Below, is the third of four posts highlighting techniques that will help insure that teachers are helping students succeed with their work by teaching them the technology skills they need, but doing it quickly, so that most of the time could be spent focusing on content from the curriculum.
The third trick for teaching technology quickly is a strategy that works hand in hand with mini lessons: the use of “Cheat Sheets.”
Cheat Sheets are help guides: step-by-step instructions for using a specific program or doing a specific project. (My students always preferred this name to “help guides” or “instruction sheets,” although I’m not so sure my former Assistant Superintendent liked the name….)
If students were learning how to make Web pages, the teacher might give students a handout with step-by-step directions for making new pages, saving pages, inserting graphics, formatting text, making links to other pages in the project, making links to other Web sites, and creating tables to use for formatting the project.
Unlike mini lessons, there can be many sets of directions on the cheat sheets because students can go directly to the one they need, when they need it.
When teaching mini lessons, it’s valuable to have the teacher model following directions on the cheat sheet. For example, many middle grades students aren’t all that good at following step-by-step directions, and when I was a middle level technology integrator, had students that wanted to start with Step 3, or wanted to do the steps in a different order. In many cases this was simply because they hadn’t been shown how to follow directions (or hadn’t been shown for a long time). Saying, “Where do we start? What's the first step?” or “So, what's the next step? What step number are we on?” can go a long way…
Further, when a student asks how to do something that is on a cheat sheet, I’d often ask her what step she was on. Some students find it easier to ask the teacher how to do something, than to go back to the directions and do it themselves. Redirecting the student to the cheat sheet helped make them more self-reliant and freed me to work with the students who really did need my help (after all, why did we put all the time to writing out directions?).
I often found that after students followed the directions on the cheat sheet three or four times, they had learned the skill and didn’t really need the cheat sheet again. But they always had the cheat sheet to refer to if they came back to do this type of project in the future.
Be sure to share any cheat sheets you create with your colleagues. No reason each teacher needs to create all the cheat sheets themselves. Remember: many hands make light work!