Saturday, March 24, 2018

SLICE #24- Lessons learned at dog school

I'm trying to find a hobby. Since I've always loved dogs, it makes sense that this new hobby might involve dogs. And so I've been going to training classes at Canine Partners of the Rockies two Saturdays a month. I love helping with the dogs.

And I often learn something about teaching kids as well.

Today was no exception.

The handlers and dogs were working on the "Wait" command. You might know that command as "stay." But the dogs at CaPR "wait."

Angela, the trainer, was modeling the task with Nugget, who is an advanced dog, almost ready to become a full-fledged service dog. She could put Nugget in a "wait" and then turn her back and walk away for several minutes. During that time she might pet another dog, talk to a handler, or even shake the treat jar. Nugget would still be waiting when she came back.

When it was the other dogs' turn, she cautioned the handlers to set their dogs up for success. With Willow, who is only 14 weeks old, the handler never moved more than one or two steps away. And the "wait" was probably never more than 30 seconds. Valor, an exuberant eight-month-old, could wait while his mama backed up about ten feet, but that was definitely far enough, and he really struggled to concentrate if he was too close to the other dogs. Ully's trainer thought she would be ok if she left her and walked across the room, but Angela cautioned her to try an easier move first, and if Ully was successful there, then she could try something harder. Ully was ultimately able to handle the more difficult task, but she had had success at the easier one first. Angela  reminded the handlers that sometimes their dogs would be able to do tasks at home, where there were not many distractions, but that those same tasks would be much more difficult in other situations, e.g. in the class today, when there were eight dogs, and about 15 people.

Angela told the handlers that they should always, always, always set the dogs up to be successful. When the dogs were successful at an easy task, then the handler could up the ante just a little. The dogs learned by success after success after success. And when they failed, the handler simply reset the dog, and tried again, with a task that was a little easier. There was never any punishment or mean voice or anything like that. Not even a "No!" Just a reset and try again.

As I was watching the dogs, I was thinking about the kids at school. We're all about rigor these days. The texts always have to be complex. The writing tasks daunting.  And everyone gets the same task to do.  And right now, a week before our state tests, the tasks are really hard, and there are a lot of kids that are not experiencing a lot of success. And I'm seeing a lot of discouraged and/or frustrated kids. People don't learn a lot from repeated failures.

Tonight I'm thinking about my friend Lori Conrad, who always says, "Learning is success remembered."

And I'm wondering what we as teachers might learn from the dogs and their handlers.


Ramona said...

"... always, always, always set the dogs up to be successful . . . Just a reset and try again." Lots to think about in your post and how we might use these ideas in the classroom environment.

Unknown said...

Heavens, yes! "The texts always have to be complex. The writing tasks daunting." I have been thinking about this a lot lately myself. We ask so much from our kids and why? They would learn so much more by spending a day out in nature figuring out how to survive with just their surrounding resources. I enjoyed your connection between encouraging and training dogs and encouraging and training our students. Well written.

elsie said...

Set them up for success, yes! It must be fun to watch the dogs take on the new learning. If only the officials would allow us to teach students and not the test. Sigh!

Elisabeth Ellington said...

As soon as I started reading the section about how the task was differentiated to account for different dogs' current ability and to ensure they would experience success, I began to think about what I see in classrooms and how students seem to be set up intentionally to struggle and fail. It's as if we believe that learning requires struggle and an unpleasant level of challenge. It's as if we believe that success is only success if we fail first. Not true!

Tamara said...

As I head back to school after a brief spring break I'm going to keep your words (and Lori's) in my heart. "There was never any punishment or mean voice or anything like that. Not even a "No!" Just a reset and try again." Reset and try again. When I hear how hard this time of year is for so many, I'm sad and then I'm angry. It doesn't have to be this way. No one learns under so much pressure.