The Wetfoot Blog

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Intentional Teaching

Summer camp season is coming. In a few short months, campers will arrive with smiles, expectations, and candy. Take away the candy. You’ll need that for portages. Anyways, this is a good time for summer camp staff to begin thinking about how they will do their job. Specifically, I want to help staff to think about what their teaching style is, and how to improve your teaching. During your staff training, there will be discussions and activities designed to help you strengthen your teaching skills. If you gain experience with teaching skills, you will probably become a better teacher. But, before you dive into all of that, take some time to think about the basics of learning and teaching. Answer these questions:

1. How do I learn most effectively?
Most of us know that there are basically three ways people learn: by sight (visual), by listening (auditory), and by doing (kinesthetic). People usually have a favorite way of learning and a most effective way of learning. Sometimes the two ways are different, sometimes not.

2. How do kids learn most effectively?
There is a theory of teaching called “authentic teaching instruction.” It simply means that you teach a skill in the context it will be used. For example, if you used this type of instruction, you wouldn’t use a lecture to teach campers how to paddle. Since the skill is a physical (kinesthetic) skill, you teach it kinesthetically. When you think about the relationship of teaching and learning skills in this way, hopefully you realize that at an outdoor summer camp, VERY LITTLE lecture will be used because much of what they do at camp is physical. Plus, talking is boring. I’ll give you a hint that teachers know: guided discovery is often the most successful teaching method. I give an example of this below.

3. How do I see myself teaching my knowledge area this summer? Take a moment to visualize teaching one skill to a group of campers. How does it look?

4. Can I teach the same skill three different ways? A good teacher must be able to teach by doing, saying, modeling, and any other ways to help a camper learn. If you only know one way to teach something, you will have a hard time teaching camper Matt how to shoot an arrow when he can’t figure it out just by watching you.

Now, think of one skill you will be teaching to another person this summer. Come up with three different ways you will teach this skill. Please remember that your teaching style is a part of who you are. If you are not the wild and crazy counselor who likes to make a wild and crazy game out of everything, that’s okay. Don’t plan to teach in a style you aren’t comfortable with. However, you should have one teaching style that works well for you, and at least two other teaching styles you can deliver with success. Here is an example.

Teaching an introduction to paddling

Example 1)
The counselor gives each camper a paddle. He shows them the correct grip, posture and form for paddling while on dry land. Set up a zone on the lake where you will allow them to practice. Get campers into boats, counselor goes out with them, and watches and helps them learn to paddle. The counselor works for a few minutes with each individual camper. At the end, after everything is put away and the campers are dry and on dry land, he debriefs the activity, talking about the arguments he may have heard, and the good teamwork he saw. He addresses communication between the bow and stern, citing examples he witnessed from his campers.

Example 2)
Counselor sits campers down in the boathouse or cabin. The counselor talks about paddling for 20 minutes, including how important it is for the sterner to steer the canoe and the bow person to paddle efficiently. The counselor, having extensive knowledge about paddling and boats, also talks at length about the parts of the boat, the gunwales, keel, difference in construction between wooden and aluminum boats. After this lecture, the counselor gets the campers paddles and begins dry land practice of proper paddling techniques. He covers four basic strokes, reiterating the importance of the role each paddler plays in a canoe, and talks about communication in a boat between paddlers. He gets the campers in canoes for about 10 minutes of practice before the bell rings for roofball, er, free swim.

Example 3)
Counselor brings his campers down to the boathouse, gives them all paddles, and tells them to go out and paddle. Counselor sits on dry land to talk with his buddies, because they are, like, really cool. They drink coffee that the Trips Director made, because the trips director hasn’t actually been working. He’s been making coffee all morning, but everyone assumes he’s competent because he wears a flannel shirt. Campers are in canoes on the water, visibly frustrated because they have no idea how to paddle. The counselor yells at them to paddle better.

Ok. So, these are all ways that people have tried to teach paddling before. I hope you all can see that Example 1 is the most effective. It’s called guided instruction, or guided discovery, because the teacher gives students just enough information so they can safely practice the activity, and then lets them practice!! Again, this is an example of ‘authentic teaching instruction.’

Example two shows a teacher who has good intentions. He wants his campers to know everything he knows about paddling. However, he lets his amount of knowledge hinder the learning process. If you know a lot about a subject, that’s wonderful, but do not let it get in the way of your campers learning the skill. Remember to teach to the ‘beginner’s mind’, which is probably the state of mind of most campers. If it is clear they already know how to paddle, then challenge them with more advanced concepts, or make an obstacle course, play a paddling game, race, etc. Also, the counselor in this example did too much debriefing with his campers before they practiced paddling. Once they have practiced, campers will be more receptive to talking about the skill because they have an experience to draw from and can contribute to the conversation.

Example three provides the campers with a ton of practice but no help. This technique is called ‘unguided discovery’, also known as ‘lazy counselor.’ Remember that guided discovery does not mean you don’t do any work. It means you guide the learning process by giving students information as needed, and help them discover a skill with your help. This is the most rewarding way to learn and teach!

Here is a list of teaching styles you may use to help you decide how to teach three different ways:
Structured Practice
Guided Discovery
Individual Practice
Self-Guided Discovery

A good lesson plan involves more than one of the above styles. Notice how they proceed from the most teacher-centered (lecture) to the most student-centered (self-guided). Notice how the best paddling example above included a mini-lecture, presentation, modeling, and then a ton of guided discovery. That was intentional.

I hope everyone is getting a chance to enjoy spring and is starting to get excited to come to Camp. Start thinking about how you will teach this summer. Teaching in an intentional manner will make you a more dynamic leader, and your campers will get more out of their time at Camp.

Matt Leibfried is a teacher and Trip Leader at Camp Manito-wish YMCA.

Photo Credits: Dan Peters

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