Teaching Styles: Creativity, Written Expression & Collaboration

I was recently asked to be a guest lecturer for a university course at MIT and was amazed at how seamlessly the 3-hour class flowed between lecture and discussions. Every student participated in the discussion and there was plenty of time to hear each person's thoughts. The homework assignments and discussions were shared with the group - encouraging the students to add their own creative thoughts and to consider different perspectives. I was enamored with how the set up encouraged creative thinking and collaboration. Technology played a significant piece in the design of this class!

Gone are the days of right and wrong answers and individual contributors! Instead, groups of people work together to create new solutions. This new way of thinking requires collaboration and "thinking-outside-the box"; our teaching styles are shifting to create this type of learning and working environments.

Pre-Assignment

First, prior to class the university students were given reading assignments and students were asked to express their thoughts about the assignments and how the readings impacted them. Note: Students were not asked to regurgitate what they read or to answer specific questions about the readings.

The professor created a Google Side presentation; the first slide had the date and the assignment:

Description of Slide 1

April 27: Reflections on Reading and Video

Reading: Resnick, M., and Rosenbaum, E. (2013) Designing for Tinkerability

Video: How to Code Being a Blind Kid: Video 1: CodeQuest

  • Create a slide (in this deck) reflecting on something from the reading and/or video. It could be something that resonated with your experience or something you found particularly interesting, or something that raised questions for you.
  • Due: Tuesday, April 26 at 4pm

Slide 1: Reflections on Reading/Video

After reading the assignments and watching the video, each student added a slide to the deck. Most of the students had creative slides with related images, written thoughts, ponderings, and occasionally a link to another source. Limited to one slide, the students had to organize their thoughts. The chapter on Tinkerability contained copious information that students dove deep into and wrote about on their slide. The reflections about Sienna, the elementary student who created the video on how she uses an app with a screen reader to learn about coding, brought out enlightening comments about accessibility - something most of the class had not considered.

Each student slide was original in both the slide design and in the reflections shared in the slide. Students read each other's thoughts and several comments from peers were attached to various slides. These written musings were often reflections - meaning that some students shared a personal connection/experience and tied it into the reading/video while others connected the new information with their knowledge base and/or realized this is new information and began searching to expand their knowledge. The finished slide deck made a profound impact on me (a K12 educator) and by the comments on the deck and in the class, numerous students in the class were also impacted. Sharing the reflections through the slide deck for everyone to read - versus handing the assignment to the teacher to grade - is powerful!

In-Class Discussion

The first part of the class was typical - a quick review and a lecture with Google Slide presentation. Throughout the lecture, students were jotting down notes and questions on their personal device. After the lecture, a class Google Doc was shared, and students wrote down their questions related to the lecture. Students are used to this method and instantly began to write on the Google Doc. Students were given 5 minutes to write questions (and these were in-depth questions!) With the live document, the professor and guest lecturer could read through the questions - as they were being typed - looking for patterns to address and to choose questions that were answered in class. A few questions were answered in the document after class and links to additional resources were shared in the document.

As an educator, using a document for questions was incredibly efficient! Students had time to think out their questions and thoughtfully write them. It kept the questions on target. Every student participated and was actively engaged. The questions covered a broad range of related things and different perspectives were shared. The tone of the class was open and encouraging, with all perspectives being accepted. Thoughts and ideas flowed!

Next the class was divided into small groups and given related things to discuss. The class wrapped up each group having one person give a quick summary of their discussion.

Carry-Over to K12 Classrooms

Can these teaching methods carry over to K12 classrooms? Absolutely! This style of teaching encourages deeper thinking, written expression and creativity. Students will be actively engaged, and the class can cover materials efficiently. This style encourages collaboration! Did I mention that this teaching style embeds technology skills and reflects real college and work force interactions?!

Initially, teachers should establish ground rules that allow every student to express their thoughts and not be judged. Every student is expected to complete the assignments (pre-assignment and in-class participation) and to come up with respectful, intuitive questions. Students will need to have strong technology skills to use slide decks and documents, including collaboration tools. 

Remember that student-created slides and documents also need to be accessible so that the student who is blind or low vision can access the materials. ALL peers should know how to add image descriptions and other accessibility features!

Has your teaching style migrated to the 21st century classroom? Please share your strategies!