SLCs and parent communication

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.

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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.

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Student Agency?

This year in the interest of student agency, I opened my room to my students. They have access to all the cabinets and supplies. We have alternative and free-choice seating. Students make their own schedules. We honor and support student-led action. Students build criteria for their learning and even for their play. We hold class meetings (ala Sudbury) every day to share problems and get solutions from peers.  

But even as I think of the wonderful things students are doing and the amazing conversations we have had, I know that it is nowhere near enough. The furniture, cabinets and supplies are in the places I chose them to be, and I can always take the right away (and have) if they aren’t respecting the space. Their schedules follow my timeline and they must work on things I have chosen (“but they can pick the order they do things!”). They build criteria for summative assessments my colleagues and I have created. We hold class meetings and they frequently look to me to call on them so they can share their thoughts.

Is this student agency? Or a version of it? How do I balance the requirements of my district and the interests of my students? How do I convince administrators, colleagues, and parents that we should give students the chance to follow their interests and have true agency? How do I support learners in their journey without taking their choice away? Most importantly, do I have the courage to do what I think is right and rebel against this system?

What are ways you have tried to honor student voice and conquer the doubt this journey creates?

SCHEDULING a path to empowerment

This was originally posted in authors personal blog Empower 2 Be…

How can the classroom, schedule and planning documents, reflect a true transdisciplinary approach to student directed learning?

This is the question that led my own personal inquiry journey over the last 9 months. I started this school year facing a challenging class. Add to this that I have found myself at a point in my career where I was questioning who I was as a teacher…when had I become so controlled by schedules…by standards…by the stress of the need to be seen as doing it all correctly? As we have all experienced at one stage or another, the lessons that we love and enjoy teaching are often the ones that the students pick up on and thrive in. What was I going to do with this class that really didn’t seem like they would cope well with a teacher with an identity crisis!

Over the past 2 years I have become more and more of a Twitter reader…there are so many ideas, articles, blogs…posted that I was loving how it allowed me to find inspiration from others in such an accessible way. This is where I heard about Student Agency, Student Directed Learning and Project Based Learning on repeat. Of course I had heard all these buzz terms at school and in PD’s but all of a sudden I was beginning to see it all in a practical sense. Maybe this is what I needed to truly access and differentiate for my class of learners this year…

Reasons for my TIA:

  • PYP junkie
  • Miss leading a classroom through inquiry
  • Time to stop stressing and start doing
  • Looking for an authentic way to help my very diverse group of learners
  • Looking for ways to have my students make deeper connections

What Am I Wanting to Achieve?

  • Students gaining a deeper understanding of Units of Inquiries
  • Students being more aware of their strengths and weaknesses
  • Students taking responsibility for their learning journey
  • Students maximising their learning style
  • Students interact with learning objectives authentically
  • Opportunities for action are genuinely available

But how do I do all of this while covering the learning objectives and ensuring the students were staying on task? How do I make sure I am meeting the needs of everyone if I am not controlling everything? How do I fight my fear of failure?

Baby steps…that is what I decided was needed. First things first…this timetable!

Trans-cending the Timetable:

From this…

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To this…

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And finally, now, to this…

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The original timetable for the class was very clinical and predetermined. It said what subject would be posted when. It did not leave a lot of room for student agency and did not require the students use self awareness of their own abilities to take responsibility for what they should focus on. UOI was listed as a subject and there was a lack of transdisciplinary vision. The first revised timetable split the time spent in the classroom in half showing a balance of teacher led time and student determined transdisciplinary inquiry.

By the time I revised it again “Inquiry Work” became “Student Directed Learning” (SDL) as I quickly realised that not all tasks they were scheduling for themselves were inquiry focused…some were skill focused, where they realised they just needed to practice. I had been able to collaborate with the learning support and EAL teachers about pushing in their time in an inclusive manner where we would collaborate on workshops we would all lead that ALL students would be able to access, not just the students on their “books”. iTime was absorbed into the SDL time at the request of the students…”You know Ms Mel, I would really prefer to use Friday afternoon for Writers Workshop. Is it ok for me to do iTime at another time during the week?” All of a sudden this schedule really was “OUR” schedule, the students were a part of the logistics of it all. It was also one of those moments where I could see the shift in the students having ownership over their own learning and the confidence to express their ideas!

Since I wrote the above another edit has occurred…during the SDL times there are now Student Led Workshops. Students have started offering their own workshops to their classmates as a way of becoming more confident and skilled in communication as well as solidifying their understandings. My favourite quote was when Cody said, “Ms Mel, I would really like to offer a workshop on using different strategies to solve 2 by 2 digit multiplication. I am not 100% sure I am totally good at it but I think this would help me to see what I still need to work on. Is this ok?” YES it is ok you risk-taker you!

 

 

 

 

Be Like A Tour Guide

This post was previously published on my blog: sonyaterborg.com

My fifth graders are currently knee deep in their projects of their own choosing. As we started today, I reminded the class to write a goal for today’s session (small, achievable, focused). There was a bit of murmuring and we started to chat.

