How to Make Your Classroom Innovative

I think most teachers agree that education needs to change. The things as they are, top-down, teacher-centered classes are not working. This feeling has many educators talking about innovation. What does it look like in the classroom? There are a few teachers out there leading the charge.

AJ Juliani has created “A framework for Innovation in the Classroom.” His simple framework outlines key areas that teachers can consider and use for guidance. My takeaway from this is giving learners the space to be autonomous learners. If students have choices, innovation will follow.

Another educator, George Couros, outlines eight steps towards innovation in his blog post “8 Things to Look for in Today’s Classroom” and in his book The Innovator’s Mindset.  He highlights choice and collaboration as crucial components to innovation. Students need options and access to various tools to connect with others, ask questions, gather pertinent information, and share ideas.

Neither of these educators confuses innovation with technology. Simply digitizing textbooks and handouts is not innovative. Innovation is allowing students to use tools that give them choices and the ability to reach out, connect, and collaborate. The tools will change over time. In the past, the tools were physical books, magazines, libraries, pens, and paper. Just a few years ago, the tools expanded to include websites and email. Currently, they might consist of Google Docs, YouTube, video chats, blogs, and wikis. These tools are evolving fast, and who knows which tools will encompass a learner’s life in the future?

So, what does innovation mean to me? I think innovation is a revolution. Not of the political or social kind. I’m talking about something that is not static. It is dynamic and quite literally always revolving, turning, and evolving. This is the reason innovation in the classroom is hard to define or pinpoint. Innovation means creating an atmosphere where students have space to go through a learning cycle.

I am a believer in the experiential learning cycle. David Kolb explains this in his book Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development. In this process, students have a concrete learning experience. After that concrete experience, they need time to reflect and assess themselves. From that reflection period,  new ideas incubate and form. Next, the student tests the new concepts, which leads to another concrete learning experience, and the process starts all over again.

The common thread that runs through the ideas of Juliani, Couros, and Kolb is that of reflection. As a learner myself, the reflection process is vital because that’s where the learning becomes sticky. The act of pondering and asking oneself, what happened? What went well? What could be done differently? Putting that experience into words, either written or spoken, is a kind of self-assessment that makes the learning personal and meaningful.

To summarize, innovation in the classroom harnesses student autonomy and choice. Innovation is giving students access to tools so they can collaborate with others. Innovation is reflecting on experience so the learning is personal and meaningful. These concepts will continue to revolutionize education.

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