Telling is Not Teaching: On Task and Performance | Peter Hatala | 6 Min Read

December 26, 2023

I used to teach a semester long course on African History, dedicating about a week to the study of Islam and its early spread into North and then West Africa. One key idea I wanted students to understand by the end of our week-long unit was this: The Qur’an is to Islam what Jesus is to Christianity: both are the sacred presence in the world. Students (and most people, perhaps) would likely believe that the Bible is the Christian equivalent of the Qur’an, but this isn’t exactly the case. If Jesus was God made man, the Qur’an is God made book. The idea has profound implications for the role of the Qur’an and Islamic art, too. Yet every year on a summative assessment a noticeable number of students continued to miss this point.

After my first year teaching this idea my initial impulse was this: explain it better next year! Then in my second year, after achieving similar results, my next move was to explain it better, repeat it several times, and do it more loudly! Then, after three years of students missing this question I tried all of the above, and began our brief work with this idea by telling…

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Peter Hatala

Peter Hatala is currently Director of Studies at The Webb Schools. Previously, he was the Director of Curriculum and Innovation at Emma Willard School.