• February 2021, Open the Can

    Posted by Deb Brown on 2/1/2021 5:00:00 AM

    Open the Can

    Recently there was an article in Education Gadfly (Pondiscio, January, 2021) that described the interaction between a father and daughter as he tried to “teach” her how to use a can opener.  The story went like this:

    A nine-year-old girl asks her father to make her lunch, and he suggests that she make herself some baked beans. She brings him a can of beans and an opener, which she doesn’t know how to use. His response: “How do you think this works?” The girl studies the opener, tries it every which way, and finally says with a dramatic sigh, “Will you please just open the can?” The father proceeds to send a large number of tweets describing his daughter’s six-hour struggle to open the can.

    The responses on Twitter were less than supportive of his methods.  He was encouraged to “Feed her. Then teach. Then delete your account.” The father could have explained how an opener works, given his daughter a chance to try it out and practice, master it, and then enjoy several hours delving into higher-level stuff – perhaps learning how to follow a recipe. The feeble attempt by the father certainly did lead to a lesson learned by his young daughter - never ask a question about something unknown.

    The approach of providing assistance, modeling, supplying foundational information, providing guided tasks, offering feedback, and arranging for enhanced opportunities for learning is called Discovery Learning.  It is not about throwing a student into the “deep end of the pool” and saying ‘swim’.  A critical component of Discovery Learning is teacher/adult assistance.  Problem solving and higher order thinking skills are sharpened when the student has occasions to practice and understand what they have learned.

    Whether your child is learning in the classroom or remotely, or you’d like to maximize “teachable moments”, consider the following: 

    • Provide basic knowledge to begin the task
    • Demonstrate key steps
    • Balance between conceptual and procedural knowledge
    • Work at your child’s pace
    • Generate enthusiasm, encouragement and warmth
    • Know when to quit and begin another day
    • Review and give feedback
    • Teach to mastery and beyond

    Have fun and make sure that your child learns the right lesson.


    Most Respectfully,

    Pamela Stiles, Superintendent                                                     February 1, 2021

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