Thursday, August 28, 2008
How Training A Dog Is Like Teaching A Korean Schoolgirl
Check out this cool video from the perma-cool TED talks about... dog training. Not the most interesting subject ever, I know, but this must be the most genius dog trainer you'll see. Ian Dunbar, the dog trainer in question, has a really neat perspective on canine discipline. It's pretty simple, like all great things are. You have to make the dog's desires line up with yours.
This is great because I think we can take everything he says about dog training and apply it to the rest of our lives, translating the advice about teaching "sit puppy" to "now learn some English." So many times in the classroom do I find myself making the mistakes Dunbar ascribes to bad dog owners. I punish the kids by yelling at them. I fail to understand why the kids want to talk with each other instead of listening to me patter on in a foreign tongue. Dunbar's strategy is all about empathy--about seeing 'bad' behaviour as something logical and understandable, not as evidence of metaphysical malfeasance. This requires making a greater-than-usual effort to understand another being's perspective, but the pay-off is huge: instead of seeing my students as THE ENEMY who I must forge into a disciplined English-learning machine, I can see them as creatures with their own desires and needs--I just have to somehow shoehorn English learning in there. If he can understand why a puppy acts up, then I can understand why my students want to talk with each other instead of studying English.
Now, what's the practical upswing of all this rarefied theoretical bullshit? My biggest discipline problem teaching is that my (all-girl) students often want to gossip to each other in Korean. So if I can take their relentless social urge and somehow filter it into English learning, then my classes will be significantly easier, and more fun. The great thing about teaching a language which you won't get from teaching math or literature, is that language-learning is hard-wired in our brains. It is as natural as eating. The pay-off is instantly satisfying: communication. Now how to harness that communication, that's the hard part, but I suppose I will spend the better part of my weekend thinking this through.