As educators, we develop lesson plans with careful consideration and effort. When one works, we fall in love, hesitant to change it too much for fear that change might bring less student success.
The old adage: If something works, why change it? There is a simple answer: the willingness to exit our comfort zone, to embrace new ideas, and to change our teaching results in increased student performance and engagement.
A framework for innovative teaching
If we are lucky, something triggers us to question our routines and habits, and this sets us on an unexpected trajectory. For me, that moment came in August 2018 when I became part of the Teaching and Innovation Fellows program through the West Houston Institute at Houston Community College.
The Teaching and Innovation Fellows program brings together a cross-section of college instructors and administrators, united in their interest in innovative thinking and how it applies to their respective roles.
The year-long fellowship began with a curriculum developed by EdgeMakers, an organization that teaches students and teachers to be innovative and entrepreneurial. EdgeMakers believes everyone has the capacity to be creative and innovative, and the curriculum provides a framework for innovative thinking regarding complex challenges.
In the beginning of the fellowship, our facilitator asked us to read, write, and reflect on themes surrounding innovation and creativity. As an English teacher, I’d already seen much of what was presented—brainstorming, storyboards, journaling—and it seemed like busy work. As we continued, my thinking morphed, and I began processing connections between concepts and ideas differently.
The turning point
In the fourth week, the cohort engaged in a real-time interactive discussion that forced me to recognize a sobering thought: My class, the one I was so proud of, was boring and unengaging. I went home and abruptly changed my next unit, determined to recreate the innovative experience the curriculum articulated, that creativity is within everyone.
As a result, I shifted my classroom to a flexible learning model that allowed my students to lead their own learning, to have the option to work productively in groups, and to cross disciplines. Rather than relying on teacher-led instruction, students experienced a flexible environment and felt the same engagement I experienced in my fellowship program.
I took a fresh approach to my old poetry project. Instead of assigning a paper that I controlled and guided, groups now present all the same content using Adobe Spark, One Button Studio, or both. Initially, students were hesitant, not unlike my experience with EdgeMakers; after a few classes, however, they fully embraced this method of learning. They found that, while challenging, incorporating technology into learning was not only fun but stimulating. Students learned about poetry while acquiring new digital-literacy skills.