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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."
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: 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 a new material (ex: rocks 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.
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. 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 to 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 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.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
Originally published Mar 24, 2019, updated September 19, 2021