Just Teach!!

Featured Image: USC Rossier School of Education 

Just Teach?

What do I mean?  On my travels I see a lot of lessons where I find myself wanting to say this to the teacher.  Sometimes Just Teach! is the essence of my feedback.

It has two meanings.

1. Keep it Simple:

Just Teach means that you teach students something they don’t know – or don’t know how to do – and then check they know it/can do it.   That might sound ridiculously rudimentary but it’s amazing how far from that basic idea some lessons can meander.

Sometimes, it is not clear what students are meant to be learning; what they should know or be able to do as a result of the lesson. Very often, all kinds of convoluted activities get in the way – excessive worksheets or fussy information transfer activities or busy activities with vague learning objectives.

Sometimes there’s just not nearly enough direct explanatory input or enough modelling – simply showing or telling students what they should know.  Teachers can default to a weird kind of guessing routine – asking students what they think all the time, even when the material is completely new and they have no idea what to say.

Sometimes there are not enough questions to check for understanding (see this whole post for ideas about doing this well.) Teaching should usually be a two-way process: send and receive.

Just Teach means – keep focused on the basics.  Explain, model, question, guide the practice, give feedback.  It means, be the source, the knowledge-driver, the questioner, the person who shares their wisdom and makes complex ideas simple through the power of explanation.  (See Great Lessons: Explaining).  It means don’t forget how much of a source of knowledge you are: use it.

2. Express Yourself: Tell your stories.

Here Just Teach means – don’t be inhibited by your checklist, your rubric, your fear that you’re not doing following the rules, your concerns about differentiation, the empty columns in your markbook, the assessment criteria, the looming test…… just tell your story about the material in hand, in a way that you yourself find inspiring.

Just Teach means – share the narrative; your narrative; your expert narrative: this is how Shelley represents Victor; this is how the Ideal Gas equation is derived (a fab bit of physics); this is how you prove this really neat circle theorem; this is how to create beautiful art in this medium; this is how DNA replicates; this is one theory of why the English Civil War started ….. Stories, Narratives, Explanations.  All the ideas about your subject that you love, told in a way that conveys the reason you love them.

Telling our curriculum stories IS teaching.   And you usually need to tell quite a few before your students are ready to write and tell their own.

Just Teach!

In both senses, Just Teach is a call to clear out the clutter; to focus on the main process in hand: Teaching leading to learning. Responsive teaching leading to deeper learning.

It’s not the only thing you do – obviously – but if you Just Teach it can take you a long long way.


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