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#TeachLikeARanger – Interpretation as Expert Teaching (Pt. 1)

For learning to be effective, it must be equal parts memorable and driven by connections.

Readers familiar with my Park Based Learning project known about our downloadable projects and our resource guides, but one of our newest initiatives focuses on helping classroom teachers improve their instruction by adapting the techniques used by park rangers to teach. This project, the Teach Like A Ranger project, helps teachers become more comfortable with a facilitation or learner-centered style of learning by linking what rangers do to the expert teaching practices that are more familiar.

Let us first address the elephant in the room; “expert teaching” is a Ioaded term. When you hear someone discuss either “expert teaching” or “best practice” your responses, internal or external, should immediately be, “according to who/what?” With this in mind, let us boil down “teaching” to its two main components; planning a lesson and the execution of that plan. This isn’t meant to simplify teaching or dismiss the importance of classroom culture, relationship building, or reflecting on how the lesson went and so forth, but we can probably all agree that the act of teaching can be divided into what you do before students arrive in your classroom, and what you do once they arrive in your classroom.

In this first blog, we will deal with planning. Effective planning can take many forms, but the model we’re going to focus on here is outlined in Cognitive Coaching by Costa and Garmston which can be previewed here.

In their book, the authors outline the phases of planning in the following manner;

1. Anticipating and predicting the outcome. Articulate your learning goals for the students.


2. Identifying or predicting their current capacity and knowledge. Where are they now? How do you know this? Comes from knowledge of student or previous lessons.


3. Imagining an instructional sequence that will get them from where they are to where you want them to be. Draw on the teacher toolbox, lessons adapted from others, were searching out possible resources that can be leveraged.


4. Finding opportunities for assessment. How will you know that your learners successfully reached your learning goals based on what you have done?

Now, let’s put on our ranger hats for a moment. Interpretation, like teaching, is heavily influenced by an interpreters style and background, but planning an effective program follows a specific, widely-accepted process. The description of these phases were adapted from Foundations of Interpretation;

1. Setting goals and objectives based on audience needs. What do you want your audience to leave caring about or having experienced?


2. Identify your audience. What are they hoping to get out of a visit? How can you use the resources of the park to ensure that each visitor, regardless of who they are and what they know, will leave having grown.


3. Considering what resources within the park will best resonate with visitors. What tangible resources can be connected to intangible universal themes or meanings?


4. Select the most appropriate techniques that link tangible resources with the intangible meanings they illustrate or hold.

The parallels between the two models are very clear and tell us a lot about what high-quality planning looks like; 1. set your goals, 2. understand the needs of your learners, 3. Choose the best methods or tools for getting them from from #2 to #1.

One observation you might have made is that while the classroom model focuses on opportunities for assessment (#4), the interpretive model does not. This isn’t because assessing the success of your approach isn’t important to interpreters, it is more due to the fact that all the assessment of learner knowledge is informal in nature. To put it more simply; park rangers aren’t required to hand out report cards. The National Park Service has a detailed model for analyzing how successful interpretive programs are and you can read more about it here.


In our next post, we will look at specific teaching strategies used by interpreters to connect their learners to learning goals.

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