Student choice and voice is a big part of my classroom atmosphere. They are allowed to demonstrate their knowledge in a variety of ways for most of what we do. Sometimes I show them a new tool which they must use, but there is still freedoms within that tool. Their creativity and critical thinking skills improve with each project. However, I noticed that some of them are at a plateau and aren’t going beyond what they always do. So I decided to change the rules and have them think inside the box.
Once a week we work on Genius Hour projects which give the students a chance to investigate a topic of their choice. They typically research the subject, then write an essay and create some type of project and presentation to share with the class. Many of these are the same no matter the topic or the student. They are stuck in their ideas of what a presentation needs to look like. How many times can the class watch the back of the student while he/she reads directly off the slideshow???
For the current project, I am giving them some rules to follow and taking away a little of their choice. Each student must create a Google Slideshow or Microsoft Sway. Within the slides I am limiting them to only 5 words per slide and 25 words total for the whole presentation. The class was mixed in their reactions. Some grabbed their computers with great anticipation of the challenge. (Some of that may have come from only being asked to summarize their notes in a quick paragraph to refresh their ideas rather than writing a full essay!) Others actually groaned aloud. It was like I recess was cancelled for the rest of the month.
As I observed their thinking process and the beginning of their projects, I noticed a distinct division in the class. There were those who thrived with the constraints and figured out how to add memes and images that had words already done for them so the words wouldn’t count. Others figured out how to add one word captions to images to prove their points. These were the creative thinkers who figured out how to make the rules work for them instead of against.
And then there were those who were stuck in the 5-word sentence per slide that made a “paragraph” if you put all of the slides together. These are the students who I am concerned with. As they grow older and find classrooms that are more traditional than mine I want them to see it’s possible to express their creativity by “thinking inside the box”. The only way to really show them this can happen is to give them constraints to see what they can do. It’s uncomfortable for all, but worth the effort.
As adults we are often asked to work within our own boxes. Change your teaching but use the required curriculum. Do things differently but make sure your test results are the same as or higher than if you did it the same as you always have. Sometimes this seems impossible but if given the opportunity to test limits with constraints we (teacher and students) just might rise above what was ever expected.
20+ year teacher, mother of 2 kids and 2 dogs, wife, lover of all things M&M, interested in tech in the classroom, and changing up my teaching