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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