Click, Clack, Teach! (Using a clicker on humans?)

During the last week of school, a Hidden Brain episode called “When Everything Clicks” appeared in my downloads. It was very interesting as an educator and got me thinking about the techniques that were being discussed. Please listen to the podcast yourself (link on the title above), and let me know your opinions in the comments 🙂

The episode began by discussing with a woman who trained dolphins with a clicker and how it became an innovative strategy for training other animals such as dogs, horses, and even domesticated crabs.  But do humans react the same way?

The majority of the episode was about Dr. Martin Levy, from Bronx Montefiore Medical Center, who uses the clicker on his surgeons in training. In the skills lab, there are many steps for some of the procedures and the clicker has shown to be an effective way to give feedback without showing frustration or too much bias. The students are learning one-on-one with Dr. Levy and they all receive the same response once they have completed each step successfully: a click.

Since his students are adults who have been through college, they understand that the clicker technique came from Piaget – Dr. Levy tells all the incoming classes that he uses this method as a way to bring about intrinsic motivation within. He states that, “all the usual interference from the teacher — “great job,” “well done,” “no, wrong” — is removed. [The clicker] is baggage free, it is emotion free.”

As a teacher of elementary students, I really started thinking about if this would work on a younger mind. They wouldn’t be aware of where the method came from; however, some of their parents might use a clicker on the dog at home. I feel like it would be more complicated to retract the need for teacher approval since it is already ingrained in the school environment. I think if a school wanted to start this method, it would need to be a charter or private school so it can create a completely new style of educating.

Another doubt with this method on younger children is that I can imagine them comparing how quickly each student received clicks – the main thing that was easily taken out with Dr. Levy’s one-on-one lab time is the judgment from other students. If it is possible to take students out of the classroom to receive the individual attention, I could see some kids discussing if a child was out of the room longer than they were (meaning they took longer on the task).

I do think the clicker method works on animals and on humans who have been told the purpose – Dr. Levy did mention that some students are confused on why he was using the “dog training method.” But since he is their mentor and they trust him, they followed his guidance. I am still unsure if every human would react in the same respected way.

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