Learner agency and classroom management…

How does learner agency influence the need for ‘classroom management’?

Posting the question on Twitter brought responses such as these:

After listening to Derek Wenmoth’s video, our teachers collectively came up with a list of words that characterise agency. These included concepts like initiative, empowerment, intentionality, self-regulation, trust, awareness, active involvement, interdependence and, interestingly, wellbeing…

Inspired by Nadia Ellis’ post, we explored the meaning of ‘management’ and compared our agency list with synonyms for ‘manage’ – control, handle, master, manipulate, dominate, rule, oversee, supervise…  No wonder that little blue guy is pushing back!

So how might we create a culture of learner agency in our classrooms, a culture in which learners are empowered to take ownership of their learning and the need for classroom ‘management’ is diminished?

We’re exploring agency through the lens of Project Zero’s Eight Cultural Forces: language, time, opportunities, expectations, interactions, routines, modelling and physical environment. How might a thoughtful approach to each of these support the development of a culture of agency? What might we need to change? We’re compiling a collaborative list, so what are your thoughts?

Images from http://www.presentermedia.com/

Teachers as learners…

‘How do bloggers find their voice?’

Joc is facilitating a meeting with a team of teachers, exploring blogging as a writing form…

‘Through their passions?’ someone asks. Taking a stance on an issue? Sharing experiences? These are some of the possibilities raised by the the group. They have all read blog posts, but not written any.

‘By writing’, someone says.

I think back to eight years ago when I first started blogging.

My first three posts, which I soon deleted, sounded as though they were written by different people, as I struggled to find a voice. It was only when I let go of preconceived ideas, stopped trying to impress an imagined audience and just wrote, that I found a voice… my own.

It’s best not to over think or over plan. Try not to agonise over whether your writing is good enough. Write, check, publish, done. You can always write another post when you’ve developed your thinking further or changed your perspective. Just write. A lot. Or you will never find your voice.

Now write’ says Joc. She has provided links to some mentor texts (blog posts) and wants the teachers to experience this themselves, before they ask it of their students. Initially there is resistance. Anxiety even? Realisation dawns that this is what our students experience every day and our awesome teachers throw themselves willingly into the learning pit

Teachers in the flow of writing their posts.

And this is Megan’s take:

Today I was asked to just write for 30 minutes…. Easy right? Go for it? Ummm no, I thought…

About what? Where do I get my ideas from? Geeze….is this how I make the children feel when I say…”Just write about whatever you want”  Do they freeze up like me?

How am I meant to encourage children to be authors and find their voice, if I am unsure of how to find my own? I have never seen myself as a ‘writer’ but find such contention with this because I know how important it is, as a teacher, to model to the children, to show them different styles of writing, to show them what it might look like to take a leap and enter the world of being an author!

Have I ever written something as an author? I really can’t say. I have recorded my opinion while listening to someone speak…Is that being an author? I have modelled story writing with the children in class…Is that being an author? I have written my reflection or opinion on things…Is that being an author? I write questions to my children in response to their learning…Is that being an author? Perhaps I am just a little unsure of what being an author ‘looks like’ or perhaps I just lack the confidence in my own skills to ‘have a go’. I encourage that ‘growth mindset’ with children everyday, yet haven’t been able to apply it in my own world. Why?

If I really think about it, I am a writer everyday, I just don’t put my words in to writing.

My younger sister recently had a career change from Lawyer to Transformational coach – what a huge leap of faith she took. And, while following this niggle has lead to great things, she has also come across road-blocks when it comes to writing and expressing her voice. Being new into the industry she feels her voice isn’t valued or worth something…yet! And although she has felt this way she has realised that it is the only way to share her feelings to have her voice heard and to inspire people…so she did it!! She writes blogs, facebook posts, reflections, coaching seminars, she uses anything she can to share her passion and her voice. She was terrified…she didn’t know how it would be received….but she did it!

So……really I am just being a big wuss…look out blogging world, I am coming in hot!

By Megan McKenzie

What do inquiry teachers believe?

1. What is your ‘image of the child’? 
How do you view the learners in your class? Do you believe children are inherently intelligent, curious and creative? Do you recognise their rights and their capabilities? Do you trust them to learn?

2. What do you believe about learning? 
Knowing what and how to teach is not enough. Have you, individually and as a school, thought deeply about how you believe learning takes place? Have you carefully examined the extent to which your practice aligns with your beliefs?

