I do, and I understand

“Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.”
~Chinese Proverb

On my first day at teacher training college we were told that the best way to teach children was to remember an updated version of the proverb. The proverb as I heard it was, “I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I do and I understand.” We were being given rule number one as we worked our way into the world, which was, “don’t talk and expect children to learn form that alone.” We all duly wrote it down in our notebooks.

In the past few days I have noticed several forms of this proverb – and attributed to an array of authors – and realized that it applies to tutoring work as much as any other teaching. When working with clients I always have them open up their computer and show me what they they have been doing to try to solve the current problem. This gives me a clue as to the way they are thinking about the problem, and whether they are on the right track or need to start over.

While I may open my computer and show how to do the task, I will also talk the client through the steps, and then have them do it again without prompts. Then I will have them do it again and offer no suggestions so the process has to be recalled – or the solution found from the new information learned earlier in the lesson. The look of triumph as the task is completed is always a joy to see!

When my younger brother took an advanced driving course he reported back that he had to talk through what he was doing so the trainer could be sure he was aware of everything that was happening. This showed the trainer he was actively attending to the road conditions as well as driving the car, so the trainer could see whether he was really learning and not hoping to get through. Because it focused his attention so closely on what he was doing, for several months after he had passed the course he continued to talk through what he was doing because he realized that it helped hold him accountable to the process.

While adding text to a photo is substantially less dangerous than driving at high speed on a busy road, I also employ the “talk me through what you are doing” strategy. Not only does it help the client focus on the task at hand, but it can also reveal odd behaviors that don’t add to the process, so I can help stop the unnecessary steps.

I also set homework if it is an ongoing tutoring project. It isn’t anything arduous, but does ask the student to repeat what has been learned without my being close by to step in or remind them what to do next. Mostly this is a success, but sometimes the results reveal that intriguing workarounds have been applied. Again, this is a great opportunity to ask questions and have the client show me what they did.

Ultimately it remains as true now as when I first heard it on that sunny day in London in 1975 that for tutoring students, “I do, and I understand.”