Innovation Exhibit #1: AVID


Several years ago I went to the IIT Institute of Design Strategy Conference.  It’s one of those conferences adjacent to my world and work that inspires me to think differently and approach problems with fresh eyes. In one of their design talks, Larry Keely talked about 10 Types of Innovation.  He and his colleagues spent a few years researching innovation only to find that there are only really 10 types.  He broke them down into the different categories (i.e. structure, product performance and brand) and described how the different combinations of these types and sub-strategies make the innovation look different in different companies. Innovation isn’t just about new types of products, but innovation across a continuum, from how companies are configured to what they offer to what the customer experience looks like. He walked through several cases, from Zip Car to Zappos, as he explained his thinking. I loved the idea that you could actually create a common taxonomy for innovation which most people think of as a “secret sauce” that is so variable and difficult to capture. There actually are key ingredients but each company uses a slightly different recipe.

I began to think: are there really that many ways to teach?  Is there a parallel in education? What are the 10 types of innovation in the classroom and could we identify a set of teaching strategies used for each innovation? I’m not talking high-tech apps and technology-based innovations, but the basic things that teachers do every day to teach students. How might we organize the innovations and could it be that there isn’t as much variation as we think when you get to the strategy level? I mean wouldn’t it be amazing to think that there might only be a set of 50 to 75 core, great teaching strategies and then variations on those strategies in different content areas and different contexts?  Is it the combination of how teachers use those strategies that sets them apart?  It’s a thesis I’m still trying to prove true. This weekend I found a partner who might be able to help me write the book!

Exhibit One: AVID’s model for college success.

AVID was started by Mary Katherine Swanson who taught high school English for over 20 years in San Diego. What I love about AVID is that it’s a pretty simple formula and they use WICOR—writing, inquiry, collaboration, organization and reading to learn—as their basic framework (their innovations in the classroom). They have a common set of strategies that all AVID teachers learn across each of these areas. They don’t codify the probably less than 100 strategies they use, but they could if they wanted to!  I sat in on a critical reading training this last week and saw teachers trying to apply several of the strategies: re-reading the text; marking the text; writing in the margins; charting the text; etc.

But what’s the most amazing thing about AVID are the teachers: they are truly advocates for children. Four thousand strong in the convention center this summer, with a dozen-plus student leaders in their ranks cheering them on, was a reminder of why I’m an optimist in education and why I think teachers are the real secret sauce when it comes to student success.

 – C.