Critical Thinking

How to Create Authentic Learning Provocations Students Will Love

Provocations for learners initiate real exploration and discovery. Here's how to do it right. 

To create provocations in learning is to open doorways for developing creativity, critical thinking, and meaningful questioning habits. When we create provocations for learners, we "provoke" and inspire the beginning of exploration. Here's a brilliant description that gets to its true essence:

"Provocations can be as simple as a photo of a rock sculpture next to some pebbles or as elaborate as a table with an assortment of recycled materials next to a book on robots and resources to make up-cycled robots. Often though, provocations are simple and displayed beautifully to provoke interest."

At one time this was called the "capture step." For example, when putting on a presentation you've got a limited amount of time to pique a watcher's interest. What's the first thing you do, not say, to grab their attention and hold it? It's intended to make the audience think, "Whoa, what's going on here? Show me more."

slight of hand

A similar philosophy comes into play when you create provocations. However, this time your audience is your learners, and you're not trying to hold them while you speak. Instead, the idea with provocations is to nudge them toward taking their own journey. You become the main guide on this voyage of learning and discovery. It's your provocation that makes them take the first step.

Examples of Learning Provocations

Many educators have different philosophies on how to create provocations and have outstanding results. There's no exact template for them, so they're limited only to a teacher's imagination. Below are some fine examples from around the Web.

This list is from Racheous: Respectful Learning & Parenting

  • An interesting photo, picture or book,
  • Nature (e.g. specimens)
  • Conceptual (e.g. changing seasons, light)
  • Old materials displayed in a new way
  • An interest that a child or children have
  • An object (e.g. magnets, maps)
  •  New creative mediums
  • Questions (from any source—i.e. What is gravity?)
  • An event (e.g. a presentation, a holiday)

This list of examples and activities is from An Everyday Story:

  • Maybe an observation of living creatures (ex: snail inquiry)
  • A sensory exploration (ex; painting activity, scented discovery basket, playdough)
  • An exploration of a new art medium (ex: an exploration of paint or clay)
  • An observational painting or drawing (ex: van Gogh’s Starry Night, Autumn leaves)
  • A discovery activity (ex: nature walk)
  • An exploration of new material (exrocks and minerals provocation, magnets)

Of course, it will depend on what grade you're teaching and also what you have at your disposal. Think of these ideas as ones you can launch from to create provocations of your own.

Provocations open doorways for developing creativity, critical thinking, and meaningful questioning habits. 

Guidelines to Help Create Provocations

When you create provocations for learning, you'll benefit from some guidelines if you're new to them. Remember that you don't have to do anything flashy or complicated like a 3D surround-sound experience. All you need to do is get them wanting to know more about what you're teaching.

3D glasses

Work with connecting to your learners' interests, and keep it simple in the beginning. Ultimately, what's wonderful about provocations is that you and your learners are in them together.

  • Focus on Relevance: Think about what your learners already know. What interests them and drives them to pay attention? What inspires them to play and discover? Whatever connects to their interests is a safe bet when you create provocations.
  • Begin With a Question: Asking meaningful and powerful questions is at the heart of authentic learning. What's the purpose of your provocation? What exactly do you want to teach your students and how does the provocation fit into your plan? What's the driving question for this adventure?
  • Connect to Curriculum: Obviously you'll have to connect learning to the prescribed curriculum. When you create provocations, ask yourself where learners may come across the standards in their lives outside of school. If it’s something they’ll come across in their own world, there is a connection that will provide relevance and context.
  • Keep it Simple: As we stated earlier, provocations don't have to be complicated. In fact, the simpler the better. Doing too much as a first step can be overwhelming and intimidating, especially for younger learners. Give them just enough to want to take the initiative to discover more on their own.
  • Let Learners Lead: Kids have a lot to offer. In education, attentive children who are excited about learning end up getting more out of the lessons we teach. Effective learning provocations are a great way to allow students to “take the wheel” in learning.
  • Be a Guide: To create provocations is to inspire action in learning, but you'll still be the facilitator of that learning. With a good provocation, learners will ask questions repeatedly all throughout the process. Also, they'll get stuck occasionally as they move forward. Be there in your capacity as a trusted guide for learning while students take point.

Become Part of Something Bigger

The experiences you have with learning provocations like these need to be shared with fellow educators. There's no better place to do that in the Wabisabi Learning Community.

This global community brings together those passionate about the education of young people to engage in joyful curiosity and learn from one another’s stories, experiences, and ideas.

We welcome everyone who shares our passion for transforming education. We learn with, from, and about each other in a fun and vigorous environment of trust and mutual support.

When you join our community you can:

  •  Access exclusive courses though our accredited professional learning deep dives
  •  Connect with a community of your peers from around the world who share your passion for learning
  •  Share experiences, ideas and stories as we support each other in our individual professional learning journey
  •  Find answers to the challenges you face in your practice from the best teachers, leaders and international experts.
  •  Be inspired by thought-provoking conversations and expert perspective each and every day.

Join us, and begin changing everything for the future today.

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