Last week there was a fascinating story on NPR about biologists trying to help restore the Whooping Crane population. The Cranes have been bred in captivity and to release them into the wild the birds needed some help with migration. In order for the birds to avoid imprinting with people the scientists wore white coats and beaks when they were handled. Even the small aircraft and pilot that helped lead the birds on their migration was designed to look like one of them.
The good news with this experiment is that the birds have indeed learned to migrate. The bad news is that the birds are not able to reproduce, a pretty serious issue when trying to bring a species back. The scientist have been hypothesizing about why this is happening and they think it comes down to the fact that they were raised by humans rather than birds. Even when the birds do reproduce and a chick is hatched the parent birds don’t know how to protect their young. The birds don’t know how to be good parents because they have never had a chance to experience this or see other birds do this. Talk about the power of authentic models.
The Whooping Cranes plight serves as a cautionary tale for those of us in education. We need to take off the fake beaks and make sure that when we are working with students or teachers we provide legitimate models. It has long been proven that modeling is critical to learning. Social learning theorist Albert Bandura reminds us that most human behavior is learned by observing others through modeling. So it isn’t a matter of if we should model, but more of what should we model. If the model isn’t grounded in texts or problems that help the learner make sense of the world does the model make a difference? Does it stick? Does it help the learner perform the behavior/ skill on a later occasion?
Just like the Cranes our students can see through a contrived “think aloud”. We wonder why skills don’t get transferred from one context to the next. Perhaps the answer lies in what we have modeled. Have we provided a real model for learning on a task that matters to students? Food for thought…
Photo credit: Kiankhoon, Dreamstime Stock Photos
Bandura, A. (1986). Social Foundations of Thought and Action: A Social Cognitive. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.