Recently, I wrote about how tomorrow isn’t tomorrow, it’s today and issued an urgent call to educators to take a hard look at the future bearing down upon us. I challenged my colleagues to begin educating our students to become the innovators and creative thinkers the world will require them to be.

Here I suggest five key practices teachers who have their eyes on tomorrow can take back to their classrooms. Even if they have already adopted these practices thoroughly and seamlessly, they must more actively share their practice with their colleagues, if we truly want progress in our schools.

Practice #1: Ask more beautiful questions (and get out of the way).

As I look at my own practice and the practice of the teachers I work with, I wonder why we ask only the mundane questions of content and comprehension. We like to call this teaching critical thinking. We must go straight to the most significant way we engage students, through questions, and ask better ones. Why? What if? How come? Why not? These are the questions that spur innovation. According to Warren Berger, in A More Beautiful Question, “A more beautiful question is an ambitious yet actionable question that can begin to shift the way we perceive or think about something — and might serve as a catalyst to bring about change.” We need to teach students through the kind of questioning that leads to innovation.

If I can devise and model truly great questions, I then need to learn to get out of my students’ way and let them go about answering them. I have learned from John Hunter (“Teaching with the World Peace Game,” TED Talks, March 2011) to step back and ask of my students, “How are you going to solve that problem?” This means resisting deep-seated habits of jumping into the learning ahead of my students and stealing their learning from them as a result. I have to wait, I tell myself, to let the learning happen. Watch Hunter’s TED Talk:

Practice #2: Design a truly interactive classroom.

Even though I’ve witnessed their power, I have been slow to embrace new venues for interactivity in my classroom. Too much of the conversation in classroom is just another variation of the old “chalk and talk” method we’ve used forever. Yet, we might give more thought to designing learning opportunities that involve collaborative learning through backchannels (Today’s Meet), discussion forums (Collaborize) as digital learning communities, automatic feedback (Socrative), and crowdsourcing if information (Google Docs). Push-back from Sean Michael Morris and Jesse Stommel in “The Discussion Forum Is Dead; Long Live the Discussion Forum” (Hybrid Pedagogy, 8 May 2013) tells me I need to take more care in structuring truly collaborative spaces online rather than simply transfer teacher-directed conversation to a digital platform.

Practice #3: Structure authentic assessments around design thinking; embrace reflection.

Too many inauthentic and ineffective assessments continue to drive the way education is delivered. Heidi Hayes Jacobs says in Against Technology (the word),” (Curriculum 21):

We should pay attention to school faculties, leaders, and individual teachers who are actively and boldly upgrading curriculum content to reflect timely issues and problems and crafting modern assessments such as digital-media-global project based learning opportunities. Website curation, app design, global network research, and video/audio production are indicative of modern learning environments not only for students but for their teachers as well.

Meanwhile, the design thinking cycle provides an approach to developing assessments that allows students (and adults) to learn through “deep dives” into empathetic research, crowd sourcing, thoughtful brainstorming, collective decision-making, and an iterative prototyping process. (See the Nueva School’s Design Thinking Infographic.) Finally, we must find ways to incorporate regular reflection to deepen the learning we hope to inspire — and to make it more sticky.  (Peter Pappas provides a nice  “Taxonomy of Reflection” in Copy/Paste, 4 January 2010.)

Practice #4: Read and write in a variety of media contexts

If you take a look around many schools, you will still find the dominant medium of instruction is still in the form of text. Never mind that the National Council of Teachers of English wrote its Definition of 21st Century Literacies in 2008 (and revised it 2013), exhorting us to “manage, analyze, and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information” and to “create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multimedia texts.” At the very least, why are we not asking students to create infographics or analyze the latest Lens Blog in the New York Times? Why do so many classes ignore the power of blogging to blend image and text into one message, especially when this is the currency of communication today?

Practice #5: Extend the conversation; connect with the world.

If Will Richardson taught us about Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms in 2006, why have we not incorporated blogging as curriculum? Why does the conversation in our classes still halt at the ringing of a bell or as our students pass through our classroom doors? Why are we not modeling blogging as a tool for writing that teaches the digital citizenship our students must know for idea-sharing online? (Thank goodness, Silvia Tolisano brilliantly provides help for understanding the quicksand of intellectual property and publication in “Copyright Flowchart: Can I Use It? Yes? No?, If This… Then….”.) Why are we not making the most of connections with the world for our own and our students’ learning on Twitter?

Harvard Professor David Edwards doesn’t mince words. He tells us bluntly,  “American Schools Are Training Kids for a World That Doesn’t Exist” (Wired, 17 October 2014). The time has come to be the change our students, colleagues, and schools so urgently need.

For more blogs by Susan Lucille Davis, check out:

6 COMMENTS

  1. This would be fantastic if educators that are shoveling against the tide in impoverished districts were given the opportunity to ignore the onslaught of testing for testing and data sake. It would be fabulous if the impact of racial lines from the 70’s were still not intact and thriving or the elephant in the room were to be addressed instead of blaming and placing the burden on teachers.

  2. While I agree with every one of your points, I can only reflect that — at least in New York state — none of these things are permitted. A teacher’s every move is scripted by bureaucrats, whose every spare moment is filled with paperwork, and whose normal teaching time (yes, I mean in-class teaching time) is constantly interrupted by testing, workshops on testing, and bureaucratic interference. Innovative teaching is discouraged, and those who attempt it are severely disciplined.

  3. Too bad the realities of modern education prevent such ideas from being practiced. Between the ridiculous demands of data driven micro-managers and the continued decline of student behavior, this is pie in the sky feel good stuff.

  4. “Ask more beautiful questions,” what a wonderful phrase and concept. It offers such possibilities and is so inspiringly optimistic.

  5. The type of education is different nowadays. Thanks to improving technology. We usually talk about “FLIP” the classroom.
    We should let child try and give them chance to show. We can use many media, blog ,podcast and so on to teach child.
    There are so many learning chance on the Internet waiting for us. Like programs, conference, going abroad, scholarship and internship. Many ways to let student become better! Teacher should try this. We should to find them out and use this. It will become different.
    This hub: http://www.heysuccess.com I found there are many opportunities in there. Try it. Let students have chance to grow up in other way.

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