LEARNERS & LEARNING COMPETENCY
The Impact of my Teaching Upon Learners and Their Learning
• Photos from Voyageur Outward Bound School in Northern Minnesota and Quetico Provincial Park, Ontario, CN: inserted below
• AE_ My Teaching Autobiography
For this essay, I will describe an incident I created for a learning situation when I was an instructor for Outward Bound in Minnesota. My students’ psychological reactions to my lesson were powerful and gave me an opportunity to examine the effect my own actions had upon their emotional states and how that fed into the lesson I gave. It is the opportunity for awareness of my teaching which
I use as an analogy to language learning: that students’ psychological well-being is key to their optimum learning. In this case, their psychological discomfort added to their learning - and to mine.
I was giving an experiential lesson in search and rescue technique. Understand that our courses took place in the true wilderness of the Canadian Quetico Provincial Park, north of Lake Superior, in the province of Ontario. One element of wilderness terrain definition is that no planes may fly under 5,000’ over it, unless responding to an emergency. The Quetico terrain can only be accessed by canoe in summer, and by ski or dogsled in winter. We could easily be 36 hours from outside medical assistance. With those parameters, we learned wilderness first aid procedures and thorough search and rescue techniques.
Here I am, at Isabella Lake - an entrance point to the Quetico - waiting for the arrival of my group. They would have come directly from the Duluth airport. - unsuspecting of what lay ahead.
After I had reviewed these processes with my students, both in discussion and group practice, I organized an exercise to prepare them for one of the “worst case” experiences they might have.
I hid and they had to find me. They were unable to find me and became panicky. Was I OK? Had I hurt myself in hiding and be unable to respond to their calls? My intention was to put them through emotional states they might actually experience in a real rescue operation. To realize how they might feel, and to know that keeping their entire focus on the task, was uppermost. I came out of hiding after I felt they had had enough stress. They were furious. We had a very long and very productive discussion, but it took them awhile to calm down. In the end, they appreciated the lesson. The ramifications their emotional states could have on a successful rescue operation were driven home.
My feelings were battered as well. It was difficult to remain hidden while I heard their voices becoming more and more urgent. I questioned myself about how I had arranged the lesson. They had to have the experience to know how they might react, and that was certainly successful, but
I, also, was emotionally drained.
Looking back, I can see I might have shortened my “hiding” time and still created a strong enough experience. But I can't know now.
My wonderful group, “Bahwetig.” (Because we traveled through Objibwa country, we used the culture’s means of travel - including camping styles - and Ojibwa names for our groups. The tribe honored us and we honored them.)
In language teaching and learning, I draw upon acute observation of my students’ moods and personal styles and strategies. I imagine I miss the mark at times, but I aim for that mark with 100% effort. The personal connection with my students in class - letting them know how much I care how important their state of being is to me - how aware I am of their learning needs - continues to be a driving motivation to greater awareness - and I trust - effectiveness - in my teaching.