I am often accused of being an “out of the box” thinker. Yes, yes, it’s true. I am. Big shocker there, right? What I always say in response is that it’s easy to think outside of the box when you never got in it in the first place.
Some see “out of the box” thinking as easy for me, and , in a way, it is. Not because of any great secret or talent, but, because when I look at anything, I look for the possibilities.
Once you start looking at everything as having the potential to be a teaching tool, there is a whole world of possibilities that opens up, and that makes teaching just that much more fun.
The first place to look, and I can never stress this enough, is to your students’ interests. As a group, I generally find teenage boys to be reluctant writers. Definitely for short stories, and especially for poetry. Last year, Dungeons and Dragons started to gain popularity among the boys at my school. Voila – possibility! It would be easy to dismiss the game, and someone’s interest in it, but, if you consider it, D&D is a great platform for creative writing. It requires a detailed plot, complete and well developed characters, conflict, resolution, and can contain multiple written forms, including stories, poems, essays, articles, endless options, really. Using their love of D&D, I have been able to engage a number of my reluctant writers, and have found that they are excited about their assignments, and are producing more, higher-quality work than they were before. And why wouldn’t they? More importantly than getting me off their backs, they are getting support in creating awesome campaigns to wow their friends. Plus, a couple of actually discovered a passion and talent for writing. Talk about a win!
Sometimes, possibility arises within another possibility. Recently, I took my students to see the play My Family and Other Endangered Species. The polite way to describe the experience is that the play was not what was expected. Some of my students were straight-up traumatized. As one students eloquently summed it up: an unfocused pile of provocative garbage, My Family and Other Endangered Species is a play the pleases no one. Needless to say, my originally-planned assignments weren’t working so well after that. But, in our shared disgust of gratuitous puppet violence and scattered plot, my students and I found a platform for ongoing discussion where we actively critiqued the various aspects of the play. Students had a chance to further develop critical thinking skills and work on showing relevant evidence to support their arguments. Beyond that, more than one hilarious creative writing assignment ensued, and, a very spirited debate. It just goes to show that event something that initially appears disastrous can turn into a valuable teachable moment.
Pop culture is the biggest source for possible teachable moments. I went to see Captain America: Civil War a little while ago, and it is a goldmine of opportunities! It is centered around one of the big Social Studies questions: To what extent should governments have control? More than that, is is an excellent basis for a discussion of character motivations, why we identify with some characters rather than others, and how a well developed story line can sway our perspective. Our students are very much in tune with pop culture. It is a way for us to connect with them, and bring about real, meaningful learning. But, it has to be done in an authentic way.
If you see the possibility in new source material, you also have to see the possibility in new ways of teaching and demonstrating understanding. Keep doing the same of type of assignments, and you will lose student interest, no matter what those assignments are based on. Consider the skills you want your students to develop, and start looking for ways they can be shown. There are always possibilities!
Changing over to this mindset isn’t easy, and it won’t happen right away. But, be willing to take that first step – admit that there are other possibilities, and that you want to see them.
Need help getting started? I am always happy to share resources! (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Coming Soon: Out of the Box Part 2: Silly is as Silly Does