Teacher clarity is one of the most effective learning interventions; John Hattie (2009) describes it as teacher behaviors that are key to empowering students to engage in learning by clearly understanding what they are learning, why they are learning it, and what is expected to demonstrate what they have learned. Tony Frontier (2021) recommends that we acknowledge the clutter that surrounds administrators, teachers, and students before we can address teacher clarity. For example, when planning a lesson, teachers of multilingual learners (MLs) are expected to consider the content standards, language development standards, content objectives, language objectives, translanguaging skills, oracy skills, assessment, curriculum, comprehensible input, language stages, scaffolding, differentiation, social-emotional learning, brain-based strategies, language acquisition strategies, engagement, classroom management, technology, distance learning, and equity. I am sure there are several more we can add to the list to acknowledge that the expectations for teachers of MLs are cluttered and can lead to teachers who feel stretched too thin, very busy, overworked, and not effective.
Teachers feel overwhelmed, and the disconnect between effort and result is exacerbated by trying to do too much in little time. Greg McKeown, a popular author with Harvard Business Review, has coined the term “essentialist” for someone who “deliberately distinguishes the vital few from the trivial many, eliminates the nonessentials, and then removes obstacles so the essential things have clear, smooth passage” (2014, p. 7). An essentialist is in constant pursuit of “less but better,” which aligns with Frontier’s urgent call to action to “prioritize our efforts around a manageable number of non-negotiable constraints” (p 22). Frontier emphasizes that the first step toward improving teacher clarity is to choose clarity by prioritizing a shared purpose and process that is aligned between administrators, teachers, and students. When there is a consistent shared purpose and process, then administrators, teachers, and students can collectively understand what will be taught and learned, why it will be taught and learned, and what students will be expected to do to demonstrate what was taught and learned. It makes sense that when administrators and teachers work toward clarity, teachers have a common focus and use success criteria to explain expectations as they model an effective lesson. But the question remains: Will it be enough for all students?
What choices can administrators and teachers of multilingual learners make to prioritize learning experiences for students acquiring an academic language while simultaneously accessing grade-level content knowledge? More programs, more assessments, more initiatives, more professional development, more coaching, and more equity training are too many choices that add to the clutter. Choosing to select from the clutter to determine a collective purpose is one step toward teaching and learning with clarity. Teacher clarity will transpire when a system of practice is used to prioritize what is essential for administrators, teachers, and students to be able to focus on less with much better results (Hattie, 2009; Frontier, 2021). One strategy to begin the process to shift from clutter to clarity is called P-I-E. The strategy is a thinking process to prioritize what is to be learned, identify why it is being learned, and explain how learning will be demonstrated. Gain collective clarity by using P-I-E during planning meetings to design learning experiences, during lessons to clarify expectations for students, and after lessons to improve the progression toward teacher clarity. Teacher clarity is not a destination; it is a journey.
Shift from Clutter to Clarity using P-I-E:
Prioritize what students need to understand: Teachers who understand the standards and their students’ needs (cognitive, emotional, and linguistic) can prioritize the learning of content concepts or nouns from the standards.
Identify the skill level: Why are students learning the content concept? The skill level or verb in the standard explains the cognitive application of the concept in order to clarify if students will identify, analyze, evaluate or summarize the content concepts.
Explain the success criteria using “TWRLS”: Explicitly plan for how students will have opportunities to apply their Thinking, Writing, Reading, Listening, and Speaking skills (or TWRLS) to demonstrate what they have learned.
Frontier, A.C. (2021). Teaching with clarity: How to prioritize and do less so students understand more. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Hattie, J. A.C. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. New York, NY: Routledge.
McKeown, G. (2014). Essentialism: The disciplined pursuit of less. New York, NY: Crown