The Power to Act – Agency

Well – my word for the year (ownership) is growing some really long arms and legs! Here are some of those ‘limbs’ and the impact they are having on our learners.
This video, by Derek Wenmoth, explains some terminology for me around the concept of ‘student agency.’ He explains agency as the ‘power to act’ and it has really captured my attention as we build our active learning approach at our school.

In this video, Derek explains how student agency involves 3 dynamics and I’ve added some implications for our classrooms.

1. The initiative – self regulation of the student.

  • this describes exactly what we are trying to do – engage the learner to be more and more independent and self starting.

2. The relationship is inter-dependent – mediates and is mediated by the socio cultural context of the classroom.

  • the importance of a collaborative culture is key here. How we work together, give and seek peer feedback and create an environment where students want to learn together is incredibly important.

3. An awareness of responsibility of the learner’s own actions and the impact on the environment and on others.

  • our learner licenses approach is working really well in facilitating the right amount of support for each learner and I’m wondering how we can use it better to have student’s mentoring / supporting and encouraging others learning behaviours.

I can see how this terminology is going to catch on as some shared vocabulary for our school. Especially with the parents. Interestingly – one thing I have learnt to do, when talking about this with parents is to emphasise the ‘active learning’ aspect rather than ‘independent learning’ as the latter has overtones of teachers trying to take a back seat to the process.

So – here are 2 aspects of our programme that we have recently invested in across our school to help develop the agency of our students. While not exhaustive, they both form some important pillars to help empower our learners.

Solo Taxonomy

One of our teacher only days this term was spent working with Pam Hook, exploring the ways to incorporate the Solo Taxonomy approach in our classrooms. Solo is an assessment method that involves students, at all stages of the learning journey, to help them see where their understanding is and what to work on next. Pam, @arti_choke, has a knack for explaining the approach in a way that makes sense for people and has developed some fantastic resources for teachers to use with their learners.

She is always very generous with her resources on her site and we have already started using the hexagons, thinking maps and assessment matrix tools. My goal for our class is to be able to use the assessment icons and levels to be able to understand and articulate how well they have grasped a skill or idea and what they should next. This should give us some important vocabulary to use during those crucial learning conversations.

e.g, “How well do I know how to use syllables to decode words? Well, my understanding is at ‘multi-structural’ but I need to understand when and why to use them when I read – that will move my understanding to the ‘relational’ level.”

Learning Pathways and Self Selected Workshops

Last week our Senior Teachers travelled to Dunedin to visit St Clair School and we were hosted by @msbeenz (Claire Buist) AP and teacher, and her team. We have been hugely influenced by Claire’s approach with empowering students to self assess their progress using Goal Sheets and then booking workshops with the teacher. We were very impressed to hear their journey with this approach last year and to see the development of this approach with her team this year.

Our Senior Team has begun to adopt this approach, with our own spin, and combined it within our team teaching approach which will have, I can already see, the following benefits.

  • increased student agency
  • increased quality and quantity of learning conversations to help guide and support the learner.
  • more active and engaged learners!
One of the areas to explore from our visit is how to best develop the home-school connection and whether our current ‘homework’ programme is the best approach. I’m expecting that the ability for the learner to engage with their next steps is something that could and should be able to continue outside of school hours. So, there is enormous potential for our use of google apps, Ultranet and our other online tools carry on this journey.
Here are 2 other links to some docs we sent home for parents that explain how our learning programme has developed so far. This ‘coalition’ between school and home is something we are always looking to grow and the conversations these documents have continued has been crucial to the learning culture we are developing in the school.
We are certainly in the midst of some exciting times and it feels like the pieces of the ‘Active Learning’ approach are falling into place. And when we combine all this with an increasing access to the learning tools we need (10 Chrome books arrived this afternoon!) then the road ahead just keeps getting more and more exciting. 
I hope our learners are starting to feel excited as well. I’m thinking it may be time for some student voice!

