“You know the bowline, please show the younger scouts” barked the scoutmaster to the patrol leaders. The younger scouts looked eager to learn holding ropes in hands. The patrol leaders had blank looks on their faces. Eyes looked up as if they were searching for directions written on the ceiling. Finally the senior patrol leader offered help. “Come on! We learned this for camping and life saving merit badges, you know it!” He then offered the common mnemonic device most people learn the bowline know: “The rabbit comes out of the hole around the tree and back into the hole.” The rabbit’s motion describes how the rope moves to tie the knot.
For some patrol leaders light bulbs went on. Ropes started to move forming proper bowlines, modeling for the younger scouts. The other patrol leaders observed their peers, upon seeing the modeling remembered how to form the knots. One exclaimed: “I never use the bowline, totally forgot!” as he tied a perfect knot.
This small snapshot of learning that happen Wednesday night at Griffin’s scout meeting tells us three key things about learning:
- Learning needs to be used frequently to be recalled without prompts. The senior patrol leader had just finished his life saving merit badge that required him to tie the bowline multiple times. The other patrol leaders were more than six months removed the the last time tying the knot. When learning is distanced from assessment, results may not be accurate. Many of the patrol leaders knew how to tie the bowline but when initially assessed failed.
- Prompts help recall. Once the senior patrol leader shared the rabbit mnemonic many of the scouts who previously master the bowline, remembered how to tie the knot. Many times in our classrooms we expect students to perform without any prompts to help them recall learned skills. We all need reminder prompts, especially if we are removed from the learning. I was recently asked if I remember a person from college. Not recognizing the persons name at first, my friend show me a picture which helped my memory. Auditory or visual prompts will help students students remember skills learned. How can we incorporate them into learning and assessment processes?
- Modeling a process reaches most learners. The mnemonic story help some, but the modeling of tying the knot allowed all the scouts to be successful. How do we model before we assess learning? How connected is the modeling to the assessment?
When reflecting on this snapshot of learning it reinforces the negative feelings I get when administering standardized tests. Standardized tests are often distanced from learning lacking any prompts or modeling of skills. How can we create more accurate measurements of student learning?
At first glance one scout knew the bowline knot. After further examination ALL of the scouts knew the bowline. Our goal is for ALL students to be successful. Let’s make it happen!