Skip to main content
Mental Wellbeing

Education for Mental Health Toolkit - Provide clarity in design and delivery

Research has shown that clarity of instruction and assessment has a large, statistically significant, impact on student learning and motivation (1-2).

Provide clarity in design, teaching and tasks

Research has shown that clarity of instruction and assessment has a large, statistically significant, impact on student learning and motivation (1-2). Students in our co-creation panel also identified a relationship between clarity in teaching and assessment and their wellbeing. In particular, they highlighted that a lack of clarity can lead to feelings of uncertainty, anxiety, disconnection from their subject and being overwhelmed. Alternatively, when teaching was delivered with clarity and employed a range of techniques to ensure student understanding, this was seen to positively impact on wellbeing, increasing sense of commitment, self-efficacy and enjoyment.

Education for Mental Health

Download a digital copy of the full toolkit, the staff development toolkit and case studies.

Download the report

Clarity requires attention both in the design and delivery of curriculum. Within curriculum design, clarity can be gained by ensuring that learning outcomes are <learning or mastery focussed> and that taught content and learning activities are specifically designed to deliver to these outcomes (3-4). In other words – there is clarity in design about what students must learn, what must they know, understand and be able to do by the end of the module or programme, and clear connection between intended learning outcomes, criteria, and the learning these reflect. Learning must then be sequenced logically, building student knowledge, understanding and skill, over time, focusing on assessment as learning, towards summative assessment.

Clarity is also provided by a coherent curriculum, that provides a narrative framework and fits facts into disciplinary concepts that are explicitly explained and connected to each other (5). Together, this can provide students with an understanding of the entire programme of learning, the process they can expect to follow to reach the required level of mastery, and a sense of momentum in learning. In turn, this will increase students’ sense of control of their learning, enhance self-efficacy (6), and foster proactive rather than reactive of approaches to challenges such as summative assessment. 

However, a well-designed curriculum still requires clarity and quality of delivery (2, 7). Students in our research highlighted the negative impact of confusing and dull teaching delivery on learning and wellbeing. This can be compounded if academics misunderstand students’ current levels of subject knowledge and expertise. Novices and experts approach learning and problem solving differently (8). If academics assume novice students will approach learning with an academic’s expert approach, it can result in confusion, disconnection and disengagement. 

Ensuring clarity also matters for curriculum delivery, at classroom level (online or in person). Clarity in delivery requires pacing that is appropriate to the cohort, variation in voice and gestures and the use of a variety of techniques to explore concepts such as stories, illustrations and worked examples (3, 9-10). This can be supported by questions to check for student understanding, activities to consolidate learning and breaks to allow students to refresh.  

Finally, clarity has significant importance in assessment design (task, condition, timing) and framing. Students should be clear on what they are required to do, how to go about tackling the assessment (the process), have the requisite skills (that have been developed by the programme) and understand how the assessment will support their learning. The challenge of the assessment should not be in working out what they are being asked to do but in the intentional stretch on their disciplinary learning. Ambiguously worded assessments, unclear requirements or a lack of preparation can force students into surface learning strategies and increase anxiety.  The guiding question in relation to students’ tasks may be “What is hard and why? 

Helpful Challenge Stress Inducing Difficulty
Know what to do Don’t know what is required
Understand how to do it Don’t understand process
Have or can develop necessary skills Lack necessary skills
Understand how to use strengths Weaknesses are highlighted
But the task remains challenging to complete Actual task may not be difficult when understood

Key Lessons 

  • Clarity in curriculum design and delivery has a significant impact on student learning and wellbeing. 
  • Students do not have the disciplinary knowledge of academics so curriculum must, therefore, be designed and delivered so that novice students can understand the process of learning and negotiate the programme at a reasonable pace. 
  • Clarity in design can be delivered by learning focussed outcomes, logically sequenced lessons building from students’ current knowledge and a coherent curriculum that explicitly explains and connects concepts to each other. 
  • Clarity in delivery can be ensured by appropriate pacing, use of voice and gestures, exploring concepts through multiple techniques and exercises and checking for student understanding as an ongoing practice. 
  • Clarity in assessment will ensure students know what to do and how to do it, that they will have the required skills and understand how the assessment supports learning. Academic stretch will come from the disciplinary learning required by the assessment. 

Top Tips 

  • Be clear about what students must learn and ensure these are mastery rather than performance focussed goals. 
  • Provide clear and carefully planned explanations for abstract ideas and theories, using a variety of techniques e.g., stories, worked examples etc.  
  • Ask questions throughout to ensure students have understood and adjust and recover material if necessary. 
  • Check students have understood assessment briefs, how they should approach them and how the assessment will support their learning. 
Buff line
  1. Titsworth, Scott & Mazer, Joseph & Goodboy, Alan & Bolkan, San & Myers, Scott. (2015). Two Meta-analyses Exploring the Relationship between Teacher Clarity and Student Learning. Communication Education. 64. 1-34. 10.1080/03634523.2015.1041998. 
  2. Hattie, J. A.C. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. New York, NY: Routledge. 
  3. Titsworth, S., & Mazer, J. P. (2016). Teacher Clarity: An Analysis of Current Research and Future Directions. In P. Witt (Ed.), Communication and Learning(pp. 105-128): De Gruyter Mouton. 
  4. Watkins, C. (2010). Learning, Performance and Improvement. INSI Research Matters, 34, Retrieved May 10, 2013, from International Network for School Improvement Web site:  
  5. McPhail, G. The search for deep learning: A curriculum coherence model. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 2020:1-15. 
  6. Roksa, J., Trolian, T. L., Blaich, C., & Wise, K. (2017). Facilitating academic performance in college: understanding the role of clear and organized instruction. Higher Education, 74(2), 283-300. 
  7. Trigwell, K., Prosser, M., & Waterhouse, F. (1999). Relations between teachers’ approaches to teaching and students’ approaches to learning. Higher education, 37(1), 57-70. 
  8. Chi, Michelene & Feltovich, Paul J. & Glaser, Robert. (1981). Categorization and Representation of Physics Problems by Experts and Novices. Cognitive Science. 5. 121-152. 10.1207/s15516709cog0502_2.   
  9. Pilegard, C., & Fiorella, L. (2021). Using gestures to signal lesson structure and foster meaningful learning. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 35( 5), 1362– 1369. 
  10. Chesebro, J. L., & McCroskey, J. C. (2001). The relationship of teacher clarity and immediacy with student state receiver apprehension, affect, and cognitive learning. Communication Education, 50(1), 59-68.