“I don’t like it when the teacher doesn’t tell us what to do.”

“Yeah!”

“Me too.”

“Same!”

I asked the students to tell me more about that.

“I like the teacher to be like a tour guide. Someone who shows you all the places to go. Tells you what you are going to do that day. Stuff like that.”

Me: “But what if the tour guide says you are visiting Paris and you get excited because you really want to go to the Eiffel Tower, but the tour guide walks right past the Eiffel Tower without stopping and you don’t get to go there?”

Student: “If the tour guide was a good tour guide, they would know that I wanted to stop there and they would find out where other people wanted to stop too.”

Student: “The Eiffel Tower is famous so it would be worth stopping there. We should stop there.”

Then there was some whispering. And so I asked the student to speak up.

“Well, you could just be letting us choose our own projects because it is easier for you. You get to tell us to come up with the ideas and then you can sit back and get on with your own work.”

The discussion continued and ultimately, we talked about TRUST. I explained that I was taking a risk in letting the kids choose their own path. That I had to trust that they would use the time wisely. That they would choose to do things they were interested in. That they would ask for help. I reminded them that in every lesson, I asked each student, “How can I help you?” and that I trusted them to answer me in a way that would help us both know what to do next.

There was still somewhat of an underlying grumble about “not knowing” and “it’s really hard” – there were definitely kids in their stretch zones, bordering on panic.

I don’t see this in my four year old when I tell her to play. When I tell her she can make something. In fact, I barely ever tell her that she CAN play or make something – she just does. At what point did we make kids such passive participants in their own education?

When I was a Learning Technology teacher (similar role to a tech coach) in Germany, I was working with a 5/6 year old class who were doing an investigation into work and jobs. As we were sitting together, about to go interview various people in the school about their jobs, I asked the students “Do you have a job?”. Super quick, one student responded, “Our job is to sit quietly and wait for the teacher to tell us what to do.”

Sit quietly.

Wait for the teacher.

To tell us what to do.

5 years old. And that is what they think their JOB is?

 

What are we doing to change the way we structure our classrooms so this is not the first thing that pops out of a child’s mouth when asked what their job is? I have shared this graphic before, but it has a lot of reflective questions that every teacher could ask themselves in relation to voice, choice, ownership, and agency.

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And what about the second comment about the Eiffel Tower:

“The Eiffel Tower is famous so it would be worth stopping there. We should stop there.”

How do we decide what is ‘worth knowing’ or ‘worth stopping at’? What role does knowledge play in the quest for student agency? (starts digging through Wiggins and McTigue and Erickson and Wagner to revisit previous understandings about knowledge and learning). (Thanks, Simon, for bringing this up on the weekend! Good to talk about the place of knowledge in an agency-centered learning environment).

Where are you at in your quest for student agency?

Project Planning Paralysis

I have a love/hate affair with projects.

I love them because students get to choose what they do.

I hate them because students get to choose what they do.

 

It boils down to three things for me: judgement, control, and fear.

I find myself checking if I think this project choice is worthy of our class time. I wonder if the project they choose is going to be something I know anything about. I am fearful that even if I overcome both these hurdles, there is still the judgement of teachers or parents who may not see the value in the project choice.

I have a long history with student choice. I won’t call it agency because, for much of the time, I found myself setting the parameters for the choices. Ultimately, I want kids to have a voice, I want them to learn through something they love to do.

My fifth grade Design students have been eager to have more say in what we do. I wanted to respect that so we started looking at what “Design” was and I opened up the floor for them to choose their next design project. But I couldn’t help myself and I started throwing in “rules” to hamper their freedom of choice. Before I knew it, I had created a framework for their projects of my making. It looks like this (and I still am not sure if I like it or not):

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I created this, if I am to be honest, out of fear that should my kids stop at step one, “PLAY”, other people may judge the worthiness of them doing so. Who are these “others” that have so much control over my instinct to let my kids play, that I would go and create four more hoops for them to jump through?

This is where I am struggling at the moment in my quest for agency. Where do scaffolds come in? How can we help our students with things like authentic empathy or exposure to the Global Goals as a springboard for design? Who is to say what is purposeful and what is not?

Here is an example from one student:

After doing a “tournament of champions” with all the ideas of things that could be done in Design (similar to this one below) a student chose: Minecraft. 

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Example of how the kids each chose the thing they wanted to “Play” with in Design.

Students were then re-introduced to the Sustainable Development Goals (something they were already familiar with). This is where they would connect “Play” with “Problem”.

They then needed to “Pitch” an idea: what were they going to make? Do? Create? And then I wanted them to think about why? What was their “Purpose”?

Here’s one example:

Grade 5 Design1.001

“Plan” made it’s way in when I saw that many kids didn’t quite know where to get started. Or, to be fair, they did know (they started to Play!) but I wanted something more concrete.

Even as I write this I am questioning the whole thing. How much interference is too much? How much freedom is too much?

How do you make this work in your school?