Read and follow directions!


Today I had a realization that I way too often take away my students' opportunities to read and interpret directions. In most cases I have them read the directions for a problem or an activity and then I restate them in a step by step order so that they will "do it right." (Please don't judge me! I teach algebra from a problem-based curriculum and my intention is just to get them going in the right direction...) we were doing an activity where we had 4 sets of data that all had a mean of 20. They were given 3 different ways to measure the amount that the data spread from the mean. (The activity talks about 3 different students and their ideas about how to measure the spread of the data...range, adding the differences from the mean, or one other method where they just needed to follow steps!) The 2nd and 3rd methods totally threw them for a loop (even though there was an example to go by). So...I gave them about 5 minutes to get started and noticed as I walked around that most of the papers were COMPLETELY BLANK. They kept saying..."Mrs. Owens I need help." "Mrs. Owens will you come show me how to do it?" "I don't know what to do!" Today I replied to all of this with, "I'm not helping you! Follow the directions!" Then they asked me why I was yelling at them to which I answered that they have to quit sitting there during their "work time" waiting on me to go over the problems with the class. They should make an effort. Read and follow the directions!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Try it first!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 

Ok...sorry about all the ranting. I can not fully explain this to you without telling the directions they were supposed to follow. They were supposed to take off the lowest and the highest data items and then fine the ONE data ITEM that was the farthest from the mean and assign that number (difference from the mean) as the spread. The directions were very specific. Almost every student did fine taking out the lowest and the highest but they were doing some crazy stuff with what was left. Some were averaging the data items that were left, some were adding together their differences from the mean, yada yada yada... They were getting so frustrated that I wouldn't TELL them what to do. I would just ask questions like, "Does it tell you to find the mean?" To which they would say, "I don't know." And I would say, "Read the directions!!" So...I finally had a couple of students start to figure it out and when they did they were all mad saying stuff like, "We did all that math and working it out and we didn't have to?!?!" And I said..."All you had to do was FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS!"

I take full responsibility for my students' dependence on me to "reread" and "reword" directions. I will do better!

Author Profile

Teri Owens

Teri Owens

I am an algebra teacher at Etowah High School in Attalla, Alabama.

18 stories


Kimberley Constable Kimberley Constable @hecticteacher 1 year ago
I feel your pain!
Even as a non maths teacher it can be really frustrating that students don't read the instructions/directions and just wait for me to go through it.
Flora RH Richards Flora RH Richards @cupacoco 1 year ago
Good luck! Yes, developing students' abilities with actually engaging to the instructions. I use 3 Before Me - Book Brain Buddy then Boss.
This does prevent some of the extraneous and unnecessary questions.
Teri Owens Teri Owens @towens 1 year ago
Thank you for sharing my pain @hecticteacher! @cupacoco I do often go to a group where someone has his/her hand up and ask someone else what the person's question is. If the other group members don't know the question then that person didn't discuss it with the group before raising his/her hand. That works great at times! Today EVERYONE just sat there and claimed they couldn't figure it out. I love the "3 Before Me" strategy and will most definitely borrow it!
Tom Bennison Tom Bennison @tbennison 1 year ago
I definitely experience the same with my classes. And unfortunately this leads to them struggling to read a mathematical text for themselves at say A-Level or degree level. I should do better too!
Stephen Lockyer Stephen Lockyer @mrlockyer 1 year ago
Sometimes my students can have learned helplessness too. I use a rule of thumb that if 3 students ask, probably twice that are unsure.
Gary Henderson Gary Henderson @garyhendy 1 year ago
Like @towens I love using C3B4Me
Its hard work to get students used to it but over time the start to realize they need to try to solve their own problems first and only once they have tried a few techniques should they resort to asking the teacher.
David Rogers David Rogers @davidrogers 1 year ago
I share you pain here. I often wonder if my expectations are high enough in Year 7. I try to get students to re-write the instructions
{{ modalTitle }} {{{ modalData }}} {{ modalTitle }} {{{ modalData }}} Join the conversation
Sign in or sign up to post comments, follow colleagues, recommend stories and build your own professional profile.
Staffrm is the professional network for educators passionate about their work.
Please Sign In {{ modalData }} Sign In