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  • Writer's pictureFrank DiGiovanni

Teach me...

Updated: Mar 8, 2023

Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.

At this point of the school year, so many parents have had to help their children in one way or another during this hybrid model of teaching/learning we find ourselves in. Whether it started in March of 2020 when things went sideways or now that schools are a little over halfway through the 2020-2021 school year, teaching is never going to be the same. When I wrote this, there were four students sitting in one of our rooms, doing their distance learning.

As a former elementary school teacher, I can attest to the stresses that teachers are put under to find creative ways to help ensure comprehension among their students during a "normal" day. When the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act was signed into law by former president George W. Bush in 2001 it was designed to create a set of standards (the Common Core Curriculum) that students across the entire nation would attempt to reach. But it was not without its issues. To say that a lot backlash came from the teachers and districts would be a gross understatement. Eventually due to the criticism levied towards NCLB, a new act, Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) stripped the powers from NCLB and gave what was left from NCLB to the states. Should you be interested, further reading on NCLB, ESSA, and the Common Core can be found here

Regardless of the educational standard your child or your child’s teachers are held to, it is how the messages are presented that can make the most impact on a child’s retention of presented information. Part of teaching is the presentation. If you’re old enough to remember Ben Stein’s character in the 1986 movie Ferris Bueller's Day Off, monotone and stiff doesn’t cut it. In order to ensure that you, as a parent/teacher, are getting your message across, you MUST bring energy to your lesson. When you were in school, you likely didn’t know if any of your teachers were stressed about money, if they were excited to see someone they hadn’t in a long time or whatever sadness they might have been feeling at the time because it was compartmentalized. Their focus was their class; you. As a teacher of any kind, whether it’s your child(ren), a friend's child or a classroom full of fourth graders, you’ve got to try to keep things in their proper place and focus on the student(s) in front of you.

Quadrat survey. Image from Wikimedia Commons

Secondly, remember the topic and age level. As someone who has successfully taken high school topics and “Elementrified” (a word of my own making) them to be understood by 1st graders, you must adapt the thing you know or want to teach to the level you’re teaching. Consider something called a “quadrat survey” at right. Used in ecological and geographical areas of study, something like this is well beyond the scope of a 2nd grader. However, when explained properly, it isn’t some confusing “science phrase” but a topic now understood because it’s how scientists make population estimates. Helping out and using a bit of math along with a survey records allows even this young age to understand why it is an important tool to an Ecologist or Geologist, even an Archaeologist.

Something else to consider is the phrase: Know Thy Audience. Quick question before going further… If I were to start talking to you about the Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility- which is the ONLY thing I remember from high school economics (and here if you actually want to learn about it)- would your eyes glaze over as you clicked out of this article? (I bet that you would.) Consider that, most likely, no child wants to know their level of enjoyment from using something goes down each time they use/play with it…Which is part of the law I mentioned above... Children, especially younger ones, are most interested in the world around them. So, watch for what the teachers call “the teachable moment” as you’re with them. The moment when a child asks about something they don’t understand is the PERFECT time to teach. But remember to Elementrify the topic (as best as you can) so they understand but only give them enough information to slake their curiosity. If they have more questions about the topic, keep going, teach them what you know.

Lastly, and possibly most importantly. It is okay to not know. If you’re anything like me, not knowing can sometimes be exceedingly frustrating especially when someone comes to you first. But it is ignorance that has driven every explorer, every scholar, every student, every teacher, every single person on Earth, to learn. The "big six" questions (who, what, where, why, when, how) force us to scatter the fog of ignorance for the sunshine of knowledge. Especially frustrating can be if a child asks you and you don’t know. What to do? Well, try this. Admit it and go on a “knowledge hunt”; learn together. Nowadays all you need to start that hunt is the device you’re reading this on. A quick internet search starts you down the path of learning and who knows where that will take you.

Oh, one more thing before you go, well two actually. First: try to remember that children don’t ask questions with the sole purpose to annoy, although it can certainly feel that way. They ask questions because they don’t understand the world around them. They want to know so they ask, and occasionally it’s at a time you don’t want them to ask. But try not to downplay the question if you can’t answer at that exact second, before coming back to it when you can. Maybe have them write it down so they don't forget?

Linda Ellerbee. Courtesy of

Second: if you have a child in your life, it doesn’t matter if it’s a niece, nephew, grandchild or your own children, have them teach you something. It doesn’t matter if it’s about Pokémon or fish. When you figure out (or learn) something they REALLY like, have them teach you about it. Have them tell you what it’s like, how you do it, why it is the way it is, when it happened, etc. When a child shares their knowledge with an adult in their life, the happiness and excitement is palpable. They’re now the teacher, they’re the one giving information and it helps create a passion for learning that lasts a lifetime.

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” is credited to both Benjamin Franklin and Chinese philosopher Confucius. It doesn’t matter who said it. When you involve your student(s) in the act of teaching, they will remember and learn.

Remember what American journalist Linda Ellerbee said.

"If you want to know, ask!" -L. E.

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