Sometimes we need to make some changes in our classroom spaces and the instructional strategies and tools we use. There are so many ways to create more authentic and meaningful learning opportunities for students that facilitate more active and student-driven learning. Starting a new calendar year is the perfect time to try new ideas and innovate to bring unconventional teaching methods to your classes.
To best prepare our students, the “Generation Z,” we need for them to dive into independent learning and activities that foster the development of student agency and prepare them with social and emotional (SEL) skills that will enable them to adapt to the changing world. Non-traditional teaching methods provide students with real-world learning opportunities. By exploring new ideas and taking some risks that may require us to step out of our comfort zone, we can boost student engagement and lifelong curiosity for learning.
What areas should I focus on in 2023?
I recommend taking a look at your classroom space first. Look around closely at what you have on the walls, where the students are seated, and the teaching and learning interactions you offer students. Ask some questions, such as:
- Does this space work for my students or for me?
- Are you leading the class for the whole period? Are students working independently or in small groups? Reflect on your teaching methods and how your classroom setup might be impacting your interactions with students and them with each other.
- Are you learning about students and their specific interests and needs?
- How are relationships being built? Think about how you interact with your students and how they interact with one another. Provide opportunities for collaborative work by structuring lessons and creating activities that promote the development of soft skills.
After thinking these questions through, choose a new teaching method or digital tool to try in your classroom. It is also important to involve students in the decisions made for the lessons too so they feel more valued in their learning space. Encouraging students to come up with their own practices will help amplify their learning potential and develop their interpersonal skills and self-awareness.
Unconventional teaching methods to try
Here are a few ideas that will help you kick-start 2023:
1. Augmented and Virtual Reality
The use of Augmented and Virtual Reality is becoming increasingly popular in K-12 classrooms. There are many tools available that amplify the learning experience for students by immersing them in an environment or being able to hold and manipulate an object in augmented reality. Students can not only consume the content, but they can create using a variety of options available to bring learning to life.
I recommend exploring Nearpod through the interactive lessons available, which include virtual tours from around the world and 3D objects for students to explore more closely. Try some tools to have students create such as CoSpaces EDU with lessons and many possibilities for students to create. Students also enjoy MergeVR, a holographic cube that enables the user to hold and interact with different 3D objects in their hand and, with Merge Explorer and Object Viewer, create a scene and place objects in the real world.
To guide students toward more independent and self-directed learning, HyperDocs are a great choice. HyperDocs are digital lesson plans created using Google documents or a collaborative space where all components of a lesson have been hyperlinked. HyperDocs enable students to work through at their own pace, with the goal of mastering the content knowledge that they need.
HyperDocs are student-driven interactive learning opportunities that offer students a more personalized way to build skills at their own pace and on their own time. Students work through six steps of a lesson: Engage, Explore, Explain, Apply, Share, Reflect, and Extend and build content knowledge using different teaching methods and digital tools to support and empower them to create and apply what they have learned.
3. Place-based learning
It is important to help students to develop greater awareness of the world beyond our classrooms. We can amplify their learning experiences by finding opportunities to collaborate with local businesses, local organizations or connect students virtually with people who work in an area of their interest.
Students will see the relevance in what they are learning and build their skills as they apply that learning to the real world.
4. Project-based learning (PBL)
Diving into PBL is a great option for all grade levels and content areas. It is also a unique way to learn from the students and help them to focus on the process of learning rather than an end product. Through student-driven inquiry, students craft their own driving or essential question and explore something of personal interest for them. PBL has many benefits in that it promotes critical thinking, creativity, and problem-solving, as well as helps develop SEL skills.
Through PBL, students can communicate and collaborate globally and learn from exploring real-world issues. We can expand the class content, leading to more engaged students driven by curiosity in a student-led environment. Another impactful experience would be promoting social awareness, one of the five competencies of SEL, by focusing on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
5. Teacher for a Day
Educators need to shift from being the sole providers of content and create opportunities to have students take the lead more. A good strategy for this would be trying the “Teacher for a Day” activity.
Give students a chance to come up with a new way of teaching. In my classroom, I had students work in pairs to devise a lesson and activities for their classmates. Perhaps there Is a topic you teach that students could expand upon or engage in inquiry-based learning.
At first, some students might feel uncomfortable about this unconventional practice because they will be designing and delivering the lesson rather than simply turning in a project or an assignment designed by you. However, it will be a more meaningful experience for everyone once they understand the learning power in determining the content and format of their lesson.
Try out something new and unconventional in 2023
To encourage learning curiosity and innovative thinking, we need to try some unconventional teaching practices with our students. Innovative does not mean anything more than new or different from what we have been doing. Maybe it is just trying some different tools leveraging some tools to have students create a representation of their learning.
Offering more choices helps us better meet specific student interests and needs while preparing them for their future.