Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Making Sure the Message Gets Through

A mere 45 years ago, I was on my high school debate team. I still remember the wonderful lady who was our coach. At the first meeting of the season, she said something that I have never forgotten: “When you say something, you know exactly what you mean so it sounds clear as glass to you. However, no one else can see inside of your head so even the simplest message can slip by your listeners as they try to catch up with and organize your words. Always remember, there are three steps in getting your message across to your audience: tell them what you are going to tell them, then tell it to them, and then tell them what you told them.”

I think every teacher could benefit from that guidance. We often say something that sounds as clear as glass to us and then wonder why our students fail to comprehend.

When I started to write my Financial Accounting textbook (for, I was disturbed by how poorly students seem to understand what they had read. I wanted to get beyond that. It is certainly no secret that students often pay a lot of money for textbooks that they don’t even open. This has got to be one of the real weaknesses at the heart of our educational system. However, would you invest a couple of hours of your time reading stuff that you didn’t understand?

I really, really want students to read and understand my textbook before they walk into class. So, I used the advice of my debate teacher. I decided to tell them what I was going to tell them, then tell it to them, and then tell them what I told them. I felt that if the overall reading experience became successful then students would be more likely to do the reading. And, education always improves if students are prepared when they come to class.

I thought about this for a very long time. Eventually, I decided to start each chapter with a video where I would spend a few minutes introducing and “selling” the chapter to the students. “Here is what you are going to read in this chapter and here is why it will be worth your time.” Not everyone believes that reading about intangible assets is worth a couple of their hours. I wanted to show them why it might well be.

Of course, I am hoping that they will then actually be intrigued and read the chapter. I am also hoping that the introductory video will help them key in on the important materials and gain a better grasp as they read.

Finally, I close each chapter with a different type of video. I ask the students to pick out the five most important things within each chapter and then I review my own personal countdown for them. It is obviously a way to review but I think the process of evaluation is a great way to encourage students to reflect on the material in the chapter. That kind of reflection has to help them solidify their understanding even before the first class meeting.

In your own teaching, especially if you feel that the students are not picking up the messages well enough, you might want to ponder how you can tell them what you are going to tell them, then tell it to them, and then tell them what you told them. That added redundancy might be just the ticket to make your message much easier for the students to grasp and appreciate.

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