Active and Creative Teaching

Hook 'em into Learning: Active and Creative Teaching in the University Context

Katie Dawson, Department of Theater and Dance

The October Think Tank workshop explored research-based teaching strategies that improve student engagement and creative thinking across all disciplines.

Anticipatory Set

We began with the importance of “hooking” students into the key learning topic and/or inquiry at the top of a class–what educational theorist Madeline Hunter refers to as an anticipatory set. The group focused their bodies and minds through “Thumbs Up,” a strategy that requires participants to attempt simultaneous attention between two different tasks. The activity became a metaphor for our need to have a strategic focus on instructional goals (including inquiry questions) and intended outcomes (related to a sequence of tasks) while juggling a tactical response to the meanings that students are actually making (or not) during a lesson. A second thematic hook was a “think-pair-share” discussion of a brief section from President Fenves’s recent inauguration speech which suggested:

UT students need “[to] be creative. To be ethical. To communicate. And to lead.”

This led to an overview of the benefits of arts-based approaches to teaching and learning and arguments for why active learning (described through research about the body in education and the importance of a sense of belonging within a classroom) and creative learning (described through research on the importance of imagination and ability to construct narrative) can be beneficial within the university context.

Strategies for Active Dialogue

Next, we explored three strategies to activate dialogue in the classroom. First, the group made connections between their personal learning preferences and those of their students through the text-based strategy Poster Dialogue. We each offered anonymous written responses on posters that stated:

 “I learn best when…”; “My students are most engaged in class when…” and, “A question I have about active and creative learning in the university context is…”

We collectively analyzed and synthesized our responses and then unpacked the strategy to consider our experiences in the activity and how we might apply it to our own teaching contexts. The second strategy, Vote from Your Seat, engaged the group in a simple voting process using our arm positions to indicate a continuum – all the way up for “strongly agree” and all the way down for "strongly disagree." A few statements asked: 

“Every student wants to learn”; “Students learn best from their professor” and, “Responding with a good question, is better than knowing the right answer.”

The statements produced lively discussion–and productive arguments!–with all participants actively engaged in individual and collective reflection about how and why students learn. The final strategy, The Great Game of Power, offered a non-linguistic approach to demonstrating a relationship or concept using four chairs and a water bottle; this activity engaged our group in an interactive exchange of ideas with the focus on deep perception, critical thinking and multiple perspectives.

Wrap Up

The session ended with individual reflection through a strategy called It Made Me Think and group discussion about why the quality of interactions in our classrooms matters. Research suggests that students’ growth and understanding will be more substantive and nuanced if they engage with and actively build upon others’ ideas; the same, of course, holds true for faculty at UT. This lively Friday Think Tank made the argument that the best way to “hook” students into becoming creative, ethical, communicators and leaders, is to exemplify these qualities ourselves.

If you have any questions about how to use these ideas in your own classrooms contact Katie.