Assessing Students’ Ability to Follow Directions

I find directions to be tedious and unnecessary.  When crafting furniture purchased from IKEA, I can’t understand the limited directions provided and so I usually figure out how to construct the piece on my own.  This of course generally results in me incorrectly assembling it.  Sometimes, the directions are too specific or confusing and so I end up choosing one step to start with instead of trying to problem solve and critically analyze the instructions.  I almost never follow all of the steps for instructions when building something as step one seems like a waste of time: Inspect all parts to be sure you have all necessary materials.  While this is clearly a critical step, I always skip it.  This of course has lead me to build something and then find that I’m missing a part.  That’s very frustrating.  You think that I would have learned by now the importance of following directions.  But no, I haven’t.  I still skip steps, ignore directions, and generally do my own thing when building something store bought.  I should really practice what I preach in the classroom.

In the sixth grade, we emphasize the importance of following directions.  However, we don’t grade or assess our students on this objective.  After today’s quick Exit Ticket activity in STEM Class, I’m beginning to rethink my stance on that.  I purposely crafted an assessment regarding inequalities with one specific instruction: When finished, turn into the teacher and use the app Sumdog on your iPad.  Simple enough directions.  I did not explain how to complete the assessment, but instead reminded the boys of the importance of following directions.  I said, “Be sure to closely read and follow the directions.”  Three quarters of the students did not read the instructions and didn’t know what to do when they finished.  I had to remind them all to read the directions.  This was very frustrating.

I’ve also found that the students are not reading and following directions regarding their assigned math unit either.  Instead of just reading and discussing with a partner the practice questions in each lesson, they are completing all of the sample questions in their Math Notebook.  This is wasting their time and preventing them from progressing through the unit.  This too is very frustrating as I remind them every day to read and follow the directions on their Haiku page.

I’ve tried to emphasize the importance of reading and following directions to no avail.  I modelled the process once in class.  This didn’t seem to help.  So, I feel as though I have only one option remaining to hit home the purpose of directions: I will add the objective of effectively following directions to the next assessment or project and see what happens.  Will they more carefully complete the work because they know they are being graded on following the directions?  Or will grading them on this new objective not make any difference in the outcome?  At this point, I’m willing to try anything.


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