3. Who do you believe should hold the power? 
Is your token nod to agency allowing the learners a choice when you decide it’s the time? How much of what your students say and do has to be channeled through the teacher? Do you make most of the decisions? Or do you believe the learners can really lead the learning? Is initiative valued over compliance?

4. Do you see every learner as an individual? 
Are you tempted to refer to the class as ‘they‘ or do you always consider each individual’s personal story? Are you aware of what influences each student’s  learning? Are your beliefs evident in your language, your expectations, the routines in your room and in the relationships you build?

5. Do your learners believe in themselves? 
Do you group your learners on perceived ability or do they have opportunities to learn with and from others with varying strengths, challenges and interests? Is a growth mindset fostered? Are learners motivated by learning itself, rather than extrinsic rewards that encourage winners and losers in the game of school?

6. Who do you believe should do the heavy lifting?  
Do you explain everything in detail, sometimes several times in different ways? Or do the learners have a go at experimenting and tackling problems first and you step in at point of need? Are you able to release control so that the heavy lifting is done by the learners?

7. Who owns the curriculum? 
Do you have secret teacher business? Do you always decide what to cover and how to teach it? Or do you believe that students can be empowered to explore curriculum requirements via their own inquiries, in their own ways?

8. How important is measurement of achievement?
Do you teach to the test? Do you believe everything has to be formally assessed and what can’t be measured is less valuable? Or is the process of learning perceived as more significant than the outcome? Is process valued over product?

9. What is the language of your classroom? 
Do you talk about work and tasks or does everyone speak the language of learning? Is how we learn as much a part of the conversation as what we learn? Are students aware of who they are as learners? Are learning dispositions noticed and named? Do you and your students believe that reflection and metacognition are integral parts of learning?

10. Is there a safe space for risk-taking and failure? 
Does the learning culture encourage students to take risks and make mistakes? Do learners seek and grapple with challenging problems and unanswerable questions? Do you (and they) believe that failure is an opportunity to learn and grow?

If you’ve thought about your ‘why’, the ‘how’ is much easier to achieve.  Are you asking the right question?

* Influenced by the Modern Learners podcast The Answer to How is Yes. Now reading the book by Peter Block.

 

Curriculum shouldn’t be linear…

Learning isn’t linear. Consider your own learning… How do a range of separate experiences contribute to the development of your understanding? How does that understanding deepen, the more you engage with the same conceptual ideas in different contexts?

So, why had we historically planned the order of our units of inquiry in a linear way? (When would one unit end and the next unit begin? How many weeks would we need to devote to each? What dates would work best?) The time had come to view the process in a different way.

We started from the most beautiful questions that drive change –

Why?’ ‘What if?’ and ‘How might we?’

Why should curriculum be viewed as linear?

What if we put the child at the centre and considered the learning in a more wholistic way?

How might we approach the big picture through the lens of transferable concepts, rather than the calendar?

In each team meeting, we began by writing the ‘related concepts’ (PYP terminology for the big transferable ideas) in each unit on individual sticky notes and arranging them to allow us a visual perspective on the learning as a whole, then underlining the concepts that are most transferable.

This simple activity raised a number of insights, such as:

  • There are opportunities for further development of understanding, through concepts repeating in different units.
  • Some concepts are more highly transferable across different areas and more applicable in life.
  • Sometimes a unit has too many concepts, leading to less depth in the learning.
  • Some combinations of units have concepts that interconnect more, while others are more subject specific.
  • Some units lend themselves more to transdisciplinary learning than others…

Approaching the exercise conceptually, visually, in a non linear way led teachers very quickly to valuable conclusions about the big picture of learning – which units would flow on most logically from each other, which units might be best run concurrently and which units lend themselves to ongoing learning, woven throughout the year.

Some examples of ongoing, concurrent or even year-long, units of inquiry:

A Prep unit, exploring reading and writing as an inquiry.

Central Idea: We can receive and communicate meaning through symbols. 

Lines of inquiry:

  • How sounds and words are represented
  • How we  receive and communicate meaning through written text

A Year 5 unit which, after the initial provocation and exploration, will continue as a Genius Hour project, with learners pursuing their own inquiries and action.

Central Idea: Ideas inspire possibilities for action.

