I’ve occasionally been asked what one piece of advice I’d give to all teachers. It’s a daunting question. Truth be told, I’d want to mention a dozen or so core areas that work together to create a productive, well-behaved classroom.
However, there is one thing that by itself may have the greatest impact. The reason, quite simply, is that it addresses a mistake I see being made by the largest number of teachers.
The mistake is this:
Failing to teach lessons, routines, rules, and expectations or anything else for that matter with enough detail. Most teachers just don’t go far enough, deep enough, or explicit enough. But to be maximally effective, you must go the extra mile (or two) and focus on the nitty-gritty details.
It’s the ‘how’ of high expectations.
In the educational world, we often hear about high expectations and why it’s important to have them, but there is very little talk about how to actually get students to reach those expectations. The answer is highly detailed teaching. It’s to break down everything you want your students to be able to do or know into their smallest components.
In this way, by building one detail (and success) upon another, you’re able to guide your class to whatever academic and behavioral high bar you set.
It leaves no question as to what it takes to succeed.
In many, many classrooms, students have no idea of how to become better students other than to “work hard,” which is difficult for them to conceptualize.
Details—taught, modeled, and practiced—provide a road map.
They eliminate confusion and leave no question as to what needs to be done to get from where they are now to where they want to be (or where you want them to be).
It builds confidence.
By focusing on details, you’re able to make the most challenging and complex subjects, concepts, and assignments doable for all students, which builds confidence like nothing else.
For every time you prove to them that they can do something difficult, that they didn’t think they could do, you empower them with genuine belief in themselves and their abilities.
Knowing that they can isn’t just half the battle, it is without a doubt the most critical ingredient to success.
Most teachers I observe tend to focus on the big picture. They linger on broad conceptual whats and whys because they assume that smaller, fact-heavy details are boring.
But the opposite is true. Details are inherently interesting and where you’ll find one of the secrets to making your instruction a magnet for students.
For the most part, the big picture is best left for them to draw their own conclusions about, whereas details inspire fascination and the desire to learn more and more and more.
It causes careful, attentive, and fully independent work.
Details best prepare students to perform independently because they remove all fears, concerns, and questions over what, specifically, they need to do to succeed.
Knowing every in and out ahead of time causes students to attack their work with tenacity and become truly and fully independent.
The result is silent concentration—or excited collaboration if doing group work—and the wonderful feeling of flow, where time speeds up and students become lost in their work.
It transfers to everything they do.
Mining the details of each lesson cause students to become detail-oriented themselves. It’s a trait that grows day by day into a habit you’ll notice them applying to whatever they do.
It’s also a success skill few of them have or will ever attain without someone like you to instill it within them.
But once they have it, once they embrace its value, they’ll carry it with them well beyond the time they spend in your classroom and on into the rest of their lives.
It keeps students far away from misbehavior and failure.
As mentioned before, detailed teaching allows you to raise the bar of excellence to heights previously unknown by your students and well past what most teachers consider acceptable.
Done right, which we’ll be sure to cover in future articles, this all but guarantees their success.
It keeps the distance between them and failure and them and misbehavior far, far away, resulting in a peaceful, productive classroom.
Highly detailed teaching develops strong intrinsic motivation because doing anything well feels good and causes students to want more and more of it, which is the most powerful force you can ever bring about in your classroom thus, preparing your students to devour whatever you put in front of them should be your number one goal for each lesson.