This past Saturday I had the pleasure of working with over 30 teachers (elementary and secondary) from Sekolah Sri Acmar at a professional development workshop we hosted at the college. The teachers specifically asked for creative teaching strategies and so I decided to focus on one of the most powerful ways to be creative in the classroom: using cooperative learning techniques.
If anyone were to follow me around from workshop to workshop they would soon see a familiar pattern in spite of the fact that the content is different at each one. I always have a three part lesson format to the workshop (a MINDS ON, an ACTION, and a CONSOLIDATION part). This I inherited from my years in Ontario education. Each part of the ‘lesson’ is filled with cooperative learning activities that engage the participants in the learning. This is evident from the agenda that typically looks like this:
Another pattern to be noticed is that I ALWAYS begin with sharing of Learning Outcomes. (Incidentally, I revisit those throughout the workshop and again at the very end of the workshop/lesson).
The activities outlined in each of the three parts are all interactive activities that advance the learning for the participants.
Since coming to Malaysia I have noticed that many teachers rely heavily on powerpoints for their lessons. Far too often the powerpoints contain slide after slide of dense information that the teacher reads out to the students. Talk about ‘Stand and Deliver’! This is a hard habit to break and certainly cries out for ‘creative’ teaching techniques. With just a little bit of work the dense powerpoint can be revised and energized with the infusion of cooperative learning activities such as indicated in the typical agenda above. Students need these structured activities to pause and reflect on the new material, to mull the information around in their brains and figure out if it fits with what they already know about the topic. It is this ‘mulling around in the brain’ that allows learning to happen (Fisher & Frey, 2009). Students also need opportunities to interact with their peers so that they can bounce ideas off of one another and challenge their own thinking in the process (Vygotsy, 1962). You will note that the typical agenda includes both reflection and structured group activities to provide the necessary opportunities for learning to take place.
In summary, one key to being a creative teacher is to rework boring lecture style presentations so that they are rich with several opportunities to reflect and to interact. The pictures of the teachers from Sri Acmar, complete with smiles and giggles, are evidence of how engaging and relevant cooperative learning techniques can be.
You may be interested in this Fisher and Frey (2010) article, Building and Activating Background Knowledge, available at http://www.nassp.org/Content.aspx?topic=Building_and_Activating_Background_Knowledge
Strategies for Activating Prior knowledge at http://www.classhelp.info/Biology/Strategies%20for%20Activating%20Prior%20Knowledge.pdf