How Do You Give #Directions? - The Medium is the Message (Part 1)

What do you do when your directions are the barrier between your students understanding or not understanding how to do something? It's a good question to think about.

Several years ago, there was a study conducted by California State University (Heyward). Students were given two sets of directions and asked to perform the same task. The first set of directions contained detailed text based instructions. The second set contained text directions with visual representations. Students performing tasks with the visual representations with text instructions performed better.

It reminds me of the late Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan, who argued that the medium affects the way that we absorb information. In other words, the “medium is the message.” If we are striving to make lessons accessible to ALL students, then we may have to rethink the ways that we provide instructions. I've talked about how I have addressed this topic a few times, but I would like to devote a series to helping students understand directions. Understand? LOL.

Biology + Art = Understanding:

A good friend of mine, Denny Moore, is a Biology teacher at the Milton Hershey School. He is blessed with the ability to take a complicated concept and make it easy to understand through visual representations. Recently he shared with me a few modifications that he was making to help his Supportive Biology students complete a complicated lab that was required by the curriculum.

First, prior to the lab, students read through the directions to the lab and would color code important words that appeared in a "New Terms" word bank. Denny would explain the terms and then have students color code these terms. For example, every time that they would see the word "diffusion," they would have to draw a green box around it.

Second, Denny rewrote the directions to contain "visual" representations for the students to understand tools they should be using, ways they should be mixing chemicals, how they should store solutions, etc.  As they would go through the lab, they are able to connect background knowledge with new knowledge through visual and text directions.


Denny has been doing this for years in all of his classes, but it is starting to gain some much needed attention. Why? Because the "medium is the message." We need to start thinking beyond whether we need to make modifications to directions because a student may or may not have a learning disability. We need to start thinking about the ways the communicate directions to students based on how they learn. Are they visual, kinestetic, or auditory?

In other words, how do you give directions? Are they the barrier or the access point to learning and growth? Check out some more creative ways to give directions in my next few installments. 

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