Explicit instruction is a teaching practice that evidence says makes a difference. In this video, Darcie Clarke explains how she uses explicit instruction in her science lessons.
Watch Explicit instruction in science | Australian Education Research Organisation on YouTube.

Duration: 5:57


Hi, my name is Darcie, I'm a science teacher at Brighton Grammar School and I've recently enjoyed filming some of my lessons for Ochre Education and [the Australian Education Research Organisation] AERO.

I've been working on my explicit instruction, particularly breaking down content in the science classroom. I'm excited to share some of my reflections today, as you too develop your thinking about how to break content down for the students you teach.

We know that a great science lesson should be rigorous and challenging – full of rich concepts that develop students' capacity to think and work in sophisticated ways. But with teaching a challenging curriculum comes the need to break it all down.

I know as a science teacher, that the concepts can be daunting if not taught in a sequential way. And I also know that students can be easily overwhelmed by content that's too dense. This is why breaking down and sequencing content is key to great explicit teaching. It also enables us to focus on the objectives of the lesson. Thinking carefully about what we want students to know and be able to do as a result of the teaching in that lesson forces me to organise my lesson in a way that focuses attention on those objectives. I can do that by including opportunities to review ideas from earlier in the lesson and by using visual organisers to help make connections between ideas visible.

When I'm planning a lesson, I think about the objective of that lesson: what I want students to learn. And then I have to really unpack that for myself. I have to think, okay, if I want them to be able to apply an understanding of diffusion to the right organ systems in the human body function, what are the little steps along the way to understanding that? How can I chunk the content to be taught into smaller parts and then sequence those parts like little steps along the way to the destination.

In a recent lesson on the diffusion of particles, I had to break down the process of diffusion in human organ systems. To start with, I made sure that I showed students examples of diffusion they were likely to have encountered in their everyday lives – like smelling food that's cooking or scented candles burning. I then introduced what diffusion is – linking it to the diffusion of food dye or cordial in water – to help them connect their understanding of diffusion to the diffusion across membranes in liquids, which is an important aspect of diffusion to understand in later years. After I had taught the definition of diffusion, I then introduced the factors that can affect the rate of diffusion. That was my next little chunk in the sequence. I explained the effect of concentration, surface area and temperature.

Because the theory behind surface area and temperature was a little more complex, I spent time unpacking each of these individually, as well as comparing all 3 factors. I think that there are lots of signs you can look for to know whether you've chunked and sequenced your content well. First of all, I think about success rate: are my students grasping the concepts I'm teaching and can I see that in what they're doing or saying? Or are they missing steps? Or forgetting how to apply what I've taught? If that's the case, it often means I've missed a step or moved on too quickly from one of the small chunks of the lesson. So that's always a good reminder to chunk the content in ways that are manageable for students. For example, if I had a question asking students to indicate the net direction of diffusion across a membrane on a diagram, then I would be looking for the presence or absence of an arrow – depending on whether a concentration gradient exists – and the arrow pointing in the right direction to show an understanding of diffusion occurring from a high to low concentration.

A challenge I still face in this area is being able to sequence and chunk content in a way that provides enough support for students with a developing understanding, without the higher students becoming bored or restless with a slower pace. Often it can feel like we're overdoing it with the number of steps that learning is being broken down into, but it results in more effective, efficient learning in the long run.

Sequencing and chunking content, when checking for understanding regularly, can prevent misconceptions from becoming ingrained in student understanding that later have to be addressed and unlearned, which can often be difficult. One thing I'm still working on is sequencing and chunking content thoroughly, while also providing more capable students with opportunities to extend their understanding and explore aspects of the topic in more depth.

To learn more about explicit instruction practices, download the explicit instruction guide from the AERO website and good luck as you explore this element of your own teaching.

Keywords: practice implementation, explicit teaching