About 'Teaching'

Responding to a comment on my post from yesterday:

> Have you ever taught someone something?

> Lots of people have learned from you and what you have written, but have you ever actively taught someone?

Good question (and I understand that you do *not* mean "have you been in front of a classroom and been paid to help students get good grades on tests?" Because I have lots of experience doing that, which I know you know.)

I have *shown* people things.
I have *convinced* people of things through argumentation
I have *explained* things to people
I have *described* things to people
I have *demonstrated* what I do and how to do it
I have tried to act as a *model* of the values I hold

Have I therefore 'taught' people these things? It depends very much on what, precisely, you mean by 'taught'. And I think my view is that the verb 'to teach' is so vague that it is almost useless.

In fact, I would call it a 'success term'. It describes not what I did but the result of what I did. For example:

'I showed thing X to person Y' and 'Y learned X' = 'I taught X to Y'.
'I argued in favor of X to person Y' and 'Y learned X' = 'I taught X to Y'.

Even this is a bit too vague. Because, in this formulation, what do we mean by 'Y learned X'?

- Y *remembers* X?
- Y can *do* X?
- Y *believes* X?
- Y *understands* X?  (and so on, until we replicate Bloom's + a bunch of other verbs)

So, the question becomes: what type of succcess(es), in combination of what action(s), is required for action(s) to be called 'teaching'?

Well - I *could* spend time trying to answer that question. But I am rather more interested in the constituent parts. Which is why it seems like I have eliminated the term 'teaching' from my discourse.


  1. "Teaching" has nothing to do with data delivery as popular culture likes to claim. Otherwise, TV would be our best teacher.

    Teaching is introducing another human being to unexplored ideas.


  2. I would define teaching as any action or process which directly facilitates learning.

    I once flunked an essay because of that. The topic was to write about two great teachers I had. I wrote about a boss I once had, and a mountain, both of which helped me learn very important things (unintentionally). Apparently, in setting the essay, by 'teacher' they meant someone paid a wage to stand up at the top of the class and talk. Oh well.

  3. What I find interesting is that all of verbs you use to describe what you've done are "active" verbs, and yet they don't include what seems to me to be the key to actual teaching - listening. It seems to me this is what good teachers do - listen to their students to discover more about what they are bringing to the thing they are trying to learn and where they are getting hung up, and then based on that as well as their own understanding both of the topic and of different ways in which it can be explained, THEN doing one of the above but in the context of what the person is demonstrating they need/asking for. This is the sense in which I use the word "teach" in contrast to learn - it does result in learning, but it is specifically an intervention to help someone when they were unable to do it on their own, and one done through listening to what their difficulty was. The result of which may also be a decision by the teacher, if they are really listening, that the "difficulty" the student is having is actually a valid critique of the thing being taught. My $0.02

  4. Well yeah, but what is listening?

    I took a bunch of communication courses way back when I worked for TI, and this is where I first learning about 'active listening'. There are different ways to listen, but it seems pretty clear - listening is not simply passive receiving of content.

    If it's a bad idea for students to simply sit there and listen, it is as much so a bad idea for instructors.

    The act of 'listening' is in fact an act that involves attending with favorable and open bydy language, restatement and rephrasing, reflection, contextualization, assessment and evaluation with constructive criticism, feedback or assessment, bolding upon and developing, reframing, and ultimately, feeding forward or passing along.

    So I don't really feel I missed the boat by not listing 'listening' as an activity. It is, rather, one of those verbs like 'teach' that works really well on the six o'clock news, but does not stand deeper scrutiny.


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