Lines of inquiry:

  • How we bring our ideas to reality
  • Skills and attitudes required for taking action

And our whole school, year-long central ideaOur choices define who we are as individuals and as a community, with different lines of inquiry at each year level, such as:

Prep (self)

  • How our choices help us learn
  • Choices in how we express our learning
  • How we choose to use our environment to support our learning

Year 3 (individual and community)

  • Who I choose to be  as a member of our learning community
  • Choices that affect our learning community
  • How diversity enriches our learning community

Year 6 (personal, local and global)

  • Active citizenship
  • How choices and decisions are made
  • The impact of our choices and decisions  – personally, locally and globally

Learning isn’t linear…

The ‘so what’ of learning…

Action is the ‘so what’ of learning…

“PYP schools can and should meet the challenge of offering all learners the opportunity and the power to choose to act; to decide on their actions; and to reflect on these actions in order to make a difference in and to the world.” (Making the PYP Happen)

At the start of our PYP journey, we used to think…

  • Action was a separate ‘thing’.
  • Action usually happened towards the end or after the unit.
  • Action needed to be visible.
  • Action was only about what students ‘did’.
  • Action needed to go beyond the self in order to be valuable.
  • Student initiated action was the most desirable kind.

Now we think…

  • If learning is active, relevant and meaningful, action will be integral.
  • Learner agency implies ongoing action of all kinds.
  • Some of the most valuable forms of action are not overtly visible – shifts in thinking, deepening feelings, development of dispositions.
  • Action might be shifts in what learners think, say, feel, have, believe and become… not just what they do.
  • Action often begins with shifts in the self.
  • Shifts in thinking can lead to visible action. Action can lead to shifts in thinking.
  • Demonstrating attitudes and skills can be a form of action.
  • Sometimes an idea isn’t initiated by students, but they can take it and run with it resulting in highly meaningful action.

Do you consider these to be examples of action? Try placing them on an iceberg, depending on whether they are overtly visible or not and see what new ideas emerge?

The PYP review update suggests the following lenses through which to view the demonstration of action: social justice, advocacy, participation, lifestyle choices and entrepreneurship. We have applied the model of action below (shifts in thinking, having, saying, feeling, being as well as doing) to unpack what each of the new lenses might look like… in action.

 

When viewed in this way, it becomes apparent that concepts like social justice can apply just as much to 5 year olds as to older students and that any one of the lenses can be just as relevant in the classroom context, the school, the local community or globally.

What action will you be taking next?

What if collaborative meetings always led to action?

What if collaborative meetings always led to action?

Starting with the end in mind, our team leaders considered what they would like participants to FEEL, THINK, BE, HAVE, SAY and DO after their collaborative meetings…

The consensus was for people to come out feeling motivated, empowered and challenged, with a sense of purpose and shared vision, eager to move forward with the implementation of new ideas. (Meeting Wise!)

So…

How might we create a culture of productive collaboration?

Team leaders reflected on the culture of their teams by using match sticks to represent their team dynamics, which proved to be both an interesting exercise in visualisation and a powerful reality check. (Thanks, @kjinquiry!)

The next step was to consider the conditions that might contribute towards a productive collaborative culture. Which of these are most important for all team members? How would you prioritise these and what would you add?

  • having a positive image of the child
  • being comfortable with cognitive dissonance
  • having autonomy/ a sense of agency
  • feeling safe
  • assuming positive intentions of other team members
  • having a clear purpose
  • contributing actively and equitably
  • being willing to grow, see things in new ways and open to change
  • having knowledge and understanding of pedagogy

And then…

How do we develop  a culture of productive collaboration within our teams?

Some of the ideas that were shared:

  • Create an essential agreement and agree on meeting norms
  • Acknowledge mistakes and share insecurities
  • Celebrate successes
  • Constantly reflect – individually and as a group
  • Listen to and acknowledge all perspectives
  • Ensure agenda is available in advance and input is open to everyone
  • Celebrate the zone of discomfort and ask people to try things
  • Be non judgemental
  • Develop trust and respect so tensions are easily talked through
  • Listen to each other
  • Always focus on the child
  • Ensure everyone has a voice
  • Compromise, affirm, reassure and encourage
  • Allow time. Be creative in finding time!
  • Keep asking questions  – Why? What if? How might we?
  • Be flexible
  • Try to understand where everyone is coming from
  • Take turns to plan and facilitate meetings
  • Bring others/ experts into the planning and reflection process
  • Be available as much as possible
  • Know when to lead and when to follow

And also…

How do we ensure our meetings are valuable?