Teaching Kids to be Brave and Kind

I thought I’d pass on this article on the Momastry blog. It’s written by Glennon Doyle Melton and really resonated with me this week. From the look of the 1400 odd comments underneath it has for others, too.

The idea that an educator’s role is to simply raise achievement standards would rankle even the numbest teacher. There are so many things we do in our classes that can make or break children’s futures – it makes me baulk at the weight of that responsibility and to be honest, there have been times in my shortish career where I would admit that I’ve missed the wood for the trees.

This recount of a parent and their description of the efforts they take to look out for the lonely children in their class is inspirational and incredible challenging! But the line that stands out for me the most is right at the end.

Isn’t that what it’s all about. Do we teach children how to read and write? Yes. But we should also shape and inspire them to be resilient, to go outside their comfort zones and to move from being ego centric to thinking of others.
So, what does this mean for me? It means that when I have photocopying to quickly grab before the bell goes and a student comes to talk with me and make a connection before the start of the day… I will stop and listen and gift her some of my time. It sounds easy but with the pressures of teaching I can assure you that if my priorities are not right, it’s not.
There are lots of little things we can do to make every student feel accepted, safe, cared for and valuable. Lots of small things. And small things, I’m finding, add up to be big things.
Have we missed the point of teaching sometimes? Is it all about technology, innovative practice and passion? No. I wonder if it’s about helping kids be brave and kind. I also think that we need to model that to them, too. 

My Word for the Year!

With a new year ahead our staff have decided to have one word – one word to reflect on and set our teacher inquiry goals towards. My word for this year is…

For the last 7 out of 9 years as a teacher I have been pretty passionate about developing young people as independent learners. I first saw this in action with a legendary teacher next door who I hold in VERY high regard to this day. She was, and still is, a master at shaping and inspiring children to take more responsibility for everything they did. And BOY did they ever. Even when their learning went pear shaped they somehow all had an internal drive and resolve to be better next time. Isn’t this what we want for all of our students?

Over the holidays I found this chart, from the site that was the challenge and inspiration for this year’s word. Not only was it the first time I had heard of anything beyond ‘Pedagogy’ in the classroom but I was also incredibly challenged about the practice I foster in my class. It also gives me 2 more words to throw around when I want to sound smart.

It seems to me that one of the differences between a teacher led approach and a self determining one are found in the answer to, ‘Who owns the learning?’ It also seems to me that if a student is going to be truly motivated then they will have found ownership of it, whether they have prompted it or not.

So, the drive for me this year is to develop new approaches that will scaffold and assist students to make progress towards truly owning their learning. I’m becoming fully aware of two possible tensions.

1. Maintaining a balance between being ‘the teacher’ and ‘a coach.’ 

There is a great debate amongst teachers about how much knowledge you should be passing on to students and how much you should be leaving them to discover for themselves. Are we the sage on the stage or the guide on the side. I am a great believer that there are things that students simply don’t know- and they usually don’t know that they don’t know. This year I’m going to be searching for the balance or the sweet spot between these 2 approaches.

2. Inspiring parents and their children that this is possible.

I believe that every child has a certain amount of potential to take ownership of their learning – at 9 and 10 years of age. I know a great many students who are in our class this year who already do just that. I also know that many children are more ready to reach this potential in a few years time. What I will be working at is demonstrating to parents that I have the systems and support in place to meet every child where they are. If they need more support then we will have that for them. In the posts to come I’ll be sharing some of the systems that have worked in the past and also some of the initiatives we are working on.

But here are a few of the things we’ll be working on.

  • Holding reading / writing / maths groups as self selected workshops for students working across curriculum levels but with a common learning goal.
  • Developing eportfolios and reflective journals using Ultranet and Google Apps / Hapara.
  • Visiting forward thinking schools and classrooms using similar learning andragogy.
  • Integrating student passion projects into our weekly learning programmes.
Bring on 2014!