One enthusiastic educator's exciting journey to teaching mastery
One enthusiastic educator's exciting journey to teaching mastery
A few years ago, I joined an IB World School as a grade 1 and 2 homeroom French teacher. Since then, I've learned a lot about inquiry-based, student-led learning through the lens of this program. One big change that took place in my teaching career, and in my life, is action.
In the IB program, students are encouraged to take action in their classrooms, their homes and their communities. This was one of the biggest differences I noticed when I arrived at my current school- students were always asking me: "can I go see the principal with this project proposal?" or "I saw x on the news so I want to do y as a fundraiser in the school. When can we make it happen?". At first, I didn't know how to handle these requests, but I soon learned to empower and assist my students in their projects. I even began to encourage them to take action.
What I noticed was that soon, my own actions were changing. When a group of grade 6 students presented their exhibition project, I joined them in boycotting Nestle chocolate because of their mistreatment of child workers. Many of the teachers at school still choose to eat only fair-trade chocolate (yes, even on Halloween!).
Even though I knew about Rana Plaza, and fast fashion destroying human lives and our environment, it was my constant preaching about the integrity attitude that made me change my shopping habits. I figured if I'm always telling my students that they should do the right thing even when no one is watching, then I should do the same.
When I encouraged my students to take action in their community (and then they did, time and time again), I knew I had to do the same. I found a local organization that helps adults develop their literacy skills, and once a week I volunteer there.
As you can see, teaching in an IB school was the wake up call I needed to align my values with my actions. These changes were so powerful for me that I wanted to share a few reasons I think action is important in any school setting.
Action as the Goal
I've talked about the IB attitudes and attributes before, and here's why they keep coming up. To me, teaching a set (whatever the set!) of attitudes or personality traits that we want our students to develop is an essential part of teaching the whole child. Teaching these traits, defining them with my students, is only half the story. The meaningful part comes when these traits are linked to action; encouraging my students to embody these attitudes, and then 'catching' them displaying these traits, that's what really made me pay more attention to my own behaviours and actions. It was my continual preaching about displaying these attitudes, integrating them into actions, that pushed me to evaluate and improve my own actions!
Real World Benefits
When my students take action, they get to apply what they've learnt to the real world, and sometimes see immediate results for their hard work.
For example, last year I had a student very upset about the news footage of Hurricane Harvey hitting Texas last year. Images of destroyed schools particularly bothered him. He went to see our principal and said: "do you know what's been going on in Texas? We need to do something!" He decided to host a Mr. Freezie fundraiser during recess, with all proceeds going to a school that had been hit by the hurricane. He spoke on the intercom to tell students about what had been going on, and his plans for the fundraiser. The whole school participated in helping him raise funds, and thanks to his initiative, he raised hundreds of dollars, and showed our chosen school that the world cares. He had empathy, and a strong sense of responsibility towards fellow students (even though he had no personal connection to Texas!). He saw a problem, and took action. Isn't this what we want from all our students? From each other?
Leading by Example
Like in everything that we teach our students, it's important to model desired outcomes for our students. We model how to solve math equations, how to correct our writing, how to use the Internet as a tool...of course we need to model how to be good citizens .
A part of that means showing respect to one another, working hard on tasks, and having manners. I don't know a single teacher who doesn't teach all these things in addition to the regular curriculum. However, if we want our students to do more....we need to show them how. We need to show them that we value action too, enough so that we take our own initiatives.
now, just start
It may seem overwhelming to organize whole-school social change projects, fundraisers and campaigns- it would be! Our students didn't get into these habits overnight. I didn't make overnight. I didn't start volunteering full-time. I didn't join every protest I could find, the day I decided I needed to do more. In fact, all these changes are taking time and evolving.
The point is not to be perfect- the point is to improve the world we live in. I encourage you (and your students!) to take action and effect change, even on a small scale. If you're not sure where to start, choose a topic that you're passionate or knowledgeable about. It's better to start small than to not start at all.
Lately, I’ve been reflecting on the importance of provocations. Provocation, sometimes called hook, is a thought-provoking experience that engages students in thinking about a particular subject. It is not a lesson on a topic, information is not given or fed to the students- think of it more as a beginning exploration or discovery in a certain topic.
My History with Provocations
While I was studying for my B.Ed., we would have to integrate them into fictional lesson plans... but when we would be in field experiences, it was not something many of us saw or did in practice. For the early years in my career, provocations weren’t something I spent a lot of time thinking about, because I felt it was an energy-consuming task that didn’t make much of a difference. Maybe you have felt the same way.
However, since I’ve been teaching at an IB school, I am proud to say that provocations are an integral part of my pedagogy. We discuss provocations before starting any new unit of inquiry, and then we reflect, as a team, on how to improve them in the future.
Examples in Practice
Here, an example to work with: our latest unit was centered around the central idea that athletes are driven by their personal histories. Our grade-level team brainstormed fun ways to open this unit, and here’s what we settled on:
Benefits for Students and Teachers
Provocations do not need to be huge, complicated, intricate activities. In fact, this puzzle activity is one of the trickier ones I've prepared for my students. The idea is to get students thinking and and raise interest in a particular subject. There have been many benefits I've noticed for both myself and my students.
My students always love starting a new unit, because they know our provocation activities will get them thinking. They benefit from being engaged in an interesting way with a new topic. The collaborative nature that so many provocation activities embody also allows peers to mix in new and interesting ways- maybe two students were very interested in sports, and would not have necessarily connected with each other because they enjoyed different sports, but now under the umbrella of sportsmanship, the Olympics, and passion, those students discover that they have a lot in common!
For myself, provocations can be a chance to assess students' prior knowledge, and see who takes to a particular topic. For the example I gave above, I got to see which students were really passionate about sports and the Olympics, and already knew a lot- and then see which area of the topic interested them, and how I could support them. I also learned which students had limited knowledge about the topic, what they were interested in learning about, and what gaps needed to be addressed first.
Just Google ''provocation + your selected topic'' and you are bound to find a plethora of interesting provocations for your new unit. Here are a few tried and true methods that I've had success with in the past, and that can easily be recreated with different topics. You'll notice that they are mostly juxtapositions of two activities- that's just the style I like, but you can personalize your activities for you and your students.
The Lasting Impression of Provocations
I hope that after some exploration of provocations, you'll take a chance on starting your next unit or lesson or project with a provocation. The benefits of a carefully planned out teaching moment can create a lasting impression on your students. I know that I've had students talk about the provocation during a whole unit of inquiry, referring back to it to note how their thoughts and understanding have changed since they first began learning about a particular topic. Their excitement and high engagement can set the tone for a rich, fulfilling and fun learning experience!
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