Teach Them How to Fish

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. – Chinese Proverb

The other day, during an internal training session, the question arose, “How can we ensure that students are learning all they are supposed to know when there is not enough time in the school year to teach them everything?”  Then, someone asked, “Should school be year-round?”  My response to that is one you might hear from many teachers: “No.” In this post, I will share why I think that it is not necessary to lengthen the school year.

In high school, we had the mandatory Social Studies classes that included American and World history.  Invariably, we would never cover more than three-quarters of the content.  Somehow, our country’s history ended with World War I or II.  I do not recall learning about the Korean conflict, Vietnam, the 60s, etc.  World history would end way before that.  We spent so much time on Egypt, Mesopotamia, etc., that it was hard for the teacher to get to contemporary world history.  We memorized dates, facts, and figures for a test and then we forgot them.  We did not talk about how to “do history.”

What I mean is that we never learned how to view events through a historian’s lens.  How do historians find all this information?  How do they uncover the secrets people didn’t set out to keep, but buried anyway?  How do anthropologists, sociologists, and historians work together to interpret their findings?  How do they learn how to fish?

Yes, fish. If I were a history teacher (which had been my dream from the age of 14 till the age of 21), I think I would start with the historian’s perspective.  I would make learning the content the context in which the students learned those skills.  I would flip the classroom, something that is easy to do today, to ask students to learn content at home and interrogate the content in class.  I would spend more time teaching kids how to find information than lecturing kids about information.  I would spend more time teaching kids how to construct knowledge independently and in groups.

If the focus is off of content coverage and onto skill development, it is my opinion that the school year can stay the length it is.  Perhaps more kids would become interested in history with this method and study history on their own.  Who knows?

The same is true with English, which is the subject in which I am certified.  Instead of spending weeks on a novel, perhaps it is better to start by examining a writer’s process and a critic’s process.   How do critics arrive at their conclusion about the novel’s content, theme, structure, character development, etc.?  What are the criteria by which they judge a written work?  Put that within the context of a great piece of literature.  Let the students choose from a short list of novels and teach them to interrogate the text.  Truly, what are they going to remember more: the content of the novel or the skills they practiced to understand the work, the author’s intent, and the theme?  Why passively read the novel aloud when you could spend class time learning those skills in context?  Which will get them further in life: the content or the skills?  I say the skills.  And if we focus on the skills, wrap them in content, and work on those in class, every day, I believe we do not have to lengthen the school year.

Waiting for class to begin, Lucas tried putting another lure on based on what Douglas taught him the night before. He did it all by himself.
Waiting for class to begin, Lucas tried putting another lure on based on what Douglas taught him the night before. He did it all by himself.

Kids can go fishing instead.




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