Saturday, February 6, 2016

Using Provocations to Inspire Learning

Somerville preschool teachers just finished some professional development related to the Building Blocks math curriculum.  Questions came up about how to extend learning experiences for children who "get it", children who need more help, and how to make some learning experiences in the teachers' guide more interesting and sustained.  Central to this conversation is what can be referred to as a kind of improvisation - taking advantage of teachable moments and having things "in your back pocket".

A professional learning community of Somerville early childhood educators is working with the The Beautiful Stuff Project and has also been thinking about this idea, but is using the word provocation in their conversations about intentional teaching. This term, often used by those who follow a Reggio Emilia approach, puts a different spin on what and how we offer learning experiences.  This link to a website on the power of art has a good definition of provocation - here it is:
Provocations: deliberate and thoughtful decisions made by the teacher to extend the ideas of the children. Teachers provide materials, media, and general direction as needed, but the children take the ideas where they want. This allows children to develop skills of creativity, inventiveness and flexibility in thinking, planning and reflecting.
And the dictionary definition:
Something that provokes, arouses, or stimulates.
Synonyms for provoke:  excite, stimulate, pique, quicken, impassion, incite....and the first cousin of all these word - inspire.

From East Somerville Community School Kindergarten
The question also arises:  What is the difference between a provocation and a center?  A provocation is intrinsically child-directed.  The adult offers the provocation and then observes carefully to see what the child will do, and this in turn informs future practices. There certainly can be scaffolding and directions for a provocation - it isn't only exploration - but a center often has a more finite goal and children may come and go from a center without the possibility of extended and varying learning experiences over time.

Sometimes a provocation is a material or tool - it could be something familiar that is then used in a new way, like the popsicle sticks below. Sometimes a provocation is a question:


The kindergarteners at East Somerville Community School grappled with some very intentional questions posed by teachers to expand children's thinking and inspire problem solving and experimentation.

Preschoolers are learning to choose their own
activities during center time at Capuano Early Childhood Center.

Sometimes provocations are planned, other times more improvisational - and teachers need provocations in their back pockets. Children in a Somerville preschool classroom choose their own work during a center time block. Then a teacher dropped in the provocation of white boards when she noticed children counting while using the tong transfer activity.  Suddenly addition was happening and children were representing quantity in multiple ways without being told to do so.

Transferring pompoms with tongs becomes addition.
And sometimes teachers need provocation too. Getting inspired by new ideas like this Facebook Page from Loose Parts and Intelligent Playthings, or the Somerville Early Education (SEE) Pinterest site are ways for educations to breathe new life into their work.