Why Capturing Creativeness is Vital for Deeper Studying –
by Drew Perkins, Director of TeachThought PD
I miss teaching.
Not so much the severity of bells, short breaks, endless supervisory duties, multiple preparations, rushed lunches and the paperwork. But I miss the actual moments in my classes where I captured the students’ imaginations. I still have that privilege when I moderate our professional development, but it is something else to engage a student in a moment of deep thought. Not only because it’s a moment of enlightenment, but also because it’s a gateway to deeper learning.
Much has been said about the importance of effective teaching, including in my last article, 3 questions to help make deep learning work, and I think it’s essential and sometimes overlooked when it comes to student engagement. But in most of my conversations with, or reading from, proponents of the “science of learning,” I generally feel that they are missing something significant.
While I certainly think that long-term memory is important, as is direct instruction, I almost always miss those types of writings that seem to end with knowledge and leave out understanding and deeper abstract conceptual learning.
— Drew Perkins (@dperkinsed) January 6, 2023
Getting students to learn more deeply requires their cognitive engagement, and it rarely happens without their interest. Yes, it is true that learning often leads to motivation as students feel a sense of accomplishment and effectiveness. Certainly the opposite is intuitively true; When a student struggles and feels defeated, their motivation is stopped. While knowledge is necessary for deeper learning, it is not enough.
Capturing the imagination of students can take many forms and I would argue that they all engage with the power of the questions waiting to be answered. Sometimes they are phenomena of the moment, planned by the teacher to inspire awe, create cognitive dissonance, or allow students to experience something new.
Other times they are more macro. Perhaps a teacher who, over the course of a semester, models thinking in a way that drives and inspires students’ thinking. Or a project-based learning experience, such as our Straw Project example, which is intended to emphasize these aha moments. Or perhaps an engagement with content and knowledge in a way that seeks to connect to the ideas, thoughts, and questions of others Socratic SeminarWorld Cafe Conversations or a structured protocol such as developed by one of our partners, the NSRF.
In my high school psychology class, I used all sorts of things to stimulate students’ thinking and curiosity. When I taught sensation and perception, I brought a magician to perform for them. For our unity of awareness, I guided her through a short meditation practice. When we were investigating disorders, we made a field trip to a local psychiatric hospital.
In my government room, I had our local Kentucky state representative ask them to propose fiscal recommendations that meet the needs of his constituents. In my economics classroom, I brought a Federal Reserve System official with me, and another time, as part of a project-based learning experience, I asked students to come up with an entrepreneurial idea for a new sneaker. In my middle school history class, we made a live call to C-SPAN and were featured on a national news program while visiting a local Veterans Home.
None of this necessarily leads to deeper learning, and we need to be aware that engaging moments with our classes and students are not enough either. But paired with dynamic demand and effective teaching, they all have the potential to shift students away from a compliance mindset by sparking interest and encouraging beautiful questions.
In fact, it’s not always necessary to plan for things of this magnitude. It’s entirely possible to stimulate students’ imagination and curiosity with simple exercises like this question formulation technique.
Imagine the wondering questions that elementary science students might emit when asked to generate questions from this QFT Question Focus:
The amount of water on Earth today is the same as it was in the times of the dinosaurs.
Or what if we asked civil rights students to engage in a Visible Thinking Making Meaning routine to define racism after watching Carlos Hoyt’s Sugar and Salt TEDx Talk demonstration?
In order to achieve deeper learning, we must not forget the principles of effective teaching to help students learn important knowledge. But cognitive engagement should not be limited to knowledge acquisition and changes in long-term memory. Indeed, as Zach Groshell and I discussed this recent podcast chatThere is significant overlap between ‘science of learning’ and ‘deeper learning’. Thinking about how to captivate and hold students’ curiosity and use it to harness critical thinking is key.
It’s not good enough to linger around in the remembering and understanding levels Bloom’s taxonomy. As students go through processes of analysis, assessment, synthesis, and creation, learners create deeper learning connections that carry over and last for years to come.
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