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Pub Story 2014-11-8 Five Things I Learned Hunting
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{HeadLines} November 2014, Vol. 1 
Five Learning Lessons from Hunting Wild Turkey


By Michael Zavada, Trinity Presbyterian School

Last spring I had the opportunity to go on my first hunting trip. I’m told that turkey hunting may be some of the most difficult hunting in North America. Ben Franklin had a point when he suggested the turkey as the national bird. They are prudent, have great vision, and always have an ear to the ground. You have to be smarter than the bird to catch one. The experience allowed me to learn more about Southern culture and unexpectedly resonated with me as an educator. Here are five 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. Furthermore, the author makes no claims to be smarter or more visionary than said turkeys. 

1. Preparation and scouting are critical in learning. We should encourage our students to spend some time researching a class or topic before the class convenes. College students routinely do this by examining the course guides and asking students who have previously had the teacher what they should 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 to feel well prepared 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. It’s like reconnaissance work. 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 licensing, tracking tactics, proper weaponry, and several conversations with my guide or others who were experienced in turkey hunting. Additionally, my guide Jeff, my 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.  Hunting is a silent sport. 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 turkeys wouldn’t be within a 20-mile radius. There is a skill involved with being quiet. Lately, I’ve been fascinated with Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts. The general premise of the book is that American society - from boardrooms, to pulpits, to classrooms, to most all human interaction- fosters a bias for extroverts over introverts. While 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). Some would suggest extroverts are more trustworthy because they are forthcoming. Yet Cain sites examples such as Rosa Parks, Isaac Newton, Einstein, Marcel Proust and other notable introverts who greatly impacted 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 groupthink?” As a principal, I’m guilty of the extrovert bias myself. I abhor the classroom setup where desks are placed in rows and every student is an island. I prefer the circle, Socratic or otherwise. I relish the lively discussion of ideas. Introverts may find it more difficult. As educators, we encourage them to participate and tell them “part of your grade is participation.” Still, asynchronous educational means such as message boards, Twitter, and other digital outlets are game changers for introverts and who is to say which style is more productive? Ultimately, my hunting experience makes me want to explore better ways to value introverts, what they contribute, and how they learn.

3. Trial and error Is valuable. So many times frustrated teachers say, “I tried it and it didn’t work. I’m never doing that again.” Rather than frustration, we should appreciate the process of trial and error. First, you are able to rule out what is ineffective. Second, you can reassess the process and identify any steps that were helpful despite the poor outcome. Students can also benefit from this type of self-assessment over the course of a semester. In the same way, my guide was successful on his Sunday hunt after we had been skunked (no birds) on Saturday and he was unsuccessful Friday. By Sunday, Jeff had explored seven spots over the 830-acre property. He noted the birds’ reactions to calls, call locations, feeding areas, hen activity, lighting (moon was three quarters full) and other factors. With each strike, he had data to inform his next hypothesis as to where the birds would be. Sunday, trial and error paid off. Early that morning, he followed 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, and by 9:10 AM he had his bird.

4. The novice should listen to the expert. In the debate between whether students learn best from the “sage on the stage” or the “student-centered collaborative model,” I tend to favor the latter.  Still, the value of the former should not be ignored and our education system needs both. My guide Jeff was seasoned and well versed in hunting. He has been a member of hunt clubs for more than twenty years. He hunts in other states and had a great plan. He worked hard to prepare us. The experienced teacher has all of these attributes. However, Jeff didn’t try to shoot the shotgun for me. The hunt would not have been the same if he had. I would have been simply bird watching if I was not armed or able to fire if we saw a turkey. As educators, we have to allow students to have some control over their learning. If we give them all of the answers through constant direct instruction, if we do not let them come to their own conclusions, if we overemphasize rules but kill creativity, we have robbed them of the thrill of the hunt.

5. The hunt itself is as important, if not more, than the catch. On Saturday’s hunt, I was only able to spook a few hens. I did not see one tom (though we heard many of them) and I didn’t fire once. Still, I learned a great deal. If hunting is akin to learning, then maybe the catch is akin to testing. Much of our educational system is tied to the outcome. While independent schools do not rely on testing to the extent that public schools do, chapter/unit tests still tend to be the preferred manner of assessment for many teachers. For many teachers, a test signifies mastery of the content. But as mentioned earlier, trial and error is also important. The process of learning is important. The test (and the test grade) is a small piece of the puzzle. Likewise, I know many hunters who can go a season, or two, or three without catching anything and still be thoroughly satisfied. Being in 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 acing a test may equate to catching the animal on the hunt, it is not the only valuable outcome. Lastly, educators across the country should consider how the principles of traditional school systems do not meet the needs of our boys. Step into many classrooms today and you will see many soulless boys. I can guarantee that boys have the highest percentage of office referrals at probably every one of our schools. 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. It may not be convenient. It is not supposed to be. Yet, our tired industrial model of education values convenient efficiency over messy depth.  We can do better.

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