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?
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.
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…
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!
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?
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?
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’?
“Inquiry happens when you focus on the art of teaching.” Kath Murdoch.
This is an interesting moment in Kath’s conversation with teachers. I lose focus on my note-taking as I pursue this thought… I tend to say ‘focus less on teaching and more on learning’, and here is Kath Murdoch, inquiry guru, expressing what, on the face of it, seems to be just the opposite.
Kath has spent the week with teachers at my school, provoking thinking, that of teachers and students alike, modelling in classrooms and then collaboratively analysing teachers’ observations. The conversations during the week have been as valuable for teachers as the classroom observations, especially the final day reflections, when teachers draw out the big ideas in response to Kath’s question:
What does it mean to have an inquiry stance in our teaching?
After the session, I attempt to categorise the teachers’ ideas under conceptual headings. The more I think about their statements, the more my categories overlap. I consider first Kath’s shared list of inquiry practices and then Ron Ritchhart’s cultural forces. In the end it comes down to a handful of big ideas, for me…
Language: Use a language of learning not compliance. Choose language that supports learners in describing and reflecting on their thinking and learning.
Process: Focus as much on the process of learning as the content. Use split screen teaching. Notice and name how we are learning, not just what we are leaning.
Release: Let go of your expectations and allow students to lead. Ensure the learners do the heavy lifting. Release responsibility as early as possible, then observe where to take the learning next.
Teacher as learner: Position yourself as part of the learning community, not as the expert in the room, both physically and through your interactions. Make your own thinking process visible.
Time: Do less, but do it more deeply. Devote time to developing learning dispositions. Give children time to reflect on how and why they change their ideas or thinking.
But, even as I elaborate on these, I notice they are further interconnected. I keep going back to change and revise them. It’s impossible to separate ‘using the language of learning’ from the notion of ‘teacher as part of the learning community’… or the ‘focus on process’ from the notion of time…
And, in a moment of clarity, I see that Kath and I are talking about the same thing… The ‘art of teaching’ IS knowing how to focus on the learning.
‘ A river needs banks to flow. Think of Learning Principles as providing the banks, within which professional prerogative, academic freedom, and teacher creativity can flow.’ Jay McTighe.
It was at a session with McTighe that I was first introduced to the idea of learning principles, an articulated set of shared beliefs about learning, that underpin decisions and practice within a school.
At the time I wondered if we needed such principles. As a PYP school, we already had a framework and a common language. Our school already had a vision and a mission statement. But it turned out to be a vital process with a powerful impact on teaching and learning. Over time we’ve explored what each principle looks like in practice and we constantly examine the alignment of beliefs with practice. We came to realise that these principles applied just as much to teachers’ learning as to students’. These days we use the learning principles as a springboard for our growth reviews, a non judgemental, coaching based opportunity for teachers to work with a partner from the Teaching and Learning team on developing their practice in line with chosen goals based on our learning principles.
I recently spent an afternoon with a committed and enthusiastic group of teachers at Preshil Primary School working on the first stage of developing their learning principles.
Considering conditions for powerful learning. Participants shared examples of deep and powerful learning they had experienced or observed with their students and then considered the defining characteristics of such learning. What are the conditions for powerful learning?
Examining learning theories. They examined a range of learning theories and placed themselves on a continuum for each. To what extent does each of the theories align with what you believe about learning?
Writing belief statements about learning. Individuals wrote their own belief statements then shared, refined and prioritised them in groups. What do you believe about how children learn best?
Evaluating belief statements. The whole group examined, sorted and evaluated the statements. Which beliefs align most closely with yours? Which would you like to see included in your school’s learning principles?
Despite (because of?) the diversity within the group, a high level of trust and collaboration were evident. Teachers had ownership of what and how they explored and Silvia stressed that this was about being self-directed, self-motivated learners. New skills were mastered within a context and there were opportunities to apply them purposefully and reflect on how they will be transferred.
These are a few of the delightful children with whom I regularly interact via Skype from Kamala Nimbkar Balbhavan, an unusually egalitarian school in Phaltan, Maharashtra in India…
It’s my first time visiting KNB and I’m excited to meet ‘my kids’ in person, but before the school year starts, the teachers gather for some of their own learning. I’m grateful for the opportunity to lead a workshop here and share learning with this dedicated group. It will be an introduction to the ideas of Ron Ritchhart and Visible Thinking, something completely new for them.
I head into the session far more nervously than usual, uncertain what to expect in terms of their level of English and their openness to different ways of thinking… but mostly concerned that, without being able to understand their conversations, I might not get a sense of what connections to help them make, how to shift thinking forward or what to reinforce.
My fears turn out to be unfounded. There is enough English in the room for mutual understanding, be it via valiant attempts at self expression, translation by those who do speak English or facial expressions and body language.
There are so many things that make this a unique and special experience for me…
I love the way most of those speaking in Marathi still make eye contact with me (not the person translating), and I can sense the passion as they talk about their school, even if I don’t understand the words.
I like the fact that a small sprinkling of English words in the midst of the Marathi, along with intonation and facial expression, are often enough for me to get the gist of what they are saying.
I’m delighted by the fact that when I am talking, even though I know they are concentrating hard to understand me, I can see the light dancing in their eyes, because they are excited by the ideas I am sharing.
I love the warmth with which they welcome me, their obvious desire to learn, as well as their pride in their school and everything it stands for.
I’m humbled by the opportunity to share learning in a context so different from the well resourced schools at which I usually work and to observe first hand that the most important resources are not ones that money can buy.
I note with interest that in this outwardly simple seeming, rural school, powerful beliefs, not just about learning but about humanity underpin every single thoughtful thing that happens. (Read more about it here)
I remind myself again that, even at my age, after so many years of experience, there is always so much to learn…
Tomorrow I meet ‘my kids’!
My first experience of a thinking routine in Marathi!
Day 1 of the new school year had a hundred and twenty teachers gathered in one place to think about student ownership! What could be better?
In cross campus, mixed role groups, teachers took turns to talk about something they had learned during the holidays and how they had learned it. Conversations were varied and animated, as experiences and reflections were shared between people who don’t usually work (or play) together. *Imagine doing this as a whole year level or cross grade exercise…
Our 2016 focus was introduced: Increase opportunities for ownership of learning.
Teachers were asked to ponder the question – ‘What does student ownership of learning look like’? *Imagine doing this in your classroom…
READ a blog post.
SHARE something you read relating to student ownership of learning.
DISCUSS which of our learning principles it connects to.
CREATE a poster about ownership of learning.
How can we set a tone from Day 1 to give the message that we value student ownership? *Imagine asking your students this question…