By far the most interesting comment on teaching is George Bernard Shaw’s notion that “he who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.” In an almost revolting misjudgment of teaching, one effectively sums up the reason that effective pedagogy can be so difficult to pinpoint. Shaw was an unsurprising critic, since according to Michael Holroyd’s biography of Shaw*, he hated school. Nonetheless, one cannot deny that Shaw did not teach himself everything he knew. One could point to evidence that he read books to gain his knowledge, but this simply means that the teacher has morphed from a human physicality into a cognitive presence written on paper. In any case, Shaw was taught, and in order to find out how best to teach, one cannot have the mindset that only incapable people teach.


Partisanship and bias aside, finding how to teach requires in-depth analysis of different methods from an objective point of view. The trouble in exploring this topic is primarily in the myriad demographics that exist, and how differently each one learns. Cultural phenomena, religious facets, and disability are just a few enormous factors in how one learns. Therefore, to pursue the “best way to teach,” we must eliminate borders, dispel prior preferences, and be incredibly inclusive. It is obvious that a blind person cannot be taught visually, and as such, were we to conclude that visual teaching is the most effective, we would be excluding a surprisingly large demographic that cannot learn this way. Thus, we must broaden the scope of teaching to an enormous degree. Our final trouble in exploring this topic is how to quantify the efficacy of one method over another. Learning by one’s own volition may mean eliminating common core subjects entirely, and thus our most frequently used method of exploring the efficacy of teaching, standardized testing, cannot be used to weigh one method against another.

This means that we are left with only one truly quantifiable medium for scoring, which is personal satisfaction. If one is satisfied with their position in life, and they believe this is as a result of how they were taught, then this can be weighed as a level of efficacy. Before taking firsthand accounts, however, we ought to consider third-party sources, and find the similarities and differences therein. This way we can get a panorama view of the existing opinions and use these as frameworks for the ensuing research.

One contemporary idea in the field of education that is quickly gaining traction is “metacognition.” This revolves around students “[being] given opportunities to plan and organize, monitor their own work, direct their own learning, and to self-reflect,” which is meant to increase “student ownership,” and therefore increase satisfaction in learning. This relies on the student having the desire to learn, however, and the controversy reveals itself in Rebecca Alber’s continuation of the previous citation, when she says “research shows that metacognition can be taught.” Those who favor more traditional teaching methods (the boring ones which require much memorization and number crunching) disagree with this, potentially making the argument that metacognition can only come naturally, and not at all in cases of subjects a student simply does not want to learn. To bring this concept around to quantitative analysis, we can see how teaching metacognition is a strategy being utilized to “raise [a student’s] Grade 3 test scores,” according to Margaret Wente of Canada’s Globe and Mail. This means that even with new strategies being used to fix the status quo and its lack of efficient and effective teaching methods, the old strategies for analyzing the efficiency and efficacy are still being used. This is contradictory, since standardized testing is a way of measuring purely the efficacy of traditional teaching, and to blend this medium for analyzing and this vehicle for teaching is inherently flawed.

So, then, we have arrived at a null conclusion. By using standardized testing to analyze metacognitive teaching, we cannot examine its efficacy. If, however, we conclude that standardized testing is objectively the best way to examine the efficacy of teaching methods, then there is no question that traditional, boring methods of teaching are the most effective. On the other hand, if we conclude that personal satisfaction is the best way to quantify the efficacy of teaching, we will have to wait until metacognitive teaching has been mainstream for some time, so as to accurately weigh the results against the current standards. Perhaps there is another way to find “the best way to teach,” but it will have to come from firsthand accounts.


* Michael., Holroyd. Bernard Shaw The One-Volume Definitive Edition. W. W. Norton, 2005.

CC BY-SA 4.0 What is the best way to teach? by Hunter is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


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Youth Voices is organized by teachers at local sites of the National Writing Project and in partnership with Educator Innovator.

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