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Explanations matter.

Good explanations are vital to student understanding.

I pride myself on my explanations. Words are my forte (did you hear I wrote a book? 🙂 ) In my lessons I always explain the new material in a rigorous and deliberate manner, going back over tough concepts a few times, in a few ways, using analogies with familiar concepts, clearly enunciating any new terms and repeating them in different sentences so that the students get a feel for the new word and it’s meaning.

For example, protocols. I might start the topic of network protocols by explaining they are “rules for communication between computers, they make network communications work”.

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I’ll then illuminate the concept of protocols by discussing the rituals people use when greeting a new person: they say hello, exchange names and use each other’s name when speaking, and so on. I then might say something like this:

“The rules of communication in polite society are a kind of protocol, a set of rules that make the interaction work. We follow a protocol because it makes everyone comfortable and helps communication be successful. The protocol tells us what to do when we meet people, and when we conduct a conversation. Establishing and following this protocol is important because it helps the conversation flow smoothly. Without any rules of communication which we call a protocol, meeting a new person and having a conversation with them would be quite difficult. Because both parties already know the protocol – the rules of communication – they can conduct a conversation with great success”.

I will then check for understanding with a few questions, using powerful questioning techniques from TLAC like “Wait Time”, “Right is Right” and “Cold Call” (unlike Ferris Bueller’s ineffective Economics teacher (see image).

I have so far used an analogy to introduce the concept of protocols in a familiar setting. I will then come back to discussing protocols in computer networks: being a set of rules for communication between computers that serve the same purpose – making communication successful – and in this way I have travelled a “Semantic Wave” to get the concept across, see this TeachComputing blog post for more on that.

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But you will also note in my teaching narrative, I have used the word protocol no less than five times, in different contexts, ensuring students hear the phrases “follow a protocol”, “establish a protocol”, and “know a protocol”: it’s something to be established, known, and followed. They also know why: “helps communication be successful”.

Many teachers appear to be looking for that “magic lesson” which “drops the knowledge right into their heads from a PowerPoint slide”. Teachers: that magic lesson doesn’t exist but you don’t need it, you have all you need: your subject knowledge and a quiet class that listens to your explanations.

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By mraharrisoncs

Head of Computing and Digital Strategy Lead,
WHGS, a United Learning school.
CAS Master Teacher.

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