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How many times have you given up on a book or television show, simply because the plot or subject matter was too difficult to follow? For me, that number is far more than I can count, which just goes to show how important this Habit of Mind is. Thinking and communicating with clarity and precision is vital to making sure that your audience not only understands you, but is also interested enough to keep listening until the end.
As teachers and parents, modelling this habit of mind is crucial. The clearer we are in expressing ourselves and the more precise we are in explaining our thoughts, the easier it is for our students and children to comprehend the knowledge that we are trying to impart. However, being clear and precise doesn’t come naturally to everyone - it is a skill that needs to be practised and refined.
After years of speaking casually to other adults, we are used to relying on social context and shared assumptions to communicate, using non-verbal cues to help explain our meaning. As our children develop, we need to improve our own methods of communicating in order to impart the right communication skills.
Begin simply by making sure to use the correct names and terms for things. Say what you mean, as directly as you are able to. As children progress academically, they should be encouraged to use the specific vocabulary as required by the subject. In maths, this means only using the equal sign when you want to signal equality, and not when you mean “corresponds to”. In science, this means being specific of the units of quantity, or using diagrams and graphs correctly. For more ways to be clear and precise in an academic context, read this.
While communicating with clarity and precision does seem like a lot more work, it’s worth it.
For the speaker, making the effort to be clear and precise forces them to refine their logic and ensures that they understand the matter at hand. It encourages the speaker to develop empathy with the listener – to communicate clearly requires an understanding of the mindset of the listener.
For the listener, hearing someone make the effort to communicate clearly and precisely not only makes comprehension so much easier, it also sends a message that says, with the clearness of a bell, that the listener is worthy and that their time, effort, and understanding is valued.
If your child is responding with vague or imprecise answers, ask follow-up questions that discourage one-word answers. Instead of asking “How was your day?”, which might result in “Okay” or “Fine” as a response, try “What was the best part of your day?” or “What did you find challenging today?” in order to encourage deeper thought.
Don’t forget, this skill isn’t learned overnight. Practice makes perfect. If your child struggles with communicating clearly, encourage him to keep at it. Listen to what he says, read what he writes and help him revise, revise, revise until it makes sense.
This is part nine of a 16-part series on Habits of Mind. Follow the series here.