Recently, my family bought a new puppy; an 8 week old German Shorthaired Pointer. She is an absolutely beautiful dog, incredibly smart, and a lovely addition to our family. An interesting aspect of owning this type of dog is her behaviors while in our backyard. For centuries, German Shorthaired Pointers were bred to be hunting dogs. More specifically, they were used for the hunting of birds. A few times, while out back with our dog, we’ve noticed her stop in her tracks and ‘point’.
This indicates that she has detected a bird and is, as a result, letting the hunter know where it is. Now, we’re not hunters and we are not training our puppy to point, but it is instinctual for these dogs. Using her amazing sense of smell and detecting something different in her field of vision, she is able to spot birds in our backyard that we are unaware of. It is quite amazing to watch. She locks in and is focused on that bird until it flies away. She is on the hunt; looking for something in her environment that is out of the ordinary.
I think this is a great analogy for how we need to discuss studying and reviewing with our students. I may be wrong, but I’ve noticed a great number of my students who study seemingly looking for information they already know. They appear to be going at it looking for how much they got correct, what is normal in their environment. But, like the German Shorthaired Pointer, they need to be looking for the out of the ordinary aspects. They need to be on the hunt and ‘pointing’ at the incorrect and focusing on that material. That is where the reward is in studying, not in reminding yourself of what you already know (although, retrieving that information again is definitely valuable). The gains are made when a student can ‘point’ at a term or concept they don’t understand, focus on that topic, and then later access that material and use it correctly.
As I’ve said many times to my students during this semester – You’d rather find out you don’t know something now than on the assessment. If you find out now, you can ask questions and discuss with myself and your peers to fill in that hole in your understanding. If you find out on the assessment, it’s too late.
This all may seem quite obvious to teachers, but I don’t think it is as evident to students. For the majority of their schooling, they have been ‘trained’ to find the what they already know and that forgetting/getting something wrong is bad (this point definitely also deserves a discussion and reframing in class). Also, it’s not flattering to figure out you don’t know something you are supposed to know. I think this leads to students avoiding more effortful (and potentially rewarding) studying.
So, unlike the German Shorthaired Pointer, whose instincts tell it to point at the out of ordinary aspects of its environment, our student’s instincts and intuitions about studying are not that. They need the explicit instruction and conversations. They need the practice if they are going to become more efficient and effective learners.
How are you working with your students to help them ‘point’ to information they don’t know?
Feature image by Brixiv: https://www.pexels.com/photo/sunset-water-animal-dog-11567666/