My inquiry into student agency began about a year ago, after coming back from my first international conference, where I was inspired by some workshops run by experienced educators who had been experimenting with these ideas. I have learnt so much about teaching and learning this past year, I barely recognise the teacher I was 3 years ago, when I first began my PYP teaching journey. I have also never felt more challenged, conflicted or confused.
For our latest student-led conference, I abandoned my usual ‘I choose the activities and students lead them’ in favour of asking my students to plan their own conferences. We had experimented for the past few months with planning our own days, so it couldn’t be too much harder, right? I was wrong…
I used a similar set up to our daily planning, with ‘must do’, ‘should do’ and ‘want to do’ sections. I tried my best to step back during the process and have students make the decision of how they would structure their conference time (unfortunately, our SLC timetable meant that there were time constraints). After a lot longer than I had anticipated, discussions, questioning and justifying the ‘why’, each student ended up with their own little piece of organised chaos.
After practising and preparing their things, an email to the parents explaining our different approach, both the students and I left feeling pretty good about the day ahead.
Then came the reality.
Now, some parents are completely on board with innovative educational practises, or are at least coming around. I even did a bit of team teaching with a father of a student who works at a local university, as part of our unit on Innovation. But then there are the ‘more traditional’ parents, the ones who are still asking their children questions like, “..but where is your maths textbook?” The ones who believe memorising spelling words and timetable facts is the best way to learn. The ones who are more focused on the product or answer, rather than the process.
I thought I was being transparent about what and how we were learning in class; using Seesaw as a platform to share photos and videos with student reflections, sending emails about our experiments with student agency, choice and voice. However, observing some conversations between students and parents that day, I couldn’t help but feel that parents were expecting something a little more ‘academic’, for lack of a better word.
And that’s when the self-doubt started to set in….
This student didn’t choose to show any math, I should have advised them better on this.
The parents were expecting more ‘products’ of learning…
The parents aren’t getting a true picture of what students know and understand.
Oh no, I didn’t give the students enough scaffolding for this.
Did I do the right thing by students or did I throw them in the deep end too early?
Am I even going about this ‘agency thing’ the right way?
Then came my last student of the day. I watched him confidently lead his parents through a short meditation, a thinking routine based on an image he selected and an explanation of a math concept he had recently mastered. He had total conviction in the choices HE had made to show HIS learning. His conference went way over time and at the end, both the student and his parents were exhausted but beaming with pride. Observing all this brought me to the realisation that, while I may not be there… yet with student agency, we are at least taking steps in the right direction.
Student agency = empowered learners.
I wouldn’t call these conferences a glowing success. I definitely need to provide more scaffolding for students and improve my questioning techniques to guide them through the conference planning process, like this great example: https://makinggoodhumans.wordpress.com/2018/04/11/upping-the-agency-in-slcs/
This experience also made me reflect upon some important questions related to my communication with parents about our steps towards more student agency:
- How to approach student agency, voice and choice with parents, when I’m still working it out for myself?
- How to show parents the true value of this approach and the benefits for their children?
- How to involve parents more in this journey?
Perhaps this requires a more individualised approach, reaching out to parents separately to have discussions in person. After all, we strive to individualise learning for students, why not do the same for their parents?
Would be great to hear your feedback or experiences of agency in student-led conferences and how you got parents on board.