Encouraging students to think divergently.

Our obsession with exam preparation and the curriculum script is resulting in dull lessons and the loss of divergent thought, lateral thinking and creation. Joel Wirth looks at how we must be brave if we are to teach our pupils how to think in SecEd.

Expectant faces. A new seating plan. Tables clustered in fours. No books out. No pens. A brief increase in the volume of chatter as the year 9 students regroup themselves before settling into a hushed anticipation. Everything about this geography lesson screamed: “Today, things will be different!”

And, at the centre of this collective frisson of excitement, was an envelope…

Once assigned their place, several inquisitive individuals had inspected their envelope with the reverence a medieval pilgrim might afford the bones of St Alban, but none had dared open it. I was almost sure I had seen one boy sniff his.

Seated at the back of the room, I too settled in for what I hoped might be one of those rare and wonderful treats: an interesting lesson.

Two minutes later, that hope lay in ruins.

The problems began when the teacher committed a grotesque error. Having luxuriated in their expectant attention for a few seconds, she took an identical-looking envelope from her desk, held it up before the class and said: “Okay, kids. On your tables is an envelope like this. Inside, you’ll find…” And, with those last three words, the bubble burst.

I have seen this same staggering thing happen three times in the past year. Why set up a lesson with a sealed envelope at its heart and then ruin it by telling the students not only what is in the envelope, but exactly what they are going to do with the contents – before we even let them open it? In doing so, the teacher has snatched compliant boredom from the jaws of genuine engagement.

I would have wanted the teacher to say to me: “Right, kids. There is an envelope on your desk. When I say so, I want you to open it and take a good look at what’s inside. Then, as a group, I want you to see if you can tell what we’re going to be doing this lesson and what tasks I might want you to tackle. I want to know whether this links to anything – and I mean anything – we have previously done. You know what, I am even interested if it links to anything you have done outside geography. I am also looking for interesting ideas from you that even someone as brilliant and clever as me has not thought of. You will have three minutes before I want your ideas. Okay? Go!”

Read about how and why to should give your class their own space to learn Encouraging students to think divergently.

Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin


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