Last week, I had the pleasure of presenting at the LLI Mississippi conference at Madison-Ridgeland Academy. The tagline for the conference was “Innovation in Action.” One of the presentations I delivered was titled, “Take a Ride on the Roller Coaster of Innovation,” and I intentionally included the idea of a roller coaster in my title because I would argue that adding innovation into your mindset or teaching involves high highs and low lows at times. Highs happen when we see the innovation spark engagement and empowerment in our students. Lows take place when the project doesn’t turn out the way we had expected or our students aren’t as engaged in the idea as we had hoped which causes it to flop.
Innovation, to put it simply, is hard. It is much easier to pass out a worksheet. The worksheet is pre-made and even comes with the answer key!!! I mean come on! That deserved three exclamation points, right? But, one thing the attendees and I discussed during the presentation, was the fact that this may be true – worksheets are much easier. But, do they provide opportunities for our students to feel empowered, take risks, collaborate, create, think critically, and communicate effectively with their peers? Maybe on some level, yes. But not to the extent that our students deserve. Collaboration has to be taught. Risk-taking has to be taught. Thinking critically has to be taught. If we do not provide opportunities in our classrooms for our students to learn how to develop these skills, aren’t we doing them a disservice?
So where does one start when it comes to innovation? Start small. Do one small thing to add in student engagement that will lead to empowerment. For example, if you traditionally start a lesson with whole group and then lead into your worksheet(s), how might you open the lesson differently to provide all students with a voice? Could you consider using a polling website such as Mentimeter, Nearpod or Socrative in which you could pose the question and have all students answer? Then from there, the next time consider changing up the worksheet. What is the learning objective within that worksheet and how might you provide a more intentional and exciting activity for the students to engage in? If the learning objective starts with, “Students will be able to create…” why not have them actually use that verb of “create” and create something to represent the learning?