Have you heard the Chinese proverb: “Tell me and I will forget. Show me and I may remember. Involve me and I will understand.”?
We use it in teaching students and teaching teachers and teaching teacher leaders all the time to reinforce the idea that if we simply talk TO someone, they will likely not remember a good bit of the information but if somehow the learner can be involved in the learning process, the knowledge has a much better chance of “taking hold”. Background knowledge helps a good bit in this process, as well, or, as I call it: Velcro. What we already know or have stuck in our brains has little feelers just waiting to capture new and interesting information, but without that Velcro it will likely not stick. This is the nature of truly engaged learning.
I was working with several groups of teachers in NYC on Friday (several one-hour sessions in a row), so I really had to make every moment matter. I had stayed up the night before weeding out any extraneous material to fine-tune it to “perfection”, or so I thought.
I caught a taxi from my hotel to the teaching venue (an absolutely beautiful old school in the Bronx). The cab driver was curious where I was going (which was handy, as he was going to drive me there) and what I would be doing that day. I told him (the address, first. I’m no dumb-dumb) I was going to be talking with teachers about good teaching. He said, “That is such a noble cause. We all need to get better at our jobs but teaching teachers…wow. They help students grow up to be better people.” Yes!!! I did a little victory dance in the back seat---he gets it, I thought.
But he wasn’t finished. He went on to ask me, “Do you want to know what I think makes a good teacher?” Hey, I know some people would just want to put on their headphones or look over their notes for the day, but I look at this as solid research for my work. Research on the fly, if you will! “Go for it!” I encouraged. “Someone who cares about what they teach and wants you to care about it, too.” Now, I was almost levitating out of my seat. Yes!! I decided to pursue this line of questioning research and ask, “Can you tell me about the best teacher you ever had? What did he or she do that made them the best?” He said, “Oh well that’s easy. I had a lot of good teachers and a few teachers who didn’t care anything about what we did in class. But I had one teacher in high school that made every single thing he taught interesting. He didn’t just teach us. He got us involved in the learning, through projects, through activities. I remember most of what we learned that year.” Honestly, I almost shed a tear. I did, instead, ask him what he was doing the rest day and jokingly hurried to clarify (lest he think I was propositioning him for other reasons) that I wish he could simply come with me to help with my workshops that day. “That is EXACTLY what I am teaching about!!” I told him, excitedly.
Throughout the day, I made sure to take time out of my precision-timed workshop to tell them about the taxi driver comment. They all nodded, a bit soberly, when I said, “If this taxi driver gets it, when are we all going to get it?” How can we continue to lecture ad nauseam to a group of students who are barely keeping their eyes open (and I mean in classrooms, too, not just in principals’ meetings or faculty meetings J ) when we know that people need to be involved in the learning, not just be talked TO?
How can we, even in (maybe especially in) corporate America, engage in “Death by Powerpoint” --- reading boring slides to bored people? How about altering the teaching methods to include the participants (engage them in conversation with a partner or a small group and share out thoughts about a discussion question; have them do a quick-write after 5 -7 minutes of talking then share with a buddy what they can summarize from that portion; ANYthing that will get participants involved in the learning, as opposed to being talked to.
Just for today, perhaps you might listen to words of wisdom from other people as well.
The Chinese proverb tells us that we will increase our “bang for the buck”. The taxi driver to the Bronx can tell you that, as well, if you need any reinforcing ideas.