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How to explain something

Our focus this term in literacy is transactional writing. So we're looking at writing recounts, reports, instructions and explanations. All as part of an integrated science unit, in which students are selecting, designing, testing and creating science fair projects.

Today we looked at explanations. After about 20 minutes of writing, recording some structural and language features, I showed a number of videos - asking students to identify the key features of an explanation.

Started with this:

Then moved on to this:

There was much mirth as the students viewed this one, and they were quickly able to point out where the explanation totally missed the point.

I pointed out to students, that in her mind, the explanation she was giving made sense. She doesn't pay attention to the key fact that will help her explain the concept, or that defines the explanation.

She did however uses several scientific sounding features to explain and back up her point. All of which is to no avail, because she misses the key bit of information.

I shared this with a fellow teacher during the afternoon, and realised that while it's easy to laugh at Chelsea Chambers, how often do we assume that our students 'get' the key concept.

How often do we miss the gaps in their learning, because we can't see or don't notice the key bit the student doesn't grasp.

How often do we ask the questions that will help our students make clear their own thinking. For themselves, and for us as their teachers.

To explain something requires us not only to speak clearly, but to step into our student's perspective as much as possible. We need to be able to see the bits they don't get.

How often do we do that?

How often do we stop and check our own explanations?

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