To Give a Man a Fish, or to Teach a Man to Fish? 授人以魚,不如授人以漁

Why do we teach Chinese at school? As teachers and parents, what should we expect from our children’s Chinese learning? Do we expect them to read and write 3000 or even more characters? To memorize 100 poems? To form sentences with perfect grammar? Or do we want our children to be able to confidently express themselves in Chinese, to persuade or make an argument in Chinese, and to logically organize ideas and to elaborate details for successful communication?

In Chinese, we have an old saying in “授人以魚,不如授人以漁”, which means “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime’.  The underpinning philosophy is still enlightening to this day, even though this proverb is from thousands of years ago.

At TIS, we strongly believe that as 21st-century teachers, it is far more important to equip our students with skills than to teach them some isolated facts and knowledge which are easily accessible through various channels. Students need transferable skills, for example, communication skills, collaboration skills, self-management skills, research skills, etc., to solve real-life problems and to achieve what they will pursue in the future. Memorized facts and knowledge will be forgotten as time goes by, but transferable skills remain and help students develop into lifelong learners.

Having this belief in mind, Chinese teachers try to find alternative ways of teaching instead of the traditional cramming method of teaching, which bores students with irrelevant, high pressure yet ineffective learning experience. In our language classes, we carefully choose learning materials and plan activities that activate higher-order thinking, as well as to develop students’ language skills through meaningful learning. Our Grade 1 first language students wrote their first poems to express their love for mom, after reading and learning the genre of poem. Grade 6 first language class students had debates on several popular topics, such as “Should cellphones be allowed in school?” “Are homework relevant?”. Grade 4 students experienced the creativity of the interior designer and presented their designs in Chinese! Grade 6 Chinese as second language kids created their own magazine to introduce the school and subjects in Chinese. Grade 4 Chinese as second language students brought authentic learning experience to Chinese class through Chinese role-plays.

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