Instruction vs. Teaching

Last week I had the opportunity to interview Ewan McIntosh from NoTosh on rebootED and he got me thinking about Instruction versus Learning. He said that here in the states we tend to substitute the word teaching with instruction. Think of all those Curriculum & Instruction departments out there. The word instruction carries with it significant meaning for us as educators, particularly at a sub conscious level. It implies, as Ewan points out, that learning requires instruction. Instruction also implies that there will actually be “instructions” and that to be successful at learning, one must complete the instructions as provided. The word instruction carries with it a very 19th century factory model connotation of what we do in the classroom. Instruction is certainly one aspect of education but it is not the only one.

Contrast this to the word teaching. Teaching carries it’s own sub conscious baggage but I’d argue it’s more in line with student centered learning and where we need to go in 21st Century information rich, knowledge based classrooms. Teaching is the work of a teacher. It includes instruction of course but so much more. It implies “education” which includes academics but also encompasses moral and social aspects of a child’s development. Teachers teach, we don’t instruct. While the two words may be synonyms, the meanings can be very different.

So if I were building up a new culture and shared vocabulary at a district, I would choose to use Teaching over Instruction but really I’d prefer Learning over both. Learning is an action word centered on the student. If we replace instruction with learning, magical things happen. Instructional rounds become Learning rounds and the focus shifts from what the teacher is doing to what the students are doing (and then how a teacher’s design and application of the craft, the pedagogy, is influencing student action). We get Learning objectives instead of Instructional objectives and Learning strategies instead of Instructional strategies. Teaching becomes about much more than just instruction, it becomes about learning. And building up self sufficient, intrinsically motivate life long learners is what it’s all about, isn’t it?

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