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3 big ideas in Innovative teaching 

How can teachers and educators keep up with ‘Generation Tech’? When your students are never more than a few clicks away from the answer to any question, be it mathematical, historical or anything in between, there are challenges in nurturing and maintaining the inherent curiosity of children and teens. Luckily, teachers are innovative and creative by nature and are already doing so much of the leg work when it comes to innovative approaches to teaching. This week, School Stream is looking at creative, innovative teaching. With technology changing too fast to document here, we are looking at innovative teaching from a mindset perspective.

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What is innovative teaching?

First up, what exactly do we mean when we talk about ‘innovative teaching’? In the (peer reviewed) research paper, Innovative Teaching and Learning report, innovative teaching is defined as:

  • student-centred pedagogies
  • extending learning beyond the classroom to include knowledge building and problem-solving in today’s world
  • ICT integration in ways that support learning goals, not as a goal in itself.

Why is everyone talking about it?

Innovative teaching is such a hot topic in education at the moment. Classrooms are populated by students who are 100 per-cent digital natives, and engaging them and preparing them for the future is one of the biggest challenges in education today. And that future has plenty of unknowns, with at least one report estimating that 85% of the jobs that will exist in 2030 haven’t even been invented yet. But there is good news: most teachers are already practicing innovative and creative approaches to education.  Teachers don’t need to be au fait with cutting edge of technology to be innovative in the classroom. 21st Century skillsets are widely defined as knowledge building, problem-solving and innovation, skilled communication and collaboration, self-regulation, use of technology for learning, and lifetime learning. These are the skills and outcomes that teachers already dare to dream of for their students, and many have been teaching this way for years. Let’s take a closer look at some of the key takeaways from recent research.

  • Traditional classrooms vs Innovative Learning Environments 

The Innovative Learning Environments and Teacher Change (ILETC) project is a four-year study that began in 2016. Here are some of the key findings as reported in Teacher Magazine in August this year:

‘Innovative Learning Environments (ILEs), which combine flexible use of spaces, furniture and technology with greater collaboration and flexibility in relation to teaching and the curriculum, are becoming more common. ILETC data suggest 25 per cent of all Australian and New Zealand classrooms are ILEs, as opposed to traditional classrooms. However, few teachers see traditional spaces as optimum.’

The way that the design is going, the way schools are being built and used, has to really reflect the fact that there are certain times you do need to sit kids down and teach to them in a very didactic, very explicit learning approach, and there are also other times you have to allow them to work by themselves, or work in small groups, or work in collaboration with large groups of kids… it’s how we use the space that makes it an innovative learning environment”

You can read more about the project on their website.

  • Embrace a 21st Century Curriculum

You know what they say: collaborative problem solvers are made, not born. You cannot avoid ‘collaboration’ as a buzzword in education. It would have to be one of the most discussed of the 21st Century skills. There is significant growth in knowledge-based work in multi-disciplinary teams, sometimes working across different locations and time-zones, and students need to be ready to work in ways we have never even imagined. Addressing this doesn’t require a radical shift for teachers.  While the traditional approach to curriculum expects that subjects are taught in isolation from each other, in reality, teachers have been incorporating a cross-disciplinary approach to teaching for years. For example: when organising students into small groups for projects, teachers tend to aim for groups with a diverse skillset across the group. Visual Arts has always encouraged kids to learn by doing, and the rise of STEAM/STEM and inquiry-based learning each play a huge role in developing future-ready skillsets.

  • Get creative in the classroom

Creative thinking is another one of those 21st Century skillsets we keep hearing about. In a future where rote tasks can be performed by robots and every question can be answered with a few clicks, students need to be able to learn, think and adapt with agility and creativity in the workforce. As it stands, creativity is perhaps also one of the more misunderstood terms in this context. There is no single way for a person to be creative. From Psych Learning Curve:

… many experts think of creativity as a set of skills and attitudes that anyone is capable of: tolerating ambiguity, redefining old problems, finding new problems to solve, taking sensible risks, and following an inner passion.” 

If this is the definition of creativity we are working with, then the patron saint of creativity in the classroom must be Leonardo da Vinci? His notebooks are filled with “Why is the sky blue?” style questions that demonstrate his curiosity and insatiable quest for knowledge. It also shows a pathway for fostering creative thinking in your students. Students can be encouraged to practise creative thinking daily by following their curiosity, writing their very own da Vinci-style to-do lists and by journaling. You can read an inspiring case study of what this looks like in action at the above Psych Learning Curve link. 

With technology changing so fast, the core of innovative teaching would seem to be very much grounded in an innovative mindset. What does innovative teaching look like in your classrooms? Have we missed anything?