Why I use Provocations at the College level with my students?

One of my favorite parts about the blogging world is peeking into everyone’s classrooms. I am always in awe. Whenever I am browsing teachers public classroom photographs I can’t help but think about…

  • What their pedagogical values are?
  • How they have implemented them into their teaching?
  • In what ways are student engaged? with materials or other students/children?

This brings me back to my own [journey] pedagogical values…

There was so much to think about when I first started teaching, from how to dress and behave, to classroom policies and procedures, to what to teach and how to teach it, that it was easy to forget that without theory—without ideas about why you are doing what you are doing with your students, what you hope to accomplish with them in the class, and why it matters to you—teaching can easily become a robotic job of assign-assess-repeat, with little true value either for you or for your students. Just going through the motions of education, rather than genuinely participating in the learning process.

In Ontario, the curriculum is directed by provincial guidelines. At the college/university levels, however, in most cases I am responsible for determining what I’m teaching and how I’m going to teach it. Most importantly throughout my teaching career I have learned that the—WHY you are going to teach it —is often overlooked in the grand scheme of things, but in reality it can be the most important thinking that you do when you are structuring or revising an outline for the class. The engagement is also so, so crucial!

If your own pedagogical values are not reflected in your choices of what to teach and how you’re going to teach it, then your class will be much less authentic for you and for your students. They need the “why” as much as you do, and the more transparent you can be about the matter, the better off everyone involved is going to be, as well.

In the field of Early Childhood Education the Ontario document How Does Learning Happen? A Pedagogy for the Early Years has been so instrumental in helping me align my professional goals and educational goals for both the students and myself. Provocations have also provided me with a sense of inspiration.

For me provocations with students … are skillfully introduced  with the intent to create a spiral of learning where students construct knowledge.

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  • In the picture above, I have included the Assessment for Quality Improvement (AQI). I find that adult learners appreciate learning about the expectations from the city and their future employers, it helps ground their understanding.
  • I also place sticky notes for students to answer guiding questions on, these notes are usually saved and revisited at the end of class.

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  • In the picture above, I have written two points on the importance non-fictional books in the classroom, on this day we were discussing nature/science related topics. This helps start the conversations and possibly encourage students to think up other reasons for the placement of nature/science books in the classroom.

Provocations …. give students plenty of time to talk, to think through things in small groups or together as a larger class, while I can facilitate their thinking without dominating it. Model the kind of critical thinking and reflection I want them to do, and then give them the room they need in order to do it.

In many of my classes, I structure daily lessons around a question or a set of questions or an idea or set of ideas I would like us to explore, and we work together to create meaning and find answers through discussions.

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  • In the picture above, I have included the Early Learning for Every Child Today (ELECT), the goal was to have students holistically connect the learning experiences to the continuum of development. In the invitations to explore materials I like to include ‘real’ photographs of the learning experience in the classroom, this helps students visually see the set up in a classroom.

I love that provocations or environmental invitations grant me the ability learn more about my students as learners, I love to observe them and listen to their conversations as they engage with materials and discuss ideas. I also think, central to the explorative process, is reflection. I feel provocations provide student teachers with a comfortable space when they do not “fully understand” as teachers. The door is open to rich dialogue and critical reflection, practices that make us better teachers/learners.

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  • In the picture above, I have introduced students to “small world play” I have defined for students in a simple format and in addition not pictured above I have created an album on small world play and a handout for students to learn more about.

Provocations I think poke at something more specific and defined in education and why not use them with college students! At this point in the “spirally constructivist approach to learning” (love this! It reminds me of Loris Malaguzzi’s metaphor of the brain as a tangle of spaghetti) we have figured some things out and we are consciously placing something into that identified trajectory of learning, inquiry, theory development. Since the constructivist approach involves co-construction, we often think in terms of a scaffold (something that provides a platform for the learning so the child or student can reach the next point or make sense of an idea or concept in their unique construction of knowledge). The joy of teaching is that the learning and reflection never end!

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