In Chapter 2 of The Innovator’s Mindset, George Couros writes about what it takes to have an innovative mindset as an extension of the popular growth mindset idea. Innovators must do more than believe everyone can learn and change, they must do something with that belief and create something new and better. I am going to share a story that I believe follows that path, then ask you to reflect on your experiences and share one of your own.
For a few years I taught a section of sheltered physics for English Language Learners (ELL). Curriculum objectives did not change for these students, so I had to figure out a way to teach what is essentially word problem class to a group of sixteen students who spoke ten different languages, only one being Spanish and four of them spoke no English. You might think that math would save us, but over half of the students struggled with elementary math and relied on a calculator to divide by ten. Together we had to learn to communicate and figure out how to best conquer the material.
I had been flipping the classroom for over three years. So I was ready to try some new things during class. Having attended a Flipped Learning Conference over the summer I was full of great ideas. One of those ideas was Peer Instruction, used in college physics by Dr. Eric Mazur (here is an example). I knew ELL students needed to practice communication, and Peer Instruction would give us a framework for that communication while deepening understanding. So one class day, students arrived, I checked notes, went over issues that the lesson check revealed and then I posed a question. I do not remember my well planned and brilliant question, but I do remember the faces of the students as they thought about the question then raised their hands to answer. They marked their initial responses and before they could share out loud, I encouraged them to discuss the question with their group at the table and arrive at a consensus. I was convinced this was going to be amazing. Then it happened, total silence. They stared at each other then at me. I explained the Peer Instruction process again and was met with more silence. You see, with ten different languages, there was not much to talk about. They were having enough trouble figuring things out for themselves. So sadly, I fell back to leading a discussion with nodding heads and some interaction. I really wanted the students to talk about physics. I wanted to hear what they knew and where they needed clarification. I thought this would be the answer. That is not even close to what happened so it was back to the drawing board.
After some reflection, I decided to try again, but this time, instead of turning and talking with the table group, they had to illustrate their answer. Using neon markers, they drew their ideas on the table tops. (Students love to write on school furniture.) Then we traveled from table to table to discuss each of the drawings. I had no idea whether or not this would work, but it did. We could talk about the physics, and I could see exactly where the concepts were confusing them. I was a departure from the original idea of Peer Instruction, but it met the needs of my students at the time and made the class far more interesting for all of us. Simple pictures created by the students created a better classroom where students were trying to talk and learn and made me a better teacher.
Even with a sound idea, somethings need a twist to be successful. In the spirit of creating a community of learners please share your successes that required some inspiration, grit or resilience to achieve.
Harvard Magazine, February 2, 2012, Eric Mazur Shows Interactive Teaching, retrieved March 6, 2017 from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wont2v_LZ1E