Saturday, May 7, 2011

Provocations and Problems

The word provocation used to have negative connotations for me.  I always felt that a provocation was something that someone did or said to deliberately make someone else feel annoyed or angry or anxious, or to incite them to do something.  I remember as a child being told not to respond to provocation, and at times being told off for provoking my brothers if I was deliberately trying to get a reaction from them or challenge them in some way, and as a teenager I can remember listening to warnings about girls who dressed in a provocative way.

I was surprised, therefore, when I started using a PYP planner that under the section What do we want to learn? was the question:  what teacher questions/provocations will drive these inquiries?  Having been a PYP teacher for many years, I now understand what is really meant by this word - in this context it means something for students to wonder about, something to make them curious, something that pushes them to think in a new way, something that is fascinating, intriguing or mysterious, something that makes the students sit up and pay attention, that invites them to investigate or explore or ask questions, something that challenges their assumptions or presents a different perspective.

Provocations can therefore take the students into a unit of inquiry, or give them ideas for a direction they want their inquiry to take.  At the end of the unit it's equally important to have an authentic summative assessment - again one that requires some complex and critical thinking, perhaps a problem to solve which can then encourage the students to take some action.  Again I'm using a word here that used to have negative implications.  At one time a problem to me was something that was unwelcome, objectionable or even harmful and it always implied something that was difficult to overcome or difficult to achieve.  The word problem to me often meant trouble.  What I have come to realise, however, is that a problem can also be seen as a puzzle, and it can stimulate students' curiosity and lead to them searching for answers, which can in turn lead to decision making and reflection.

Provocations and problems now play a much bigger part in my planning than they used to.  It all depends on your perspective, and my perspective has certainly changed.

Photo Credit:  Considering a career in tennis by woodleywonderworks Attribution 

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