Bringing Innovation to School – 1

I have been working my way through a very good book on bringing innovation to school by Suzie Boss and wanted to share some initial notes and observations here.

A central idea in the book is that there is a gap between saying we must encourage innovation and teaching students how to actually generate and execute original ideas.

A number of questions must be considered as we think about this gap:

  • What new set of skills and fresh ways of thinking are needed?
  • How can these be taught?
  • How do we provide opportunities to practice these new skills with appropriate support?
  • How can we scaffold the learning experience so that students learn to persist even through setbacks?
  • How can we help students discover their passions through this process?

Success in addressing this gap depends on knowing how to frame problems, generate ideas, test solutions, and learn through the experience. This is part of the design experience and requires a balance of individual effort and productive teamwork; of passion and persistence; of providing opportunities for students to engage questions and issues they care about.

What do we need to offer to our students? – If we can address this gap and bring innovation to school, we provide the necessary “training ground” students need to practice problem solving, research, collaboration and other essential fluencies, such as media literacy.

Essential is the commitment that innovation is both powerful and teachable; that focusing on innovation across the curriculum provides a means for teachers to help build essential 21st century skills in their students; and that teaching thought over content is a meaningful endeavour.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Source: Boss, S. (2012) Bringing innovation to schools: Empowering students to thrive in a changing world. Solution Tree.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash


Learning Target?


Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

I asked the question here why more teachers don’t share their learning targets with their students.

It would seem to me that we can encourage student responsibility for their learning by sharing what we want them to learn in our classes. We can further extend this learning for students if we share with them how they will know when they have learned it deeply.

Students can hit any target they know about and that stands still for them – Rick Stiggins

To be clear, a learning target is not an instructional objective. Each serves a different purpose.

An instructional objective is meant to guide instruction during a lesson or across a series of lessons. It is derived from provincial/state content standards and represents a key step that teachers will take to help students learn the component knowledge and skills that make up the standard. As such, instructional objectives are not designed for the student, but are written from the teacher’s perspective. The student will be able to …

On the other hand…

A learning target guides learning, providing focus for what the students will come to know deeply during the lesson. It is written from the students’ perspective and offers a student-friendly description in language that they understand of what they should come to learn or do during the lesson. As such, learning targets become a tool that helps students take charge of their own learning.

A well-developed learning target unpacks a “lesson-sized” amount of learning. It represents a portion, or “chunk”, of a particular content standard that the students can master during the lesson. A learning target serves as a “look-for” that guides students to knowing what to learn, how deeply to learn it, and exactly how to demonstrate the new learning.

If students know what to look for and can aim their sights (direct their energy) on a learning target, they can take ownership for their learning. By doing this, teachers grant their students the opportunity for mastery through autonomy and provide a sense of purpose. This represents essentials components of the motivation map that can drive student engagement and empowerment for their learning.


Why don’t more teachers share their learning targets with students?

This is a question that I have been asking myself lately.

I have had the opportunity to visit many classrooms over the past few months. Perhaps one thing that has surprised me the most is that far too many teachers are not sharing their learning targets with their students.

How can we encourage student responsibility for their learning if we are not sharing what we want them to accomplish in our classes?

5 Ways to put students in the driver’s seat suggests that sharing our learning targets with our students is one simple way to promote student-centered learning in the classroom. This will help clarify what we want students to learn and what this learning could look like. I am certain that, at a minimum, this will also help foster some student motivation for learning. It could add necessary purposefulness for being together in the classroom.



Helping Students Motivate Themselves

I have a great interest in understanding student motivation for learning. What motivates students to learn? How can I help students motivate themselves? What are some implications for classroom instruction?

I came across this article – Strategies for helping students motivate themselves – and was struck how 3 out of the 4 qualities mentioned match Daniel Pink’s work on The Puzzle of Motivation (a TED Talk worth watching; or if you prefer, here is a link to an RSA Animate version on the same talk).

Essentially the insight that I had confirmed again is that tokens and rewards work well as motivators for simple tasks. However, they don’t work the way we think they should when it involves the conceptual and creative thinking that takes place in cognitively challenging tasks.

In their place, a teacher has a greater chance in motivating and engaging students in their learning by thinking about the “Motivation MAP” – an acronym I use to focus on the three essential qualities of motivation and engagement.

Motivation MAP = Mastery, Autonomy, Purposefulness

M = Mastery

Are students working to demonstrate their developing competency and mastery in learning? Are students reflecting on how to improve their learning? Does teacher feedback focus on student effort for their learning rather than an innate ability? (Check out this website to learn more growth mindsets; or if you prefer, here is a link to a video about fostering a growth mindset.) Encouraging student mastery in learning feeds their desire to get better in what they do and, as a result, is a powerful motivator.

