Master Teaching

a blog for teachers who follow the Master Teacher

Involve me, and I understand

An old saying often thought to be a Chinese proverb reads: Tell me, and I forget. Show me, and I remember. Involve me, and I understand. It raises some interesting questions. In particular, how can we plan and implement lessons around what students do rather than what we say? One important way to take positive steps away from a focus on the teacher is to view lessons as a series of learning activities that students participate in—participation that goes beyond involvement to engagement and empowerment.

Involvement means that students are taking part in class and are even interested, but their participation is likely more passive than active. For example, they may be physically involved by listening while the teacher talks or by reading lines from a multi-media presentation. A humorous anecdote or picture, or a well-organized explanation or diagram may draw them in cognitively and deepen their ability to remember and understand. Thoughtful questions from the teacher may even require them to apply an idea to real life or analyze a theory for deeper understanding. However, involvement does not always pass the sleep test. In other words, watching from the sidelines does not necessarily actively engage students.

What’s the difference between involvement and engagement? Involvement may draw students into the learning process, but engagement requires a deeper commitment (Think engagement to be married.) and brings in heart and soul. Engagement asks for active, whole-person involvement in learning. For example, students may be asked to participate in an activity in which they use their whole bodies (not just their ears and eyes) as well as their heart and/or soul in order to take ideas apart, test out hypotheses, decide how they feel, or judge the rightness or wrongness of theories.

The goal of empowerment is to go beyond the classroom, enabling learners to take everything they’ve learned and put it together into something new to use in the world; it is to give them ownership of learning from inside the classroom to out and for the betterment of those around them.

The challenge, of course, is actually implementing these ideas in the classroom. As you look through material that students need to process, try asking yourself the two questions below.

  1. How could I set this up (in an activity) so that students figure it out (individually or together) rather than me explaining it to them?
  2. How could I turn this into a problem for students to solve rather than bullet points for me to cover?

The article linked in “Further exploration” gives ideas and examples of how to answer these questions.[1] Also, come back here over the next few weeks for advice about how to design and implement activities.

Recently I was complaining to the Master Teacher about the slow pace of a lesson I’m learning. He could solve my dilemma with a snap. Yet, I know there’s purpose in the process. As He involves me, I understand better who He is. As I become engaged in bringing about the solution, I’m learning to apply His Word to real life. Eventually, I should be empowered (I hope) to move beyond and live more for His glory than my own pleasure.

[1] Melissa K. Smith, “Like a Content Course,” TESOL Theory and Praxis 3, no. 1 (2018): 4-21.

Further exploration

What’s your perspective?

We welcome your comments on any of the ideas in this post or in answer to the questions below.

  • What hinders teachers from writing lessons that move students beyond passive involvement?
  • How do you take your students beyond involvement?
  • How does the Master Teacher involve, engage, and empower you?

Post Author

Melissa K. Smith


2 comments on “Involve me, and I understand

  1. Ken Smith
    March 28, 2018

    Well-put, Daughter!


    • Melissa
      March 30, 2018

      Thank you, Father. 😁


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This entry was posted on March 28, 2018 by in group work, learner ownership, learning activities, Melissa K. Smith.



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