Innovate Inside the Box: Empowering Learners Through UDL and the Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros with Katie Novak

Part Two – Eight Characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset

  • 5. Empathetic: Empathy is not sympathy. Empathy is the ability to understand the experience and perspectives of others. Teachers need to look for opportunities to get to know students so they can be empathetic with them. Empathy falls into Gardner’s interpersonal intelligence category. We need to remove barriers that prevent students from speaking about their experiences and feelings.
  • George provides vocabulary teachers can use as they teach empathy, as they arrange for students to share feelings, and listen to others. Be sure to use visuals including photographs to help with the process. Some other how to’s are given here. After students understand empathy they need opportunities to practice.
  • 6. Problem Finders-Solvers: An identity day is one where every learner in a school (adults too) sets up a space to share one thing about which they are passionate. The goal is to find problems that are meaningful to them. When students find a problem they care about they are likely to care about trying to solve it. It can start with something that ticks you off or causes heartbreak.
  • We need to have students give feedback and embed problem-finding into the curriculum. Ask them about problems that prevent them from being successful. They should have some time to explore, research, create proposals, design and deliver presentations, and create prototypes. Show them exemplars of what others have done. Collaborate with your students to identify and eliminate barriers the prevent learning.
  • 7. Risk-Takers: Here George builds on the work of many others who promote the notion of taking risks and learning from your mistakes and failures. Such behavior should be modeled for students. Sometimes sticking with the status quo can be a risk. Traditional practices are not necessarily bad practices. As for innovative learning, be sure to try it yourself first to mitigate risk for your students. It is also important to know when it’s time to change course.
  • One big risk George took was to ask students for feedback and making it available to them. This allows you to model the importance of feedback for students so they will seek it from their teachers and peers. You should also consider keeping track of your failures and ask students to share the risks they have taken and what they have learned as a result.
  • 8. Networked: Today’s students have opportunities to connect with people around the world that their parents never had. It is important, therefore, for teachers to model how they connect with other educators. There are examples of how young people have changed the world here. While social media can be used to do harm, George believes teachers should focus on the good it can do and to avoid the “don’ts.”
  • Traditional brainstorming should be replaced with a system where everyone has time to think and write their ideas that are presented to the group. This avoids situations where the best talkers dominate. Teachers and students should seek people from outside of the school who can connect and offer their talents. The cogen method is one where a teacher sits with five students during lunch or after school and discusses how things can improve in class.
  • 9. Observant: The goal here is to have students become more observant of and interact with the world around them. Teach them how to listen actively to others and to make inferences and generalizations as they listen cognitively. Then should also listen more. They need to slow down and process the information they observe. George recommends limiting time spent with negative people as it causes one to lose focus.
  • Being observant is the core of the scientific process. We need to teach students to be more resourceful. To do that task them with finding resources for upcoming units. The adds choice and voice to their learning. They should also be responsible for creating their own personalized vocabulary lists from words they hear in their environment. This gets you away from “one-size-fits-all” resources. (The authors suggest to try it yourself and tweet a list of five to the #InnovateInsideTheBox hashtag.)
  • 10. Creators: What we create matters. Make sure that your projects are more than receipts where students create the same thing. Schools are good at taking the need to create out of students before they leave elementary school. Make sure students use technology to do things they can’t do without it. Critical consuming is also vital for creative work.
  • Creating something new and better should involve higher-order thinking. If we want learning to be personalized and create why seek standard outcomes? Be sure to allow choices, not just options. Too much choice, however, can cause paralysis. Identify student skills and prior knowledge that can act as barriers. Research tells us that creativity can be taught. Allow for collaboration, show exemplars, and let students choose how they present their ideas.
  • 11. Resilient: The big lesson here is that you should go for what you want rather than what is safe as you might fail either way. Being resilient means that you are persistent and work toward your goals. Recognize when something isn’t working, reevaluate, and try something else. It should be less about enduring and more about finding a path forward. It’s about bouncing back and bouncing forward. It’s easier to be resilient if you are passionate about your pursuit. Avoid ceremonies recognizing top students so as not to harm students who will never be at the top. Those are the ones who come to school with fewer resources. They may face barriers like apathy, anxiety, trauma, etc.
  • Give your students some control of the classroom environment. Have them provide evidence of their learning. Have them tell you why they are learning something. Share your favorite mistakes and have them do the same. Allow revisions and retakes and don’t average in poor first efforts.
  • 12. Reflection: It is an effort to understand how the events of our life shape the way in which we see the world, ourselves, and others. Unfortunately, it is usually missing as part of professional development and classroom instruction. It can and should be taught so students can take time to make meaning of what they learned, reflect on their strategies for learning, and create goals for improvement.
  • The Universal Design for Learning (UDL) system developed by Katie that is referenced often uses the choose, do, review approach to make sure reflection is part of every lesson. Teachers also need to scaffold reflection by providing rubrics, checklists, and other diagnostic information. Highlight mistakes, let students work on fixing them, and delay grading. Have students suggest and defend their own grades. The use of exit tickets can promote reflection.
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