Why do young children love “show and tell” so much? Why do teachers feel so pressured (at least in some contexts) to sharply limit the amount of time students spend during “show and tell” time, and eliminate “show and tell” time from the formal curriculum at some point– maybe by 2nd or 3rd grade?

a show and tell moment

Part of the answer to the first question lies in human nature: We like to talk about things about which we are “deep” and have a strong, personal interest. Often in schools, learners are forced to write and “tell” on topics about which they are quite shallow. I am not an advocate for a 100% constructivist and purely student-centered approach to learning that becomes entirely student-driven. Like John Dewey, however, I think we need to recognize the intrinsic motivations which learners have and the potentials which exist to constructively leverage these within formal as well as informal learning contexts to support learning goals.

I am not sure what the answer to the second question is, but I suspect it lies in our shared, entrenched faith in transmission-based models of education. High-stakes accountability has, perhaps, further damaged “the cause” of show and tell, along with other worthwhile educational activities like recess.

Too often in schools, we ask students questions and give them tasks that amount to little more than, “Tell me, tell me, tell me.” More frequently than we often do now, we need to invite students to also “show me.” We need to invite students to speak, write, show and relate with their peers, with their teachers, and with a global audience about topics in which THEY are the experts. In many settings this is a revolutionary proposal, because students are regarded as “less than worthy” from a content-creation standpoint. Their role as students is more analogous to that of sponge (and an indiscriminate sponge at that) rather than a “content publisher.”

meeting the sponge man

Human minds do have an amazing capacity to absorb new ideas, but the most exhilarating, worthwhile, and memorable learning experiences involve less absorption and more creation.

I still remember several instances of “show and tell” from my own elementary school experiences. I think “show and tell” stopped after 1st grade, however. We need more opportunities for “show and tell” inside and outside of schools.

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