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To tell someone the answer, or not to tell someone the answer, that is the question.

I have seen some instructors attempt to coyote teach a student by answering questions with a question like: I don't know, what do you think it is?

I have seen (and experienced) students outraged at their teacher for doing this. 

So the question I have for yall is, what do you think about coyote teaching? good, bad, depends?

Tell me please.

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I think there is good "coyote teaching" and bad coyote teaching.  When it is bad, it can really ruin a class, kill a learning experience and cause the students to loose all trust and respect for the teacher.  I think coyote teaching only works when the student and teacher have built up a level of trust.

One great teacher that I have had would deal with this situation like this: when I asked him a question he would respond "do you want me to tell you the answer or do you want to figure it out for yourself?"  If I wanted the answer right then he would always tell me.  Thus earning my trust.  At the same time he was challenging me to put in the work to figure it out for myself.  So obviously most of the time I would choose to look it up on my own.  

How long do you think it usually takes to build up a level trust?  What other things do you do to build up trust? 

I agree that it can be horrible.  When I was a young buck a student asked me "hey what is that?"  while she pointed to a turkey vulture in the sky.  I said "that is a bird," and she flipped her lid.  Lost her marbles if you catch my drift. 

I could have done a much better job.  I could have asked " what do you notice about the shape of the wings?  How is it flying?  About what size do you think it is?"  That probably would have led her to an answer. 

I think a lot of teachers stroke their own egos with coyote teaching.  That is not what it is meant for. 

I think that the level of trust you have dictates the types of lessons you can offer a student.  To really do some crazy stuff with a person you are mentoring it takes months or years of building up trust.  For most activities it doesn't take long to earn a decent amount of trust.  Its a delicate thing.  

I think so too.  How do you build up trust with your students? 

Thats a great question, Steve.  I think you have to prove to the students that you know what you're doing.  This could mean taking a break so that they can jump in the pond when everyone is hot and exhausted... being on time, showing them respect and a bit of wisdom.  Once they believe that you are smart and have their best interest in mind... the groundwork is there for pushing their edges.   The farther you push them, the more they need to believe that you know what you're doing.  

When you say prove to students that you know what you are doing, do you mean hard skills?  Or soft skills?  Or something different?

When you say to really do some crazy stuff with a person you are mentoring, what are some examples of crazy stuff?


I don't really teach now, but this is where I'm at with coyote teaching: It is just one style of teaching and doesn't have to be used exclusively. When you use coyote teaching, you are making the assumption that you know more than they do. That's a dangerous assumption, unless there is a significant age difference. With an age difference its understood that the elder is the teacher, but trying to coyote teach peers is egotistical because you are saying to someone with the same lifetime experience that you are wiser than them. That being said, if I were to interact with somebody my age that's been hunting for 25 years, I'd accept any kind of teaching they had for me because they have been doing it 5 times longer than me. 

That's my .02$

Yeah that makes sense Preston. 

I do teach now.  Mostly I teach people my own age.  I have cut the coyote teaching from my repertoire due to the things you have said and some of my past experiences with it. 

If a towhee sings and a student asks me what it was, I say "that was a towhee."  What I do is follow up with students now.  When the towhee sings 5 minutes later, I ask the student "what bird just sang?"  Often the student does not recall the name of the bird I gave them five minutes prior.
  Then I tell them a again.  Then I ask again.  Usually 3 or 4 times and they get it. 

I think students really want to know that you have their best interest in mind and that you are aware enough to know what they need on their learning journey.  Coyote teaching to me is more about being a really creative and aware teacher rather than just withholding answers.  Like what you said about teaching someone a bird song.  You have the awareness to know that it usually takes 3 or 4 times before they remember.  When the students see that you have that awareness and the ability to get them to remember a bird song they will be more open to you quizzing them and pushing them in the future.  

When I think of crazy mentoring stuff I think of blindfold activities like drum stalks or swamp crawls... things like that.  I have a native american friend who would mentor people to be more comfortable in the woods and he required a ton of trust from his students.  He would blindfold people for 3 days, lots of intense martial arts training, lots of night time stuff.  Big edge pushing.  He had a way of earning everyone's trust and we would do anything he said.  He also kept us on our toes and we never knew what to expect.  Most of these edge pushing activities aren't fully appreciated until weeks, months or years later.

Steve Nicolini said:

When you say prove to students that you know what you are doing, do you mean hard skills?  Or soft skills?  Or something different?

When you say to really do some crazy stuff with a person you are mentoring, what are some examples of crazy stuff?

for me, it was much easier to accept coyote teaching methods when they were given with choice like how connor's teacher used to give him the option of being told or finding out thyself.  All instructors but Fil especially would give me that option and question me about nature of the animal or thing i was asking about, like the wing shape or color.  And after being repetedily asked things like that, that really helped me to pay attention to the details.

The Coyote teaching that i recieved was regular, relaxed, conversational, well intented, and well placed so that i was able to benifit greatly from it. 

I think that was largely because i was open to it, and i trusted all of you (for the most part ;) so i didn't waste my effort on becoming suspicious so to draw my attention away from the information.


Over the period of a certain week when there were so many accusations and negative feelings flying about, myself and several others took the lessons very seriously about observations vs. feelings and thoughts and were able to sink into the experience more and function more effective and effeciently due to our trust in all of you and in our abilities.  We were able to handle our emotions and learn a lot and have a great time.


I think it takes sound judgment of situation and people involved to be able to effectively use this Coyote style, and i absolutly agree with you Connor about being a creative and aware teacher, keeping people on their toes ought to keep them engaged, interested, and ripe for learning.


I'd like to know of any good ideas anyone has on how to dissuade that tension and distrust once it begins to build... back off from that style?  use and redirect it to be a useful edge to pressure flake?  change tactics completely?


Good discussion here.  I am glad you felt comfortable with me and my style of questioning!  That is very good to hear.

I think that if tension and distrust exists or has started to happen around the Art of Questioning, I would back off.  It might also be helpful to be more transparent about what you are doing, and have a direct conversation with that person about what it is your doing, and how you are both learning from it.

If you watch and communicate with the student sincerely and honestly, you will either hear directly from them or see in there behavior what amount of questioning and pushing is acceptable.  If they are getting turned off by the process, ease off of it.  Then, if they continue to show you that the method is not working, its time to change tactics completely.

Another way you can bring in questioning is to use it to demonstrate your own mental process.  For instance, when you find a set of tracks, a new plant or some other natural mystery you will naturally go through a process of questioning yourself about it using the knowledge base you already have.

You can do that out loud with the student. 

I think that teaching others the process of self-learning and awareness is FAR more important than having them be able to identify any particular natural element. 

Let's take this photo as a potential example:

When you look at these tracks, how would you describe what you see to a student if you are verbalizing your own mental process? 

Let me give you some additional parameters.  Let us say this student is pretty new to tracking, and that your goal is to help him or her notice details.  They are excited about identification (most new students immediately want to know WHAT the tracks are from), but you know as the more experienced tracker that learning the process/method is more important.  Using these parameters try to answer the question above and remember that you need to balance your needs with the students desires to know what this is from.

Post your thoughts here and we can give you some feedback on it.

I am putting up a photo of a set of tracks you probably have never seen before so that you can demonstrate your thought process.  The context for these was in a lava bed area that had scattering of sandy patches in between them in a very arid part of the Mojave desert in California.  I will gladly tell you what they are from, I just wanted you to get a chance to practice demonstrating your mental process with an unknown animal. 

Below are the tracks of an animal you know very well, coyote tracks.  Do the same process with them and post it here.


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