Tuesday, 15 October 2013

What does classroom innovation look like in your subject?

In my first year of teaching, I had the fortune of working with an exceptionally creative staff body. I was inspired practically every day by the innovation at the performing arts school. Some things I tried and they failed, but I failed in a safe environment, my line manager was forgiving and encouraging and that empowered me to innovate some more. Whilst my environment changed over the next 6 years of my teaching career, I was still inspired to innovate and create engaging lessons:



But the big question is how do we innovate? Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi would argue that creativity leads to happiness and it generally leads to flow and great innovation. As a dancer, I learnt that in order to create something original, we need to combine two (sometimes unrelated) elements. Nothing is truly new or original on its own, but in combination we can truly create and innovate. This lead to my first innovation in my first term of teaching, "Teaching spreadsheets through dance"

There are those that disagree that this style of constructive learning is beneficial, Harry Webb whilst commenting on an excellent post about Direct Instruction vs Constructivism states:

"...Constructivism also has damaging effects other than those associated with minimal guidance. It delegitimises the teacher as an expert. Teachers see themselves as needing to ‘engage’ students with ‘relevant’ and ‘authentic’ tasks; a sort of ‘customer knows best’ mentality. This pulls teachers away from focusing on cognitively taxing problems and forces them to introduce potentially distracting contexts. It also creates debilitating levels of guilt around a failure to deliver on nebulous concepts such as differentiation."

I would strongly disagree with Harry Webb who states that Direct Instruction should be used for all new content, I used constructivism for new content and combined with some direct instruction later on, it had a dramatic effect. All students achieved 1+ grade of value added and that same set scored 100% A-C in their GCSE ICT exam, most notably they were all comfortable using spreadsheets throughout their school career.

Indeed, students themselves may innovate and in turn lead us teachers to re-evaluate our teaching and curriculum as was the case when a student demonstrated to the class how to make a game us presentation software, in this case, Powerpoint:



At times however, innovation does not look pretty. Indeed it can simply be deciding to teach using a very didactic form of Direct Instruction as was the case in these revision sessions. To make them a bit more accessible and to maximise time:learning ratio, we could also do these as Vlogs:

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I wont really get into the flipped classroom debate here but I can say that that it worked well with my GCSE classes who were very much engaged by the multimedia nature of the Vlogs. I'd be interested to hear how other people have innovated in their respective subjects and perhaps we could all learn a bit more from each other as we combine and re-apply these techniques.

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