They Should Already Know How to Do That

November 8, 2023

A Quick Story

I have no phonemic awareness. Zero. I have no idea what letters are supposed to sound like in words. I can’t sound out words. In fact, I was saying ‘Hermione’ from Harry Potter wrong for years before I met someone else who read the books and said her name correctly.

I’m not really sure what happened. I make the joke that I must have just missed the lesson on letter sounds every single year in elementary school. But, I think it is more that I read so much as a kid and never had to say words out loud, that I just learned to make-do as I read.

What’s Your Point?

I tell you this story to showcase how someone who others may consider “smart” may not have the prior knowledge we assume. As an instructional designer, I often hear my subject matter experts say “well students should know how to do that already,” or “well they should have learned that in undergrad.”

But, what if your students did learn it, but they never mastered it?

This mindset leads SMEs to write their assignment instructions generically with little to no additional guidance. For example, “write a literature review on the topic of x.” These assumptions and lack of directions in assignment instructions leads to frustration from the student AND the instructor. The student may not fully grasp the prior knowledge needed to succeed and the instructor’s expectations will not be met since no additional guidance was provided.

Students can’t meet expectations that aren’t communicated to them.

What You Can Do

Before writing assignment instructions, think about the vast amounts of prior knowledge that your students will have coming into the course. Consider where students have struggled in the past, where they may need additional guidance, and try to make connections.

Provide additional guidance on assignments with a rubric and/or specific expectations. This allows students to understand your definition of a certain task and meet your expectations, leading students to succeed.

Provide detailed instructions for how to do certain tasks, even if students should have learned how to do it previously. They may have forgotten the steps or may need more information to succeed.

Provide examples to students that either you have created or previous students have submitted (with their permission, of course).

What are some ways you ensure that your students succeed?

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