There was a day, not so long ago, when having computers in the classroom was considered innovative.
A few of us are still able to remember when one of our more forward-thinking teachers got a few computers for students to use.
And they were not convenient, powerful laptop computers or tablets.
They looked like huge TV sets perched on top of a hulking case used to safeguard the disk drive.
We approached them with some excitement, but mostly fear. Could we really be trusted with such powerful and all-knowing devices? We were a little afraid to even touch them.
There was no mindless scrolling, thoughtless clicking or touch-screen tapping. Every little operation was slow and required a fair amount of effort. But in spite of this, some students back then learned how to type commands and even play a few games.
Feel old yet?
How to Implement Innovative Teaching Ideas in Your Classroom
In the more recent past, innovative educators discovered a thing called “Web 2.0.” Here, they could build platforms that allowed people from all over the world to communicate with each other any time they wanted. The phenomenon of virtual learning was born—eventually giving birth to its predecessors, flipped learning and blended learning.
Nowadays, computers in the classroom are hardly innovative. And while virtual learning is still very much with us, it’s by no means a new innovation.
It seems that educational innovation is elusive, a constantly moving target.
Many of us aspire to be cutting-edge leaders who point the way to the education of the future. But the innovation of today is tomorrow’s old news. Real innovation means so much more than adopting the newest teaching technology, tricks or trends. It means staying relevant even though you know many of the skills students learn in the classroom may be obsolete ten years from now.
So, how do you be innovative in this context?
It’s not a skill set; it’s a state of mind.
Read on to find out how to foster a culture of innovation in your language classroom—and learn a few great tips that can help you in other areas of education outside of language!
Language Needs Real-life Application
At its heart, educational innovation simply means preparing the students of today for the world of tomorrow. This is important to remember as a foreign language teacher, as well as a first-language educator.
And chances are the world that your students will inhabit tomorrow probably does not involve a classroom. Or textbooks. Or even an interactive whiteboard.
So, the best and most innovative education you can give them will introduce a healthy dose of reality.
Field trips and excursions
Take your students out into the world to observe the ways that the target language is being used all around them in daily life. Is there a local museum which happens to have exhibits by an artist you’ve studied? Is there a restaurant which specializes in the cuisine of your target culture? Is there a local embassy or government office in which the target language is used? All of these are great opportunities to observe real-life skills at work.
Teaching outside the classroom
If the weather’s nice, consider taking your class outdoors for a while. Try teaching a lesson in an alternate location, like a nearby museum, park or cafe. A change of venue almost always inspires new perspectives and creative thinking.
Find community members who use the target language on a regular basis and invite them to speak to your classes about their work.
Some examples would be translators, tour guides, museum curators, military personnel, even other teachers.
Or take advantage of that global platform which technology now provides us to invite a speaker who actually lives in the target language country. Skype in the Classroom and Google Hangouts are both great places to start.
With hands-on experience
Benjamin Franklin once famously said: “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I may remember. Involve me and I learn.” And it’s true that hands-on learning is the most memorable kind of learning, the kind that stays with you.
Give your students every opportunity for hands-on, experiential learning. When teaching numbers, hand them objects for counting. If you want to teach them about a particular scientific hypothesis, a lab is a great way to go.
Use Audio-visual Materials
“I really understood that lesson when I heard the teacher talk about for the entire class period,”…said no one ever.
The evidence bears out what we knew all along: most people are visual and/or kinesthetic learners. They learn from seeing, visualizing and experiencing. So, give your students the opportunity to do these things with your course content as much as possible.
Here are some simple but effective ways to provide your students with the visualization they need.
Teach with videos
Forget those old memories of your fourth-grade teacher struggling to get the VCR to work. Today’s technology makes access to quality video effortless.
For foreign language teachers, your go-to resource for videos is FluentU. Authentic, interactive and user-friendly, FluentU takes real-world material and turns it into language-learning curriculum. The conversations are real and fresh, and the captions give you the ability to drill new vocabulary and sentence constructions in an authentic and relevant way.
