Teaching Stories: Small Moves

What is innovative teaching? The word innovation makes you think of a breakthrough, something big and involved. There are many examples on the internet of exciting complex projects in the classroom that describe themselves as innovative. These examples can be fun to read and even inspirational. However, sometimes in our quest to be innovative as teachers we lose sight of the little things, the everyday moves that are at the heart of great teaching. These subtle innovations are what I want to focus on. Teaching is about building a relationship with a group of young people. There are thousands of moves that the teacher makes every day to define the culture of the classroom. While the best teaching is student centered there are plenty of ways that teachers decisions influence the effectiveness of the learning environment. Innovative moves are the ones that ever so subtly transform the space making authentic learning possible.

The other day I had the pleasure of visiting one of the Biology classes at my school, Packer Collegiate Institute. During the visit the teacher, Kerry, who happens to be the science department chair, was pushing her students to think about what they already know about Photosynthesis. I have seen a discussion like this run as a whole group conversation. Instead Kerry set up a Google Slide where students could document their questions and thinking in a shared digital forum. Google Slides allow students to input text spatially on a slide similar to the experience of a whiteboard. Students can also add images and drawings, and format text by color, font and size. Google Slides allows the teacher and students to add comments responding to specific content blocks on the page.

This small change from discussion to digital board was innovative. In a conversation there is only the capacity for one person to speak at a time, where in the Google Slide everyone could write simultaneously. Students who are reticent to share verbally in class may also find this space more conducive to sharing, and the platform does not force sharing at a particular time and pace, but instead allows each student to add text at a comfortable rate. The medium automatically documents all the questions and ideas shared, creating a permanent record of the activity for the students and the teacher. Students can look at other parts of the slide to inspire their thoughts as the activity is taking place as well as refer to the document after class and in subsequent classes. Through a document such as this students can quite literally see their thinking develop and change over time. The documentation is also a powerful snapshot of the classes thinking for the teacher to utilize as a formative assessment tool, and to help students realize the learning that is taking place.

As I sat in the back of the room watching this activity unfold I was blown away by how many ways this small teacher move transformed the learning in the space. At Packer one of my jobs is to support the effective use of technology. I can’t take any credit for Kerry’s teaching genius. But I do want to share the power of this teaching move with others. I think impressive moves like this get lost in the long days of teaching and deserve to be celebrated and discussed. A seven minute activity that leveraged a simple digital tool is worth getting excited about for all the reasons that I mentioned above. Maybe sharing this story will lead to a conversation and someone else trying out this approach in their own classroom. Someone else might try something different that is inspired by what Kerry has done. More importantly maybe this will help every teacher at my school and teachers at other schools see the amazing work that is already happening in their space, but somehow gets forgotten by the end of the day. Let’s start seeing the little innovations that are happening all around us and celebrate them.

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Greg Benedis-Grab

Greg Benedis-Grab

exploring the intersection of coding, education and disciplinary knowledge