Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Innovation not Memorization

Recently, in the Future of Jobs Report of the World Economic Forum, the most desired qualities of workers sought by employers were reported, both presently and in the near future.  The qualities were then ranked after surveying business leaders, which are listed below.

                  2015                                                       2020
    1.      Complex Problem Solving                  1.  Complex Problem Solving
    2.      Coordinating with Others                    2.  Critical Thinking
    3.      People Management                            3.  Creativity
    4.      Critical Thinking                                 4.  People Management
    5.      Negotiation                                          5.  Coordinating with Others

At first glance, there seems to be little difference between the qualities desired last year and those that will be desired in 2020.  However, upon closer review, a new skill makes its debut in the 2020 list.  In fact, it is the third most desired skill—creativity!  You see, business leaders recognize that to continue to survive in the future marketplace means employees must do much more than simply replicate or manufacture someone else’s idea—they must come up with the ideas themselves.  This requires a spirit of innovation, creativity, and a recognition that there are multiple pathways to success as opposed to one “right” answer.  Or, as the folks from Google put it:

“We’re less concerned about grades and transcripts and more interested in how you think.  Show us how you would tackle the problem presented—don’t get hung up on nailing the ‘right’ answer.”

Through the application of creativity and innovation, the most desired quality of employers on both lists—complex problem solving—can be accomplished.  The problem, however, is that in a system measured by multiple choice tests with high stakes consequences, creativity often gives way to “right” or “wrong” answers and singular approaches to less than dynamic or relevant problems.  Fortunately, the state recognizes this and are currently working on an entirely new accountability and accreditation system, which will be unveiled later this school year. 

Even more encouraging is the fact that students who are exposed to innovative and creative ways of tackling material typically score better on standardized tests, not worse.  This does not imply that we should throw out all traditional forms of instruction, quite the contrary.  However, we know that when students are allowed and encouraged to seek creative solutions to relevant problems, their level of engagement increases, discipline decreases, and they often come up with solutions far superior to what most would expect.  This should assist us in taking a leap of faith to approach at least some lessons in a more innovative way.

So, how can you begin?  First, start small with one or two lessons that you might wish to consider altering and then ask yourself these questions:

     1.      Is there a more applicable way I can accomplish the same content/SOLs?
     2.      Is there a way to make the lesson student-centered, where students not only produce the end product, but likewise have some say in the process to create the end product?
     3.      Can I recognize that even if this is not successful, that appropriate risk taking is both a good model for students and the only thing that improves the status quo?
     4.      Most importantly—Is what I’m doing best for students and serving them well?

      Doing something new is always a risk.  You may ask, “Could a process I’m unfamiliar with end in failure?  If I give students more say, will it feel as if I’m relinquishing control?  Could it get the class off pace and negatively impact end-of-course tests?”  All of these are legitimate concerns and questions.  However, I believe the bigger risk is not challenging our students to innovate, create, and find novel solutions to very complex, real-world problems.

      So, praise students for thinking outside of the box.  Encourage creation and creativity.  Use their interests to enhance lessons and give them permission to experiment without fear of failure.  This same innovative and creative spirit has produced Edison, Bell, Jobs and Gates, among many others.  Foster it and you may be amazed at the results