The Role of Provocations

If you haven’t engaged in a #pypchat via twitter I strongly recommend it. Every two weeks a different topic is discussed on twitter for an hour with PYP educators around the world. This past week “powerful provocations” was the focus.

I love the idea of a great provocation to get children thinking about concepts and ideas. In fact, I felt as though this would actually be an area where I might feel confident sharing ideas and past experiences. Early on in the hour of chat I realized I’m just scratching the surface in terms of provocations and a mind shift occurred.

In the beginning of my career I truly had no grasp of provocations. It was one of those things that fell through the cracks in any PD I experienced and I was busy enough trying to stay afloat that my own independent inquiry into  the idea was the farthest thing from my mind. I remember it clearly years later, on every unit planner I considered the unit texts we had available as the provocation. Then one day a new colleague of mine took nearly everything out of his classroom one night, leaving the walls bare and shelves empty, and the next day had his students complete tasks with limited resources. It was then that I realized that the provocation should be powerful and leave an impression.

At my current school we try to engage the children in a provocation that connects to our related concepts but does not actually focus on the central idea. The idea being that we get students interested in the concepts and then connect that to the focus of the inquiry. In fact our newly developed inquiry model begins with “an invitation” to the unit, occurring through our provocation.

During the #pypchat I began to realize greater possibilities for the purpose and scope of provocations. @whatedsaid made me recognize that a provocation can be simple and yet still powerful, such as a question or statement on the board, a song played or a few images displayed. Provocations can connect to related concepts but also can be linked to creating new student questions, a new direction for the inquiry or action. The idea that provocations can happen throughout a unit was another point made and that had me instantly thinking of my current unit and ways in which I can continue to engage students in thinking and questioning right through to the summative assessment. Using provocations within emergent planning can help ensure student-led inquiry is truly happening.

The bottom line of it all was that the best provocations, no matter their form or level of sophistication, would leave a lasting impression on students, one which they would often think back on and connect to their learning.

Last year I used this provocation to get my students thinking about evidence. It truly was an experience that they would continue to talk about for the rest of the year and the concept of evidence was seemingly entrenched in their minds.

The #pypchat has become my provocation for teaching.


10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Pit
    Nov 06, 2012 @ 22:40:09

    Nice post Jeff. I am relatively new to the PYP and provocations as a whole. I am learning so much about them, and the impact they can and should be making on the kids. A key point you have made that resonates for me for me is that throughout the course of the unit, the kids should be able to reflect on the provocation and make connections regardless of what stage of the cycle they are in. This to me could be what makes a great all-round provocation. I also like the idea of engaging kids in multiple provocations along the way which, depending on what stage of the cycle they are in, can serve different purposes.


  2. Brenna
    Nov 07, 2012 @ 00:17:55

    Provocations are my favourite part of a unit! They’re so much fun, especially when you see the students’ “A ha” moments!
    I believe that provocations need to elicit a *personal* connection between students and the unit’s concept/s. If provocations are outside the realm of students’ personal lives, they may not make a personal connection with the unit, and thus may not be interested in further inquiry, it may turn into just a unit of work for them. Starting with the students in ‘their world’ allows personal connections to unit concepts. Students can then move towards transferring their conceptual understanding to the ‘bigger issues’ of the unit.
    Here are some examples of simple, student-focused provocations:

    I’d love to hear other teacher’s views on provocations!


  3. whatedsaid
    Nov 09, 2012 @ 09:05:26

    Hi Jeff
    Thanks for the mention! Isn’t #pypchat the greatest provocation to get us all really thinking?!
    A big shift for us: Instead of one provocation then a series of learning experiences, we now plan a series of provocations, then see where the learning goes. Often further provocations will take the learning in new directions…
    Request: Can you add a ‘subscribe by email’ option to the blog? (My reader has become out of control)


  4. jeffmwoodcock
    Nov 09, 2012 @ 21:18:11

    Brenna: Great videos, thanks for sharing! Excited to read what you’ve got coming up.
    Pit: Thanks for joining the conservation! Keep reading, would love to keep getting your feedback.
    Edna: I’m still learning this blog game but I know people can click to follow and that will lead to email notifications, though I’m not sure that’s what you want. I also just noticed under the comment box there is a tick-box for posts via email. Where do I add the subscribe by email?
    P.S. The ongoing inclusion of provocations throughout the unit is one thing that really struck me during the chat.
    Thanks all.


  5. Twiggy
    Nov 13, 2012 @ 19:03:14

    Well done in getting the blog up and running and fantastic writing. How we are developing the role of provocations is very exciting and it is wonderful to see how others are sharing in this practice.


  6. Brady Cline
    Nov 19, 2012 @ 15:59:50

    Thanks Jeff. As you mentioned in your last comment, making provocations part of regular daily practice is the way to go. Sure, we may want one particularly striking one to launch a unit, but all too often we think of inquiry as a process that we go through once per unit with a provocation at the start. Instead, remember that almost every discussion or activity we do can lead students through multiple stages of inquiry. We should be provoking our students daily (as much as or more than they provoke us 🙂


  7. Brady Cline
    Nov 19, 2012 @ 16:06:20

    OT – For some reason I’ve never loved the term “provocation”. It’s not a bad usage of the word, but often pedagogical lingo seems like it is trying too hard. Case in point, I had a professor who called this the “precipitory set.” (Add that to your pedagogy bingo board, Adam.) What other ways to educators describe this?


  8. Trackback: What is a good provocation for our stand alone planners? – Exploring Maths Inquiry
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