Recently on Twitter, I posted a tweet in a moment of frustration but also deep questioning, hoping against all hope, that the ‘sunshine and jellybean’ type posts which Twitter EDU is somewhat known for, might step to the side for a moment so that my unperfect question could be posed. To my surprise, I quickly found I was not alone in my wondering, and, I got a massive amount of comments that were thoughtful, inspired, and most of all, really helpful.
How do you “trust students to take control of their own learning” when some learners set the bar so ridiculously low? Serious question. Some kids want to do amazing things. Others are satisfied with the minimum possible effort. How do you coach more out of them? #mypchat #agency— Sonya terBorg (@terSonya) November 26, 2018
Here are some of the responses that really got me thinking:
Finding the Sweet Spot
This image from Maggie has definitely been a huge help when talking with students about their work.
It’s about having a conversation. Putting agency w/Ss to think about how challenging something might be;hence, placing motivation/ power with them. It is a tool we continually reference as a conversation starter in my classroom. Can easily be adapted! pic.twitter.com/TaQWiPzV5P— Margaret(Maggie) Lewis (@msmargaretlewis) November 28, 2018
It actually reminded me of some posts on questions that I have used with students in the past when trying to create their own inquiries. Ask Great Questions speaks to the depth and quality of questions we can ask with students. And Questioning Conceptually which drives home the idea of developing questions worth inquiring into via a number of thinking routines – in particular, the Visible Thinking routine Question Sorts This routine is used by our grade 4 CNU teachers to help students choose ideas worth inquiring into and would transfer to any aged audience – especially middle school.
Drive mentions autonomy, mastery and purpose. These all come into play. I find getting the balance right can be a challenge.— Dalton Flanagan (@desertclimber) November 28, 2018
Autonomy. Mastery. Purpose. These things are somewhat out of whack for me and my kids (I think). Most of all purpose. “Why do you want to do this?” or “How might you share your learning” are really difficult questions for some kids to answer. What I am finding though, is “Show it on the TV screens around the school” is becoming a really popular response. They want their peers to see their work – simple. They want that feedback. Other kids are looking to go further. Just this morning I got this email from one of my 8th Graders:
How cool is this kid? I love stuff like this! Motivated by other students to rally his advisory group to action. I can’t wait to support him on this. Celebrating those who ARE motivated and keeping trying with those who are not as per this suggestion:
Great discussion thanks. I have come across lot of demotivated Ss, my aim was to contanstly provide platform to showcase their work & appreciate, they will catch up one day. What do we do if one of our own children is motivated other is not? Keep trying @MYPChat #MYPChat— arif minhal (@arifminhal) November 26, 2018
Time is a massive factor. Fortunately, we have a lot of teachers all working together and we are each allocated students to mentor. This tweet stood out to me:
And how do you battle time constraints of supporting these students to find what they might be interested in while adequately spending time with those who just ‘get on with it’ without you. The could use the time, too, but are often the last to get to….— Tiffany Eaton (@votefortiff) November 27, 2018
Thinking about this I put together the following spreadsheet of questions. I am able to check in with 2 or 3 students during the X-block hour that I am working with my group. I have modeled these questions from this Kath Murdoch blog post: Getting Personal.
I wonder about the effect of students co-constructing success criteria and thinking about what success will look like for them. #agency #personalizedlearning @allison_zmuda— Kathy Gartner (@kathy_gartner) November 28, 2018
Having students respond to the question, “How do you know what success will look like? is proving to also be helpful. It puts the ownership of the project back in the hands of the students and reinforces that they are not doing this for me or for a rubric or even for a grade, but for a purpose of their own choosing. Which is challenging but also empowering for some. Working hand in hand with TIME, is it’s friend…
Today on Twitter, Tania Mansfield posted the following:
#seapypc What is the essence of Learner Agency. @AnnevanDam1966 @NISTSchool pic.twitter.com/ksjbGTmc2N— тαηια мαηѕƒιєℓ∂ (@hktans) December 1, 2018
The word TRUST kept jumping out at me as this is something we talked about earlier in the year as being vital in building a cohesive team as per the Lencioni Trust Pyramid (in which an absence of trust is a leading cause of dysfunction within a team).
So I responded to Tania’s tweet:
Trust. I am finding this is key to most things – learner agency being one of them. Trusting in the process, in the student, in myself.— Sonya terBorg (@terSonya) December 1, 2018
To which Tania replied to the original thread on student agency in MYP:
2/2 Trust is a culture to be developed and nurtured in EY and carried up through the years, so when you come across these wonderful learners in the MYP they have this culture of trust within who they are. Give them time…. #cultureoftrust #kidsdeserveit— тαηια мαηѕƒιєℓ∂ (@hktans) December 1, 2018
This made me think of what happened when I did just what Tania suggests we do in her tweet:
2/2 they both showed up, asked for the help they needed, tried some new ideas out, changed their plan a little. I am guilty of missing the forest for the trees sometimes and get too bogged down by setbacks that I forget to celebrate the wins #mypchat #agency— Sonya terBorg (@terSonya) November 26, 2018
Do I think there is a ‘secret’ to Agency? Probably. The secret is going to be different for different kids though – and that is the secret within itself. My tweet is not indicative of ALL students – just the one or two I worked with on that day. Their purpose is becoming more clear, we are spending more time with each other, I am showing them I can be trusted to support them should they choose to take greater risks in the challenges they set themselves. It is an ever changing game or dance between the two of us. Learning about each other and what we are capable of, who we are, what we can do or can’t do….yet.
I don’t have all the answers but thanks to this one Tweet, I do have a lot more than I began with. What’s up your sleeve when it comes to growing a culture of student agency in the Middle School? Another educator, Mary Wade has recently posted in light of my tweet: Strategies to trust students to own their learning when they seem uninterested. It is full of great ideas and is definitely worth reading to further your thinking on this topic. Mary concludes her post with an Alfie Kohn quote that I love:
“Working with people to help them do a job better, learn more effectively, or acquire good values takes time, thought, effort, and courage.”Alfie Kohn
I am grateful to those educators who engaged with my tweet. Your time, thought, effort, and courage was very much appreciated.
4 thoughts on “Secret Agency”
Sonya, thanks for the great post – you could have been channeling some of my frustrations recently and this is a great set of new perspectives for me. One thing I didn’t see mentioned that helps me regularly is the ZIM (Zone of Intrinsic Motivation), created by Mike Skocko. He explains about it, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xUMRkm95Cs4, and this diagram, and the associated conversations it inspires with students, helps me frame conversations with students and focus on which aspect needs to be addressed for particular situations. I love the spreadsheet idea and will be nabbing that for my toolbox starting tomorrow!
So much to think about in this post – thank you for inspiring so many new ideas!
I have also struggled with the endless positivity dripping through my twitterfeed on how student agency is working in classrooms and is the way forward. I do believe in the goal of student agency but I believe there are many areas to explore critically. When tweeters are telling us how “amazing” it is, I find it to be unhelpful.
-What does it look like for a classroom with a range of students of struggling learners to high ability/gifted learners?
-How do parenting practices aid or inhibit agency?
-How do parental expectations or understanding of education affect agency?
-How do data collection initiatives like MAP testing in schools impact agency?
-How does the varying degrees of vertical alignment between the different levels of schooling affect agency?
-What are the ethical implications for societies of today and the future? (Let’s not assume that they are all positive).
Thank you for posting. By challenging the student agency philosophy, we can actually move it forward.