Team leaders jotted down things they currently do in meetings and then evaluated those against a list of criteria that make meetings really valuable…

Collaborative planning and reflection meetings should: (adapted from IB PYP standards and practices)

  • take place regularly and systematically.
  • address all the essential elements of the PYP 
  • be based on agreed expectations for student learning.
  • consider the different learning needs of students.
  • address horizontal and vertical articulation.
  • include analysing and responding to student learning eg looking for misconceptions and patterns
  • involve teachers modelling the attributes of the learner profile.
  • ensure that our practice aligns with our learning principles.
  • take an inquiry stance, eg through framing inquiry questions.
  • consider the development of conceptual understandings.
  • include planning provocations, addressing our agreed purpose and criteria

These are some of the wonderings that came up as a result:

  • Who needs to be at meetings and how often should they take place?
  • Are there other ways to deal with administrative matters, outside of meeting time? 
  • If we spent time setting the tone for our collaborative meetings, would they be more productive?
  • How can we support teams which are not functioning productively?
  • How can we work around timetable constraints?
  • How can we share what we value about culture and content with our teams?
  • How might we address challenges in a solution focussed manner?
  • How can we get people to step up to facilitate a meeting?
  • What kinds of student data should we bring to meetings?

And coming full circle to where we started…

What action will this collaborative meeting lead to?

What will our team leaders (and you, the reader)  FEEL, THINK, BE, HAVE, SAY and DO as a result?

The power of a provocation…

Whether it ignites an inquiry or shifts the gears of learning, if it’s fuelled by careful consideration and clear intentions, a ‘provocation‘ can drive powerful learning.

Considering the ‘power of provocations’ with our Lana Fleiszig recently, teachers explored the purpose of provocations, what could be used as provocation and the teacher’s role in the provocation process. The most important question, though, is what might the provocation reveal about our learners, their thinking and learning and where to next?

Our teachers collaboratively developed a list of questions to consider when designing provocations:

  • Might the provocation excite/engage the learners and ‘hook’ them into learning?
  • Might the provocation ignite curiosity and wonderings?
  • Is the provocation likely to generate questions?
  • Is the provocation likely to leave a lasting impression?
  • Is there a degree of complexity?
  • Might the provocation invite debate?
  • Might the provocation begin a conversation?
  • Might the provocation extend thinking?
  • Might the provocation reveal prior knowledge?
  • Is the provocation likely to uncover misconceptions?
  • Does the provocation transfer the ‘energy’ in the room from the teacher to the students?
  • Does the provocation have multiple entry points?
  • Can the provocation be revisited throughout the unit?
  • Might the provocation lead learners into a zone of confusion and discomfort?
  • Does the provocation relate to real life/their world?
  • Is the provocation inconspicuous and a little mysterious?
  • Might the provocation lead learners to broader concepts that tend to carry more relevance and universality?
  • Will the provocation make the best use of learning time and teacher preparation time?
  • Might the provocation be student initiated or documentation of their learning as a springboard?
  • Is the provocation likely to clarify the essence of what is being inquired into?
  • Is the provocation the right provocation for the time planned?
  • Might the provocation be best during the inquiry, rather than at the beginning?
  • Does this provocation elicit feelings?

We’re looking forward to taking it further in the coming ‘ Reveal’ workshop with Sam Sherratt exploring ‘what it means to be aware of, receptive to and curious about what our students are revealing to us so that we can be constantly inquiring into our students and adjusting our planning accordingly.’

Do you begin with a purposeful provocation and then plan in response to learning?

Opportunity for learning…

The children at Matt Glover‘s feet are unsurprisingly engrossed in the conversation. Matt is interesting and funny and he talks to them in an engaging and respectful way.  This is the introduction to a lesson in which he models his approach, observed by teachers inquiring into how to improve the teaching of writing.

What strikes me is that it’s not just about writing workshop. Good practice can be applied across all learning areas….

What if teachers kept all ‘lessons’ to 5 minutes?

What if the learners were quickly released to get on with it?

What if the majority of learning time involved learners engaged in doing?

What if the teacher conferenced with individuals, not to correct, remind or tell, but to teach at point of need?

What if strengths were noticed, named, shared and built upon?

What if children were encouraged to see themselves as ‘insiders’ in the learning process?

What if learners modelled their own creations on authentic examples from the real world?

What if learners were encouraged to imagine and to innovate?

What if learners were encouraged to be the teachers in the room?

What if teachers trusted the learners and the process?

What if learners had agency over their learning?

What if successes were shared and celebrated?

What if classrooms were always filled with ‘real’ learning rather than ‘doing school’?