Tuesday / June 25

Finding the Teacher Clarity You’re Looking For

Looking for something that has the potential to increase students’ learning, but doesn’t take a heavy lift to accomplish?

If so, you might be interested in teacher clarity.

On John Hattie’s list of influences, teacher clarity is fairly high on the list. The effect size is .75—well above the average influence of .40. In other words, it should accelerate student learning.

Teacher clarity has a number of parts, each of which are important. Teacher clarity is not new; it’s just neglected. Here’s a definition from 2009: “Clarity, then, is the teacher’s ability to present knowledge in a way that students can understand” (Simonds, p. 279). And here’s a definition from a few years before that: “A state in which a teacher who is in command of the subject matter to be transmitted is able to do that which is required to communicate with learners successfully” (Hines, 1981, p. 88).

We have identified three aspects of teacher clarity in our work that seem to ensure better and more learning.

First, does the teacher know what students need to learn?

This requires an understanding of the grade level or content area expectations. In addition, it requires that the teachers know their students’ current level of performance or understanding. There is no reason to focus instructional minutes on things students have already learned. It’s a waste of time. When teachers know what students need to learn (including what they already know), they can focus instruction on the gaps and thus are more likely to impact overall learning.

Second, teachers communicate learning expectations to students.

The learning intentions for the day should be clear and communicated directly to students. Students should not have to guess what they are learning on a given day; their teachers should tell them. That does not mean that the lesson has to start with the learning intention. Some lessons, especially as students move into deep learning, require students to engage with ideas and content before the teacher reveals the learning intention. Regardless of where it occurs in the lesson, students deserve to know what they are expected to learn. After all, their teachers are going to judge that learning and give grades that can open or close doors to future opportunities, including university admissions.

Third, teachers and students should know what success looks like.

It’s not enough to have learning intentions. Success criteria communicate the depth of learning required, as well as the ways in which learning will be accomplished. In essence, the success criteria foreshadow for students what they will be able to do as a result of the learning experiences. They also invite students to accept the challenge of learning and focus their attention to the tasks at hand.

When teachers and students know what needs to be learned and what success looks like, learning experiences can be designed and impact of those learning experiences can be determined. A lesson without a clear learning intention and success criterion tend to focus students on the task at hand rather than the learning to be accomplished. And lessons without clear learning intentions and success criteria tend to wander and lack focus. In both cases, learning is likely compromised. When the opposite is true, learning is accelerated. Teacher clarity is worth our attention and time.

Our students deserve nothing less.

Written by

Douglas Fisher, Ph.D., is Professor of Educational Leadership at San Diego State University and a teacher leader at Health Sciences High & Middle College. He is the recipient of an IRA Celebrate Literacy Award, NCTE’s Farmer Award for Excellence in Writing, as well as a Christa McAuliffe Award for Excellence in Teacher Education. He has published many books with Corwin, including This is Balanced Literacy (publishing this September), PLC+: Better Decisions and Greater Impact by Design, The Teacher Clarity Gradebook, Grades K-12, and Engagement by Design: Creating Learning Environments Where Students Thrive. You can find his other published works with Corwin here.

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