In each of the Verizon Innovative Learning Schools, educator professional development is a major component on the journey to enhance student learning and engagement. Teachers often have to step out of their comfort zones and challenge themselves to take new risks in order to transform their classrooms. Group professional development is a great way to model learning and put teachers back in the role of student.
Teachers at Edmunds Middle School in Burlington, Vermont, recently participated in a professional development session focused on innovative approaches to problem solving. They formed groups, selected a challenge to solve together, and used random supplies to create a hands-on solution.
The very next day, one history teacher recreated this professional development exercise in his class. Instead of the activity he had originally planned for the lesson, he asked students to form groups, gather materials, and create something to demonstrate what they’d learned in class that day. It was up to the students to decide what to build and how to build it—the direction of the activity was driven completely by their ideas.
The students had more agency with this activity than with a more traditional, teacher-directed assignment. Several students who don’t typically take a leadership role stepped up in their groups and took ownership of what they’d created. Just like the faculty the day before, the entire class of students was highly engaged in solving a challenge in a creative, hands-on way.
“That [student] engagement is key,” Daryl Kuhn, an Edmunds Middle School teacher, said. “It’s them showing you in a different way that they understand what’s going on—that they have ideas, and that they have an interest in it. If you gave them a more traditional assignment, you might not see that.”
For all learners, self-directed creative activities can be empowering. Students can express what they’ve learned in a way that makes sense to them and allows them to fully demonstrate their learning. For many students, a hands-on, collaborative project might demonstrate better understanding of a topic than a short essay or more structured assignment. Teachers can help support all learners by incorporating these types of activities into their classrooms.