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Teaching is Not Telling

October 9, 2013

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.  Here are some ideas from our discussion:


– 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 teacher 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?


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This site is created by the faculty of the New School for Music Study, a division of the Frances Clark Center for Keyboard Pedagogy.

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