Innovation is not about the stuff; it is a way of thinking.
In my role as a technology integration specialist, I hear many teachers complain that they don’t know how to plan innovative lessons or that they don’t have the time to plan new lessons. One of the most common requests is for specific examples of lessons that “qualify” as innovative. It would be virtually impossible for me to provide specific examples for all of the grade levels and subjects. The classroom teacher really needs to be the one taking the concept of change and innovation (whether with technology or not) and apply ideas to either the grade level or subject matter. I think the most effective change is change that is intrinsically motivated. If you want to change the way that you teach, it is much easier to find the time that will be needed to make these changes. The steps below will hopefully help to solidify the process that can be used to design engaging and innovative lessons. By the way, I don’t think these steps need to happen in any particular order. Use any of them as a starting point for making your classroom an exciting learning space!
1. Take a look at what you teach and ask..
- What lessons bore me?
- What do I get excited about that doesn’t seem to transfer to students?
- What lessons don’t seem to engage students anymore?
- What lessons do students consistently say doesn’t apply to them?
These questions should help you to identify those lessons that are a perfect starting point for change. This is how I methodically set out changing what I did when I was in the classroom. Don’t try to tackle everything at once or there is no doubt that you will be overwhelmed. I found that once I started to get into the mindset of change, it got easier. Planning the first few new lessons was way harder than lesson 20+.
2. Decide what type(s) of changes are necessary to make the lesson better.
Here is where your subject specific skills come into play. What do students really need to be able to do in terms of both content and skills? Be honest and reflective here. Think outside the box. Remember the saying, “if you always do what you’ve always done, you will always get what you have always gotten.”
- What do students really need to know?
- Do they have to memorize a set of facts or would they be better off researching and finding those facts on their own?
- Do those facts really need to be committed to memory?
- Is a lecture or whole group instruction absolutely necessary?
I want to stress again, you have to answer these questions honestly. This honesty will cause you to think about everything that you do and why you do it. Just a warning…it may be hard to change your thinking, but it will be worth it! Don’t be afraid to challenge the long held beliefs about how school is supposed to look.
3. Look for specific ways to make the changes that you have decided are necessary.
This is the part of lesson planning that I really enjoyed. Once you know the big picture changes you would like to make, you have to decide what help is needed to actually put your ideas into practice. You have a few options here. While you can rely on professional organizations for your subject and grade level, this is where I think social media can be extremely helpful. Twitter, Facebook, Voxer, and Pinterest are awesome places to help you get specific ideas. Finding and following the right people will give you a plethora of ideas to implement into your lessons.
The other option (if available) is to contact your instructional coach/technology integration specialist/innovation coach for help. Forget technology for a moment, you should be focused on what is needed to make for an engaging experience. If it does involve technology, your comfort level will dictate the help you need. You might think back to a conference you attended and/or professional development experiences for a list of specific apps and programs that will help make the new lessons engaging and rich. You might go to your technology person and share the overall lesson idea and ask for 1:1 help with how to best accomplish your goals. I want to stress that the technology, if any, should not be at the forefront of your thought process at this point; it is about the pedagogy. Technology might play a big role in your new lesson, but I would caution that you not start with an app and figure out what to do with it. This is especially true for those who are just starting to make big changes to their classroom environment. Once you have decided the big picture, it might be a new app and/or service that sparks some ideas, but don’t put the proverbial cart before the horse. Even an app like Explain Everything, while awesome, should be considered only after deciding that students need to take on more of a role in presenting and sharing what they know. The app then becomes the vehicle by which the students show their mastery.
4. Talk, read, and share with others.
This might be the most important step! Teaching is no longer that solitary profession where you enter your classroom, shut the door, and do your own thing. Let me rephrase that…teaching should NO LONGER be a solitary, lonely profession. When you want to make changes, “talk” with people. Talk with other same grade level teachers, talk with different grade level teachers, talk with teachers who teach a different subject matter, get onto social media…see the pattern here, talk with others. Teaching isn’t just about content anymore! Read whatever you can get your hands on whether it is blogs, articles, or books. All of this talking and reading will lead to ideas. These ideas will lead to more ideas, which will hopefully cause you to want to make more changes. Some will shrug and ask where will they get the time. If you want to truly make changes, you will find the time. It doesn’t have to be a lot of time, but dedicating even 10-15 minutes a day will help generate ideas.
5. Look around for great ideas!
When I was in the classroom, one of the methods I employed was to think about how everything I saw that was “cool” could be replicated by my students. The important part here is that my students would create! I remember watching a Common Craft video and thinking about how my students could create one…hence History on Paper was born. A language arts colleague shared with me the idea of animated Powerpoint presentations for poems…my students designed a presentation that might play in the lobby of the National Civil Rights Museum. Are you a Tasty fan? Just think about how your students could do something like that with the content that you teach! Everything I experienced became a possibility in the classroom. Did everything work? Nope, but that didn’t stop me from trying new things. The good ones stuck, while the “bad” ones were either dropped or reworked.
There is no question that making changes in the classroom will take time. It will be much more enjoyable to change what you do when it is something that you want and need. You don’t have to change overnight; instead, work to find a few areas where you want to see changes and focus on those. The more that you invest in a new classroom experience for your students, the easier it will get. Hopefully you will find that you enjoy teaching and may even make you remember why you got into profession in the first place. Changes to your classroom will hopefully pay dividends in terms of time. For example, looking at homework differently might lighten your grading load. Allowing students to choose how they show mastery will no longer mean grading one hundred plus of the same paper! You will still assess, but it might look different than taking home a stack of papers. As the old saying goes, “work smarter not harder.”