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!
About ten days before school ended, I remember announcing to my class that this was our last Monday together before summer break. To my surprise, I heard a few groans and more than a few: "I don't want school to end!". I had been used to this when I taught in a low-SES neighbourhood, where summers off often meant a complete break from a steady and predictably-safe environment. But hearing this from my mostly well-off kids, who had plans of world travelling, specialized summer camps and endless play dates? I didn't expect it!
So I took the time to explain that we had all worked hard this year, and that we all deserved a break to relax now! To enjoy the hot weather, the long sunny days, eat tons of ice cream and play with our friends outside! And of course, we will all see each other again before we know it.
This class discussion made me think about the importance of closure. After spending all our days together for the better part of a year, even I'm sad to leave my crew. We have all those inside jokes! We have shared so many good and bad times together! Saying goodbye can be hard, specially for those not returning to us next school year, so it's important we do it right. Here are a few traditions I have in place to ease the transition, and to give everyone a peace of closure for the end of the school year!
The Most Detailed Attendance
It's almost comical how anal I become about the June calendar. "Will anyone NOT be here tomorrow, or for the rest of the year? X, will you be here? Y, when are you guys heading down to the States? Z, last year you had to finish early last year- what about this year?" In spite of my daily inquisitions, one or two students always end up leaving without coming back, sans warnings to themselves, to me or to their friends. And every year, this simultaneously bugs me and saddens me.
I think it is SO important for students to know when they are leaving school, and for their friends (and teachers!) to get a chance to say goodbye! Kids need the closure of goodbye hugs. It's essential that the adults in charge (a collaboration between teachers and parents) respect our shared children, and respect the relationships they've cultivated over the year.
Celebrating Summer Birthdays
I've written about the importance of celebrating birthdays before, but here I go again! It's so important to celebrate student birthdays, even if they occur on weekends or during the summer. This shows students that are thought-of and cared for all the time, not just when it conveniently fits our calendar. Also, I've had students not want to make birthday drawings for other kids because they thought their July birthdays wouldn't get celebrated. That bad attitude turns around quickly when they hear that I do ALL birthdays!
I typically schedule summer birthdays throughout the month of June, ensuring everyone gets their own day. Their birthdays are written on our calendar, and a little note is sent home explaining to parents why their child will be talking about their birthday a month early!
End of Year Awards
For the last two years, I've started the tradition of End of Year Awards with my students. Each award is personalized for the student and everyone gets one!
We roll out a red carpet (red paper if we have it...this year, I painted a red carpet on craft paper), put on award music and a video of a disco ball on a loop and we begin our ceremony! We go over the rules first: everyone claps for everyone, and everyone has the right to go to the end of the carpet to do their dramatic catwalk! My teaching partner and I put on our TV show host voices, and dramatically call out the awards like this: "for doing the right thing even when no one is looking, Mr. Integrity goes to... *kids do a drumroll* Johnny!" and then we do a round of applause, and pause for pictures.
End of Year Breakfast
If we don't have too many classroom allergies, I love to host a good classroom breakfast as an end of year activity. Each student is assigned a piece of food or cutlery to bring in. I set up our class tables as one mega table, so that we can eat family style. I even like to do place settings, and I have the kids help me in setting the table.
When it comes time to eating, I tell the kids a story from my past. When I was the army, the higher-ups always served the troops first, and they ate last. This is because leaders show the example, and put others first, and (I always liked to imagine) as a sign of respect for the troops. I always add that it's a little thing I can do to show them some love for a great year together!
The Importance of Traditions
These are a few of our little classroom end of year traditions. They change over the years depending on the kids. They help in the planning of it all, and they are the reason any and all these events are successes- it's thanks to their enthusiasm and participation that anything we do goes well. These traditions are a way of showing one another how much we mean to each other, and, for the end of the year, it's a celebration of all we've accomplished. What are some of your must-dos for class celebrations?
Over the last few years, I've developed a habit of downloading specialized fonts (usually from dafont) to jazz up my worksheets, templates or planners. While doing so, I'd wonder how complicated making a font would be, or how much I needed to know to get started. I got a false start when I first Googled it and landed on a tedious lesson about serifs. Fast forward a few months as I discovered the amazing app called iFontMaker.
Added bonus? For anyone who's a sharer, like me, you can share your work and know you have full ownership over your creations. Personally, I make my fonts Public Domain, because I had fun doing them, and I want to share my creations. You can find my fonts on another section of my blog, or on the iFontMaker site. I hope you enjoy using new fonts, and using this great app!
I love beautiful things. I try to make my classroom design visually appealing and uncluttered, and the same principles apply to my digital environment. My most favourite tool for creating beautiful graphic design has to be Canva. If it's new to you, read on to see how it compliments and even improves my teaching practice. If you're already using it, I would love to learn how you are implementing it to your teaching practice.
The Beauty of Canva
Easy to use
Easy to export
Graphic Design Ideas for Teachers
I just posted a few ways you could use Canva as a teacher, yet there are many other avenues to explore. My personal challenge for the next school year will be to introduce Canva to my students- I already have a few ideas cooked up! Here are a few ideas off the top of my head: visual representations of their learning, student-created classroom posters, re-imagined book jackets.... the possibilities are endless! How would you use this tool to improve your practice?
Coding, a synonym for computer language programming, is becoming increasingly trendy in schools. Should you consider starting a coding club in your school? Read up and decide for yourselves!
When you register your club, you (as Club Guru) get to choose a theme. Possible themes include: Storytelling, Art, Fashion & Design, Friends, Sports, Social Media, Music & Sound, and Game Design. Each theme has different lessons and objectives, so you could potentially have students in many different clubs. When you create a club, each student will automatically get a login account and password. This info works for the CS First website, where students watch videos and are given their daily activities, and this same info is used as their Scratch login information. This is where they will create all of their coding!
While all the instructions and backup plans and solutions are supplied, I would suggest registering yourself as a student in your own club, and experiencing the club from that point of view ahead of time. That will help you understand what needs to be accomplished in your next session, as well as highlight goals and tips and tricks to share with your students.
Each club runs for 8 sessions (you could do it twice a week for 4 weeks, once a week for 8 weeks... you decide!). In my experience, one hour was sufficient per session. You may want and need extra time if you are running this club for younger grades.
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