You take control!

Putting students in the driving seat

Giving students the opportunity to think for themselves in an unforgiving environment leads to the best kind of learning as David Gregory explains. What’s good for Outdoor Ed is also good for the classroom.

Problem-solving

As teachers, there’s always the desire to go out of your way to help students with their learning. However, what if this is harming their ability in the whole learning process? The perceived increase in kids’ inability to solve problems is concerning on many levels. The standard solution of ‘Google it,’ has seemingly helped reduce people’s ability to think and respond! ‘E-Learning’ has a lot to answer for in terms of building a dependency on technology in kids; they’re encouraged to seek solutions to their problems from the internet. Instant access to “the answer” to almost everything has created new problems in that kids who are reliant on instant results can’t cope in situations that require a more complex and challenging approach.

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 “You’re in charge”

Recently, I had a group of students out on a hike into the Budawang Wilderness in New South Wales, Australia. This pristine and amazingly rugged part of Morton National Park is a challenging, yet invigorating experience. Prior to the trip, we set the scene for the students.

It was their expedition and they were in charge. We teachers would only intervene if a safety issue arose; otherwise every decision was up to them. They were briefed on directions, leadership and group management and given a map and compass.

Moments after the end of the brief, the questions started flying, “How far is it?” “When’s lunch?” “What time are we going to get there?” My partner and I both gave the same response. “You’ve been given all the information you need. Work it out yourselves!” 

A new challenge

It quickly became obvious that none of them had ever experienced this before. They were expecting to be taken on a trip, rather than being challenged by the experience. The temptation of teachers (often born out of frustration) is to take over and do it for them, or show them, as it’s an easy way out. Yet if you do that, you never put the kids outside their comfort zone. You never push them to take any initiative or responsibility and they never actually learn anything.

So we waited for them to work it out, which took some time, then we were off and along the track. The questions about how far we’d gone, how long was left and when could they eat the muesli bar continued and were met every time with the same response, “It’s your trip. Work it out yourselves.”

Whilst the questions are annoying, once they realise you’re not going to provide them with any answers, they eventually stop asking, until they want reassurance that they’re on the right path or they’re tired and then, like flies to a dead horse, they ask again and again and again.

Camp

We eventually made it to camp, probably two hours later than if one of us had been ‘running’ the trip, but what educational value would that have provided? If we just ‘run’ trips, we only reinforce the notion that everything can and will be answered and done instantly with no effort on the part of the student. From an educational point of view, this is a complete waste of time and allows for no development of resilience nor initiative in kids, which ultimately will cost them dearly when faced with any sort of challenge later in life.

Giving responsibility

When leading trips, this has always been my guiding principle. Set the group up once and let them work the rest out for themselves. They must do everything out there in the field for themselves. What time we start, what time we break, setting the group’s pace, making camp, dinner time, wake up, pack up, departure and navigation. Everything about the trip needs to be directed to the students to think about and take appropriate action to complete.

At the end of the day, you never learn to drive sitting in the passenger seat, so set the group up then put the responsibility on the group to take ownership and run the trip themselves. It might be tough. They might whinge and complain about it, but it lets them develop real problem solving skills and teaches them some valuable lessons that they are unlikely to learn anywhere else.

Next time you’re out with a group, don’t take charge and do everything for them. Brief the group, then sit back, relax and enjoy the ride.

 

David Gregory

David is an experienced outdoor education teacher from Australia who’s worked on various domestic and international programs for over 16 years. David has planned and led outdoor education programs for students from primary age, through senior school. David’s a keen snow skier and outside of the outdoors he enjoys museums and art galleries, his favourite being the V&A in London.

Follow the link in his picture to his website.

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