The forgotten line of “Give a man a fish…”

Remember the old gem, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”?

It turns out, they left out this part: “Tell a person how to fish, and they forget in 5 minutes. Let a person try to fish, guide them, question them, correct them, and encourage them, and you feed them for a lifetime.”

Does telling someone how to do something ever work?

Have you avoided stoves your whole life because once, when you were 5, your mom told you, “Don’t touch the stove – it’s hot!”

No, we all touched the stove. And then we cried, and our moms said, “I told you not to touch the stove!” Because telling doesn’t work.

Yes, it’s true, even though your immediate mental image of a “teacher” is probably someone standing in front of a roomful of students telling them something, likely with a chalkboard of notes behind them.

I think we all know asking questions and getting the student to come to their own understanding is the best thing to do. This is especially true when working in a small group or tutoring situation, where you have time to see the full scope of students’ understanding.

So how do you teach properly?

What is the topic of this article? Might that be what I’m going to say next? (See what I did there?)

Act like you can only ask questions. Remember that telling the answer will ruin everything.

In a study by Lepper and Woolverton, they found over 90% of the remarks made by the best tutors are questions. And when students can’t answer a question, the tutors provide hints, going through 5 or 6 increasingly obvious hints until the student gets it on their own.

So for however many questions you normally ask, start asking more. And for however many hints you give, start giving more. Telling is a last resort. Don’t give away those fish.