Along with video clips from popular movies and TV shows in the target language, FluentU offers an ever-growing library of curriculum taken from news articles, magazines, pop songs, documentaries, commercials and other authentic material made by native speakers, for native speakers. This doesn’t only help you make your lessons fun and engaging, it also ensures that your students get a fully-immersive experience from start to finish.
For other subject areas, Ted Talks continue to be a useful source of inspiration, bringing expert knowledge on a variety of topics into your classroom.
They are also great for language practice. Simply scroll down on the “Languages” menu to search for Ted talks in your target language.
Use slideshow presentations
The old-fashioned slideshow began as a way to display photos of vacations or special memories in a sequence.
Over time, they evolved to include text boxes and became a popular way to present information.
Slideshows have been used in the classroom for decades, both for teachers to present material in a visually engaging way and for students to create projects about what they know.
Most of us grew up using Microsoft Office’s PowerPoint as our go-to when it came to creating slideshows. Eventually, Google Slides came on the scene, giving users the ability to connect their slideshows to other Google apps within the G Suite.
But today’s PowerPoint and Google Slides are noticeably different from the old days. Today’s slideshows give you the ability to add video and audio links, Google Map street views or even synchronize the entire presentation to a favorite song.
For example, if you are teaching students new vocabulary, your slideshow can show pictures and text. And you can even add an audio link teaching students how to pronounce new words.
If you want students to present a project about a particular city, they can incorporate Google Map street views to make their slideshow presentation come to life.
While lacking the visual punch of video, podcasts still bring a fresh voice and perspective into your classroom.
Check out NewsInSlow, which offers up current events in French, Spanish, Italian or German. A more lighthearted site for language podcasts is RadioLingua’s Coffee Break Languages. And a great and time-tested choice is Innovative Language 101 Podcast Series.
Take advantage of 3D printing
Teaching your students about the wonders of the Colosseum? How about bringing it to life for your students with a 3D model?
Are your students doing a project on famous landmarks in Paris? Give them the opportunity to create 3D models of those landmarks made to scale.
3D printing opens up all kinds of possibilities to teachers across every discipline, and we are only beginning to explore its capabilities.
Include Discussions and Brainstorming
You are equipping the leaders of tomorrow, so why not start with some leadership within the confines of your classroom?
Give your students a voice in daily classroom procedures, problem-solving and especially their own learning.
Here are some ways you can do that.
Brainstorm multiple ideas to solve problems
Teamwork and problem-solving are skills that your students will need, no matter what the future brings their way. Providing them with this skill set as they go out into the world is always a good idea.
Have a daily 5-minute reflection at the end of class
Have students discuss what went well and what didn’t, and share their ideas to make the learning process more effective.
- Do a “chalk talk.” The magic of the “chalk talk” is that students can express as many ideas as they want without actually talking. This can be done on poster board with sticky notes, using an app on the interactive whiteboard or the old-fashioned “chalk” (or dry erase marker) way.
- “Mindset moments.” It’s safe to say that overcoming obstacles is something that we’ll all need to do in the course of a lifetime. Displaying a board that showcases the ways your students have overcome obstacles to their learning is a powerful way to model that process. Check out this article for a more thorough description.
Bringing It All Together
The research is clear: everything about your classroom layout and environment, from the seating arrangement to the posters on the wall, has an impact on student learning. So, make full use of every nook and cranny to inspire creative thinking in your students.
- Creative use of color. Colors have a strong impact on your students’ emotional state. Use blue and green for a calming effect, yellow for energy and small amounts of red or orange when you want to call your students’ attention to something.
- Flexible classroom layout. You already know that your seating arrangement and easy access to materials are important. But how about changing the layout as needed to accommodate different learning activities? Switch from rows to a semicircle to group formations as needed.
- Collaborative learning spaces. Build a collaborative environment, physically and virtually. Involve students in decisions about the design and layout of learning spaces.
- Motivational posters. Whenever your students aren’t looking at you, their eyes are on decorations around the room, so don’t let these be wasted. Give them a concise, but powerful, motivational quote or message, or use the space to emphasize key information or knowledge.
Innovation, by its very nature, is almost impossible to nail down and define. But the real fruit of innovation is about inspiring the young minds of the future to think creatively. Adding these small changes to your teaching routine will do just that.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to teach languages with real-world videos.