Saturday I went hunting for the first time. As I have written about before, I am fascinated by Southern culture and of late have become somewhat obsessed with the culture of hunting in the South. In Alabama, it is turkey season. I’m told that turkey hunting may be some of the most difficult in North America. Ben Franklin had a point for making the turkey the national bird. They are prudent, have great vision and always have an ear to the ground. One has to be smarter than the birds to bag one, but the experience taught me 5 things that hunting can teach us about student learning. DISCLAIMER: the author makes no claims that the students, teachers, administrators, or their representatives are, resemble, or act as turkeys in any way, shape or form. Further, the author makes no claims to be smarter or more visionary than said turkeys 🙂
What I learned about learning On the Hunt:
1. Preparation and Scouting are Critical in Learning: I’m not sure how many of our students do this, but one should really consider spending a couple of hours doing some advanced research days before she steps into a specific class. College students routinely do this through the course guides and thru conversations with students who have previously had the teacher about what to expect. Somewhere along the line that becomes the norm, but I don’t think that starts until college or at least until high school students begin taking AP classes. I always wanted every bit of a head start before stepping into a graded classroom. Items like summer reading were particularly helpful as a means to decipher what might be on a teacher’s mind prior to stepping into her classroom. Its like recon. I think most students fail to realize the potential power in this practice. In the same way, I spent several hours preparing for my hunt looking at licenscing, tracking tactics, proper weaponry, and several conversations with my guide or others who were experienced in turkey hunting. Additionally, my guide Jeff– the teacher– had scouted the hunting landscape prior and I trusted him. Do teachers garner the same trust from their students? In the best learning situations they do
2. Much of Learning/Hunting needs to be done Silently: Extroverts make the worst hunters. Imagine trying to track and trick the aforementioned turkey with John Candy’s character from Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. Either the quiet would kill him or the turkey’s wouldn’t be within a 20 mile radius. There is a definite skill involved with being quiet. Right now, I’m riveted to Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts. The general premise is that American society from board rooms, to pulpits, to classrooms, to most all human interaction fosters a bias for extroverts over introverts. Extroverts are viewed as better for the community. We bemoan the introverted accountant. “Why don’t they have better people skills?” Extroverts are viewed as having better ideas (though they are more likely just louder ideas). One would suggest extro’s are more trustworthy. They lay their cards out on the table. Cain, however, posits a much different view. She points to people like Rosa Parks, Isaac Newton, Einstein, Proust and other notable introverts who changed the course of history, science, literature and other fields. She wonders in an extrovert-biased society “how much talent and how many great ideas are being lost in the culture of group think?” As a principal, I’m guilty of the extrovert bias in some ways. I abhor the classroom setup where desks are in rows and every student an island to himself. I love the circle, Socratic or otherwise. I love the lively discussion of ideas. Introverts hate it. So we as educators spend time encouraging them to participate with “part of your grade is participation,” or ideas about how to pull out the reticent student. Asynchronous educational means like message boards, twitter conversation, and other online posts seem like game changers by which the introvert could contribute without putting themselves out audibly in the crowd. Ultimately, my hunting experience makes me want to explore better ways to better value introverts and their preferred means of learning for the betterment of all students.
3. Trial and Error is a proven learning method that should not be undersold. So many times I hear from frustrated teachers who say, “I tried it and it didn’t work. I’m never doing that again.” Rather than frustration, however, I think there should be some glee that comes from trying and failing. Two positive learning outcomes develop from the experience. First, I can rule out the process I used if it was ineffective. That gives me a head start next time with one less outlying doubt. Second, I can reassess my process and pick out the steps that may have been helpful along the way even though the outcome was not what was desired. That gives me a wonderful framework for next time. Students who do this kind of assessment over the course of a semester would wonderfully serve themselves. In the same way, my guide was successful on his Sunday hunt after we had gotten skunked (no birds) on Saturday and he was shutout Friday. By the time Sunday had come around, Jeff had tried about 7 spots over the 830 acre property. He made note of the birds reactions to calls, call locations, feeding areas, hen activity, lighting (moon was 3/4) and other factors. With each strike, he had data upon which to build his next hypothesis where the birds would be. Sunday, trial and error paid off. Early that morning, he follewed the steps he had taken the two days prior as the birds were beginning to fly down out of the tree. This time he set up opposite of his original location because that is what the birds did during those days. By 9:10 AM he had his bird.
4. Those who are unexperienced should seek the counsel of those experienced. In the old debate between whether students learn best from the Sage on the Stage or the Student-Centered Collaborative Model, I tend to favor the later. Nevertheless, the value of the former should not be ignored. Our educational systems need both. My guide Jeff was seasoned and well-versed in his hunting practice. He has belonged to hunt clubs for roughly twenty years. He hunts in other states. He had a great plan. He prepared us well for the hunt. The experienced teacher has all of these attributes as well. Lack of experience, lack of a plan, lack of seasoned teaching does not bode well for students. On the other hand, Jeff didn’t try to shoot the shotgun for me. The hunt would not have been the same if he did not arm me. I would been on a hike bird watching if I was not armed or not licensed by him to fire if we saw a gobbler. As educators, we have to be wary of not allowing our students to take aim during their own learning. If we give them all of the answers through constant direct instruction, if we do not let them come to their own hypothesis, if we so torture them with rules in the process of writing that they are too paralyzed to craft an essay, we have robbed them of the thrill of the hunt.
5. The Hunt itself is as, if not more, important than the Kill. I went out Saturday and only spooked a few hens. I did not see one tom (though we heard many of them) and didn’t fire once. Nevertheless, I learned a great deal. If Hunting is akin to Learning, then maybe Killing is akin to Testing. A lot of our educational system is tied to the outcome. Though I am fortunate to work in an independent school environment where testing is not paramount as the public school sector, I do sense that chapter/unit tests tend to be the end all/be all manner of assessment for many teachers. For many teachers, a test signifies the fulfillment of content. To me, this is an unfortunate happenstance. As mentioned in point #3, trial and error is important. The process of learning is important. The test (and the test grade) is just a small piece of the puzzle. Likewise, I know many hunters who can go a season or two or three without killing and still have thorough statisfaction. Communing with nature, calling back and forth with wise birds, the game, the chase, the preparation of the field, and the camaraderie of being on the hunt with others are each valuable pieces of the experience. In the same way, writing essays, Design Thinking, Harkness discussions, project-based learning, art based on content, cross-curricular enterprises and other modes are valid assessment pieces. While drilling a test may be akin to killing that bird, it is not the only way to prove a lesson learned.
Lastly, I’ll say that educators across the country should consider the principles of the hunt when considering boys in education. Much research has been done on why we are losing our boys in the current educational format. Christian educators are probably also aware of John Eldredge’s wonderful work entitled Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul. Step into many classrooms today and you will see some soul-less boys. Venture onto the assembly line of education with bully-proof straight jackets tying down the God-given traits of our young men in the name of engendering a safe school environment and you will not see what God intended for our boys. I can guarantee that boys have the highest percentage of office referrals at probably every one of our schools. Why is that? Yet, take the same boys into the woods on a hunt and you would find savants. Take many ADD/ADHD troubled learners and put them in the woods to learn and you might be surprised by the positive results. We have a lot of work to do in this area for our boys. Hunting is not convenient. It is not supposed to be. Yet, our tired industrial model of education values convenient efficiency over messy depth. We can do better.
Until next time, Happy Hunting and Happy Thanksgiving!