Explicit teaching is good teaching. The less that students have to guess what they are expected to do, the more brain power they can spend on creative and critical thinking. As a teacher, one simple strategy has made a world of difference to my lessons by demystifying literacy tasks: the checklist.
Okay, so checklists are not new, but they are often overlooked for their simple power of turning a large task into a set of achievable sub-goals. Checklists can apply in the medical world (see NPR’s podcast on guidelines), in service and business training programs, and certainly in the classroom.
A low-literacy student faced with what they see as an impossible task will give up before they’ve even started. Frustrated cries of “I don’t get it!” and “You didn’t explain this task!” ensue. The same student faced with a checklist of simple tasks they can tick off one by one suddenly has a road in. But checklists are not only useful to support beginners and low-literacy learners; as Steven Levitt observes, “No matter how expert you may be, a well-designed checklist can improve outcomes.” Checklists can be adjusted for tasks of varying skill level and complexity.
I have used checklists with literacy tasks for younger students, teens in their final year of school, and adult ESL learners and teachers. Here are some examples of tasks with checklists.