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.”
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.”
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.
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).