“Teaching is not telling.”

This is one of Frances Clark’s more “catchy” quotes.  It shows off her feisty personality and  sense of humor.  What did she exactly mean?  I believe one scenario might be illuminating:  A teacher to the student:  “But I told you that last week!”  (The student has made that error over several weeks).  The teacher might have told the student, but did not teach the student.  There is a big difference between what we say in a student’s presence and what we communicate.  There is a big difference between what we say in a lesson and what the student experiences in the lesson.   If we find ourselves on the threshold of saying, “I told you this last week,” it is a good idea to re-examine our teaching.

Our new school faculty discussed the many different facets of this quote.  Some ideas:


– This quote highlights the difference between teaching and learning.


–  When a student demonstrates ownership of ideas, we know that they have been taught.
– Preparation of new concepts in advance of their appearance in repertoire will help students to “own”  the concepts.


– The efficient use of language:  eliminate any unnecessary words.  Record the lessons to know what we say and how we say it.


– Endeavor to constantly monitor the ratio of teaching talking and the student talking, or student doing.


– Discovery learning is the opposite of the teaching “telling.”


– Our job is to help students ask the right questions of themselves.


Is there ever a time for “telling?”  

Certainly.  Conveying knowledge about music history and “rules” for shaping the phrase come to mind.  The idea behind the quote, however, is that one role as a teacher is to endeavor to provide an experience-based mode of instruction, and to constantly assess our effectiveness by testing what the student has “learned.”

A question for our readers:  What does this quote mean to you?



2 thoughts on ““Teaching is not telling.”

  1. To me, it means demonstrating the concept often–taking more time to sit beside the student and show them. I am constantly reminding myself of the importance of this! 😉

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