Here's an interesting phenomenon I've noticed: my students don't follow written instructions well.

I've been teaching a high school, lab science course for 6 years now, and I'm still surprised at how poorly my students follow written instructions. At first I thought it was a random event and subsequent classes would be better. Not so. And, based on my casual observations, the problem is getting worse. I often find myself being asked a question; the answer to which is clearly stated right in front of them. We don't have laptops for all the students, but we are almost at that point.

Over the years I have modified my lab sheets to include more pictures, and I highlight key words. This has helped somewhat (since a picture is worth a Kword), but making them does require more effort. The resulting lab sheets are better, of course, but this is beside my point.

I'd like the opinions and observations of other teachers with regard to this subject. My students are mostly Hispanic, but my non-Hispanic students have similar difficulties. I'm not sure if this behavior is normal (I remember when I was a kid making model airplanes and often not looking at the instructions) or is part of a growing trend.

Is following written instructions becoming a lost skill?

Tags: instructions, written

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Don't worry, the same happens here in Portugal. Seems you have to repeat the same instruction a lot of times though they gave it in front of their eyes. I think the problem is their short attention span. This is the cause of the problem. Games, films, you name it, the pace of the stories they watch seems to have fomatted their attention span for only 10-15 seconds....
My hypothesis is the video game culture, but I didn't want to say it. And I can't prove it, of course. (But I wouldn't be surprised if there was some research out there somewhere that has investigated this very phenomenon.) Let's face it: black ink on white paper is boring. But we can't afford color printers/copiers and a laptop per student yet.
Brian--whip up the instructions in a video game format and you'll have it made. I've had tons of students over the years who are addicted to video games--reading instructions, writing a paragraph or learning your times tables pales by comparison.
It's hard to follow directions when you don't read them! Many students assume that all tests are the same.

This reminds me of my old teacher who gave us a 30-question test. In the directions, he concluded with: "Simply sign your name at the bottom of the page and turn this test in for an A." About three students followed the directions, while the rest of us worked for 20 minutes to complete the entire test for no reason. The lesson he taught all of us that day was simply to READ THE DIRECTIONS!
I totally agree with you. I don't know how many times a day I say read the instructions. Especially during dissection, the labs are totally independent. Everything they need is exlpained right there in the lab packet. In theory, I shouldn't have to be there! I feel that they need to be more independent and self learners. I also feel that I am trying to get them ready for college. There is no one there to hold their hand in college. Many times I feel that the students have the "Just give me the information I need to know." attitude. I kind of understand with technology. Anything you want to know is right there for you. But, I'm going to stick to my guns with this one. They need to be responsible learners and DO IT THEMSELVES!!!
I'll throw out two possible causes--video games and NCLB. I'll be glad to discuss further if any one takes the bait.
Well, we are private and are not under the thumb of NCLB.

Video games makes sense. Almost all of our students have iPods, Internet-accessible cell phones, and/or, PSP games at school. Those students who do have laptops use them almost exclusively for music and videos.
Brian, I've argued this point before here at CR 2.0 but most "digital natives' aren't. Teachers say they are intimidated by kids' 'skills' with computers--not so much! The skills kids have are low level, txting, IM, downloading pirated music and movies, uploading videos to YouTube and writing catchy phrases in third person on facebook. They have the technology but I don't see it enhancing thinking and learning as much as some people think it does.

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