Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. –Maimonides
Last week, my mother took a plunge she’s been wanting to take for a long time. She traded in her old school cell phone for an iPhone. She purchased it two days before coming out here for a visit. My mom was relying on me to teach her how to use it despite having signed up for classes at the Apple Store, .
My mother isn’t what I’d call tech savvy. She uses e-mail, surfs the internet, and has a working knowledge of Microsoft Office. But that’s pretty much it. Therefore, I knew I had my work cut out for me.
Two months ago I taught my mom how to use Facebook. I uploaded her photos, configured her security settings, and inputted all of her information. Once I finished doing the basics for her, I showed her how to use Facebook. Should she wish to change her profile photo, she’s going to need to ask me to do it for her since I didn’t walk her through it. She watched over my shoulder as I did it for her.
As I reflected upon the Facebook teaching experience, I realized I needed to do better when teaching her how to use her iPhone. This time, I decided not to grab the phone to do things for her. If she was going to become an independent smart phone user, I’d have to show her how to operate it, but then gradually release responsibility allowing her to make mistakes while I stayed alongside her. This time, I was going to employed a slight modification to the Gradual Release Method, which is one of the fundamentals of good workshop teaching. Here’s a glimpse into what I did with my mom:
I do. — I took the iPhone and showed my mom how to do some basic things like taking photographs, entering a contact, creating a new calendar event, and doing a web search. Every time I did something I talked her through my process trying to be as specific as possible.
We do. — My mom took her phone back and I watched her try whatever it was I just showed her how to do. (I had to sit on my hands a few times!) I provided verbal prompts and sometimes asked her questions to make her think back to what I just showed her how to do.
You do. — My mom went off, on her own, to have-a-go with whatever I taught her how to do. I’d check-in with her frequently to see how it was going, answer any questions, etc. Plus, she knew if she had a question she could come to me for assistance.
This experience made me think back to my early days as a classroom teacher when I’d correct my students’ writing for them. I’d take their drafts home at night, mark them up with a blue pen (since red ink was taboo) and return them the next day. And then I’d wonder, month after month, why their spelling, punctuation, and mechanics didn’t improve. It’s because I wasn’t showing them how to find their own errors! Over time, I taught minilessons on editing one’s own writing. I showed students how I did it. Then we worked together to edit. Often I’d have kids turn & talk, during the active involvement part of a minilesson, to talk about editing. Finally, students were able to edit on their own once they had fix-up strategies (e.g., reading their work aloud, working alongside a peer editor). Only then, when I stopped editing for my students, did I notice them take ownership of their writing and improve as editors of their own writing.
It would’ve taken a lot less time if I inputted everything into my Mom’s iCloud Calendar or her Evernote. However, that wouldn’t have helped her become independent with her iPhone. Doing something for someone else doesn’t help them grow. The magic happens when we gradually release responsibility for something over time so others can flourish as a result of our teaching.
Literacy Consultant. Author. Former 4th and 5th Grade Classroom Teacher.