DigiLit Sunday: Agency

Children must be in control of their own learning. — Marie Clay

Peter Johnston, the author of Choice Words and  Opening Minds, spoke these words yesterday at my first session of the Annual Cotsen Conference.

Students should expect to learn from each other.
Children’s questions are the most important part of the process.
Students should see themselves as mentors.

What better way to start a post on agency.

To make these words a reality,  I need to adjust expectations and plan towards that kind of thinking. Students can’t just walk in the door and take a thoughtful agentive stance as learners.  And, it isn’t something I can schedule or compartmentalize.

9:30-10:00 Reader’s Workshop
10:00-10:15: Read Aloud
10:15-10:35 : Agency

But to be honest, there is an element of this in my classroom. Student agency opportunities exist in some parts of the curriculum. And sometimes, agency disappears or is a quick add on and not a priority.  Saying “turn and talk” isn’t enough. Explicit teaching as to how that looks needs a bigger place in our lesson plans.

It’s a relentless choice of how we draw lines.

How much of the perceived must do’s overwhelm the agency necessary to “control your own learning.” And how compelling is the choice? Is there a reflective protocol around choice and agency? One that transfers. If I value and believe in Marie Clay’s words, more reflection is needed.

Johnston went on to talk about constructing causal process. In other words, when you do “x,” this is the outcome. It’s a reflective and potentially predictive.  Perhaps, constructing causal consequences with students is the cornerstone of understanding how to have an agentive classroom, academically and socially.

It’s complicated work. We as individuals and as a community of learners need to set goals for this kind of learning; intertwined with each other and understanding:

Mistakes and quirks are not who we are.
Kids want to be a participating part of a community.
They (students) need to know how to live together

Seeing our differences as positive additions to a community is more than just up to the teacher. Students need to be taught to see we are better and stronger individually when we listen. Listen, as Johnston stated, “because we give a damn; because we find them interesting.” To create this kind of community, it takes many conversations around literature and learning where student talk is the majority and teacher’s questions are minimal.

It is a journey. One of redrawing the lines and approximating.

Thank you, Margaret Simon, @ Reflections on the Teche, Peter Johnston and The Cotsen Foundation for making me think about agency in my classroom.

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Writing has great mental health benefits. — Peter Johnston

 

Celebrate: Choice Words and Waiting for Stories

It’s the last Saturday before school starts and it’s time to celebrate this week with Ruth Ayers. Thank you Ruth for the opportunity to link up with others who share. Read more celebration posts here.
celebrate link up

This week I’m celebrating Choice Words and waiting for stories.

1. There are stacks of empty notebooks.  They are closed, undecorated, and waiting.

2. Two bags of two pocket file folders They are leaning up against the notebooks, waiting.

3.  Boxes of  pens –  blue Bic ball point and black Flair pens They are capped and waiting.

4. Thirteen iPads – Fully charged, stacked, and waiting.

5. A Library of Books  – informational, realistic fiction, historical fiction, poetry They are in boxes waiting.

The room is empty, quiet, clean. Waiting.

Waiting for 58 students to come and fill up the room with noise, questions, wonderings, ideas. Words that will fill paper, electronic devices, the air and our minds. This is the excitement of the unknown every new school year. All of that possibility of what might be.

Every child walks in looking at those beautiful new notebooks ready to be filled. The new pens ready to spill out words, words, words  and books ready to be explored.

They walk in the first day with hopes and dreams; with wonder of what will be accomplished. They all walk in new. Almost.

Students walk in with stories of what they have been.  How they see themselves. How others see them.  As they walk in, there is hope of new beginnings. That clean slate feeling of all that is possible in a new year.

This week I’ve been re reading Peter Johnston’s Choice Words. Last year what stuck with me was one word, “yet.” I hold that word close because it offers  hope and the acknowledgement of a continuum of growth.

This year the idea of narratives resonated with me: how narratives set us up for success. When we have a sense of agency our personal narratives reflect it. Students who come into a classroom with narratives filled with success or more importantly, stories that show a they are problem solvers have a sense of agency. Their stories might sound like: “it may be hard but, I’m the kind of person who can handle it, figure it out, get it done.” The question is how can we teachers promote this kind of narrative.

This year I’m holding on to these choice words from Johnston:

The heart of a good narrative is a character who encounters a problem and by acting strategically, solves it, usually (but not necessarily) attaining a goal. The following examples of teacher comments are likely to influence the sense of agency children experience in the stories they tell about themselves as literate individuals.

How did you figure that out?

What problems did you come across today?

How are you planning to go about this?

Where are you going with this piece (of writing)?

Which part are you sure about and which part are you not sure about?

Why would an author do something like that?

Why?

Next week we will walk into the classroom ready to learn, to become, to create narratives.

This year I’m holding on to the idea of creating narratives that build agency.

This week I’m celebrating Choice Words and waiting for stories.