

Young people who pass through their elementary and secondary education years without mastering the ability to follow verbal or written instructions will not likely end up being successful in either college or career pursuits. After all, college professors and business managers are not often willing to ignore situations in which young adults under their charge are unwilling or unable to follow detailed directions. For this reason, instructors must never underestimate the importance of teaching students how to follow directions without having to be prodded or threatened.

If you happen to have a student who struggles to follow verbal or written instructions, consider the following suggestions:

  1. Don’t assume that your directions, or those contained within the student’s textbooks are clear.

On at least some occasions, teachers are guilty of assuming that their directions, or those contained in their student’s textbooks, are perfectly clear. The simple but critical point here is, … do not assume, but rather verify! Take steps to insure that each student clearly understands what is expected of them in his assignments. Time must be invested to provide students with clear and concise directions, particularly in cases where the assignment is complex or multifaceted. Wise teachers, after all, will often be able to avoid frustration by inspecting what they expect from their students.

One way of helping to insure that your students truly understand their assignment is to direct them to read their directions outloud to you before they begin, or in the case of verbal directions, to repeat them back to you. Another option in this regard, is for students to write out the directions for each of their assignments in summary fashion on a separate sheet of paper before they begin their work. These procedures are designed to get students into the habit of looking for and clarifying exactly what is expected of them before they proceed to complete their daily assignments. For this reason, students should not need to continue these special procedures for more than a few weeks.

  1. Teachers can and should establish a clear system of rewards and punishments to help motivate students to be more conscientious when following directions.

Students, by nature, tend to be just as careless in how well they listen and respond to directions as most adults. In fact, it may well be that the reason why our culture has so many adults who are virtually incapable of following directions and responding to authority, is that nobody bothered to hold them accountable when they failed to follow directions in their youth. Contrary to the view of some, teachers have a serious duty to confront young people who refuse to pay attention to directions. When teachers neglect to hold their students accountable for their lazy or indifferent attitude toward instruction, they do them a great disservice.

Throughout history diligent teachers have sought to motivate students to follow their directions by consistently rewarding good behavior, while also providing negative sanctions to negligent pupils. Home school instructors in the twenty-first century, also need to establish a system of rewards and punishments so that their children can see how serious they are about helping them to learn how to consistently follow directions.

When young children fail to pay proper attention to directions it may be appropriate, for example, to require them to write out the directions they failed to follow ten times on separate paper. Older students who are not diligent in following directions, should at least be directed to go back and re-work the assignment that they incorrectly completed so that it is done properly.

  1. Put up posters near your student’s study area to remind him of the importance of following directions.

Home educators can help to keep their students focused on the task of following directions by placing posters near their study area. Such posters should contain brief reminders about why or how to follow directions. Pithy statements such as: Stop – Look for Direction – Then Proceed, can be helpful. Parent educators may also find that famous quotes from the past may also work well. One of my personal favorites is from Davy Crockett who once said, “Be sure you are right, then go ahead.”

Teachers can also make their posters somewhat humorous if they so desire. For example, they could draw a picture of a man walking in the woods who is about to step on a bear trap because he didn’t bother to read the warning signs that were posted on a nearby tree. The caption could read, “Don’t proceed without first knowing your way!”

Few skills in life are more important for young people to master than that of following directions with care and diligence. Teachers who take the time to motivate and instruct their students in the art of following directions will be richly rewarded. More importantly, however, such teachers will have the satisfaction of knowing that they have helped to develop a skill in their students that will benefit them throughout their entire lives.

Copyright 2007 Michael J. McHugh

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Biography Information:
This column is written by the staff at Christian Liberty Academy in Arlington Heights, Illinois. As a pioneer in the homeschool movement, Christian Liberty ministries has been operating a full service, K-12 home school program for over thirty years and a Christian textbook ministry (Christian Liberty Press), since 1985. The mission of Christian Liberty is to provide parents with quality, affordable educational products and services that will enable them to teach their children in the home and to train their children to serve Christ in every area of life. A more extensive explanation of the CLASS home school program can be obtained at www.homeschools.org.
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