A = Autonomy

What choices are offered to students that allow them to be active participants in their own learning? Does this extend beyond simply letting student choose who they will work with on a project or in what format they can complete an assignment, whether poster, essay or presentation? Are there opportunities for “cognitive choice” so that students can determine how they will learn something new? Are they asked to self-assess and reflect on their learning? Offering this type of choice in our lessons helps foster student autonomy and their desire to be more self-directed. This also leads to better engagement.

P = Purposefulness

Of what value are the learning activities in the classroom? Do the students sense that they are simply completing “busy work” or do they find the learning activities meaningful and relevant?  Is there purposefulness in what we do together? When students sense a value in their learning, they will be more motivated and engaged to proceed further, if not deeper, into their learning.

Thinking about the “Motivation MAP” is a simple reminder to helping students motivate themselves: mastery, autonomy, and purposefulness.

A simple reminder on the most significant classroom innovation

OK – So the article’s title did catch my attention (just like the author said it would):

What will be the most significant classroom innovation in the next 10 years?

I thought about it a moment and made a guess. I then read the author’s response:

Learning how to learn

So true.

I believe that helping students learn how to learn is really a gift that we can offer them. It can free students to pursue interests beyond what we may do in the classroom. As such:

Learning how to learn embeds the notion of self-directedness and self-motivation as a learner.

Learning how to learn is a process and a skill that allows students to respond and grow in an increasingly changing world. I believe that this is the key to opening doors and offering a bright future to students.

It may, indeed, be the single-most significant classroom innovation in the next 10 years.

It is no longer enough to simply equip students with the primary literacy and numeracy skills that have been a staple of schools for a long time. I affirm the importance of the 3 R’s – reading, writing and arithmetic, especially when they are taught and developed in the context of a rigorous cross-disciplinary curriculum. However, I have also been advocating that we have to do more to help students in their learning journey. They need to know and practice the important learning management skills, such as note-taking, test preparation, and time management. Far too often, I find that teachers are simply assuming that students will know what to do as they encounter new material in their classes.

But now in our 21st century learning context, I appreciated the reminder on four additional dimensions that we need to address in our classrooms if we truly want to help our students learn how to learn:

Students need to …

  1. Know how to access and curate information. This includes the critical 21st century fluencies such as Information Fluency, Media Fluency and Creativity Fluency.
  2. Know how to work and learn with others. This can be fostered as we help students develop their critical 21st century fluencies of Collaboration Fluency and Global Digital Citizenship.
  3. Know how to adapt to new media and different ways of thinking. I understand this to include a proficiency in Solution Fluency.
  4. Know, understand and use a variety of digital platforms (blogs, social media, learning management systems, etc.) and networks for different uses.

What this blog post reaffirmed for me was the value in teaching with the 21st century fluencies in mind, too.  I have been a strong proponent in integrating these fluencies in my teaching and have attempted to integrate these skills as part of the learning experience in the new school, too. You can read about this here. The connection between the fluencies and the learning management skills I have been advocating for so long, in addition to their value to helping students learn how to learn, became even clearer today.

Personalized, Differentiated and Individualized Learning

I came across this post and handy chart that attempts to distinguish among personalized learning, differentiated learning, and individualized learning in the classroom across multiple dimensions. I like how the the authors suggested that it all depends on our starting point. Personalized student learning starts with the students first; the other two take something that was designed for the larger group of students and attempts to adapt it for groups and individuals. That is, one is learner-centered and the others are more teacher-centered.

As a point of comparison, personalized learning connects learning with student interests and passions. Students are active participants in the design of their learning. In a differentiated classroom the teacher designs instruction based on the learning needs of a group of students. In the individualized classroom, the teacher customizes instruction based on the learning needs of individual students.

It seems to me that each orientation attempts to engage students in their learning. I would argue that a personalized learning situation would be the most engaging for students and lead to a more vibrant learning environment. I also like how a personalized setting can help foster a higher degree of student ownership in their learning. This would help equip the students with necessary learning skills and could also empower them to become more self-directed in their learning, too.


How does it make you feel?

I came across a description in Supertest of an IB classroom where the teacher likes to use a key question in his literature class:

How does it make you feel?

This question can be asked in two ways, each of which can help engage the learner in the topic under consideration. I thought that this could easily extend to many other subject areas, too.

How does it make you feel?

With an emphasis on feel we ask students for an emotional response to the topic at hand. What is your response or reaction to a particular piece of literature or work of art? What are your feelings regarding this latest current event or political decision? What are your thoughts regarding this new scientific discovery? 

How does it make you feel?

With an emphasis on how we ask students to examine critically how the author, artist, politician, scientist, etc. uses his or her knowledge and skills of literary techniques, artistic approaches, political thinking, research skills etc. to accomplish a specific goal.

One great question that can lead to meaningful thinking and discussion, too!