CONTROL

I wrote this post in 2013.  I could have written it yesterday. Sometimes I feel like change is so slow, that it is painful. And yet, even though I know I need to relinquish control, have I really done that…YET? Sometimes I think it is a lot easier to theorize about change than to follow through with it. You?

 

read this post on Inquire Within a couple of weeks ago and it has been sitting with me ever since.  Such good ideas in it! Please go and read it.

The post talks about all the ‘c’ words that are often used to describe education and learning in the 21st Century:

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The author, Bo Adams goes on to suggest that all of these very important C words could all be ‘ruled’ by one BIG C:

control

 

CONTROL

“Control in the sense of ownership, investment and engagement, degree of agency and autonomy. Control to exercise choice. Control to pursue curiosity.”

And here is where I am really won over:

…in the giving of control, I believe we provide student learners with more opportunities to practice the skills organically and authentically than if we assign them work organized into the seven “Cs.” Through the autonomy of control – motivated by the control of choice – we naturally invest ourselves in those seven “Cs.” When we feel in control, we learn to take control, and we develop our capacities to maintain good control.

-Bo Adams

This is brilliant – and at the same time, can be really hard for adults to do.

We are in the middle of our PYP Exhibition and it is all about the kids being in control of their own learning.  There are guidelines and supports in the form of checklists, workshops, and mentors, but ultimately, the kids are in control. And that can be hard for teachers and parents to deal with but so worth it for everyone if we can learn to back off a little and trust in the process, trust in the child, and be mindful of where they are at and how we can best support their learning.

Giving control of learning to the child doesn’t mean sitting in the corner with your feet up and letting them flounder.  It means becoming an observer, a guide, a road map of sorts – ready to be referenced.  It means being attuned to what is going on in your classroom and being prepared to ask for clarification from the children in your class.  It means posing the right questions, sharing the right provocations, providing the appropriate amount of time for them to work their magic.

It also means modeling the characteristics we expect in our children:

  • We have to take risks even (or especially!) when we don’t know what the outcome will be.
  • We have to believe in our mission and vision and make sure we are not just talking the talk.
  • We have to be a beacon of change if we are expecting our kids to do school differently.
  • And we have to be prepared to let go of control ourselves, so that our kids can see what that looks like.

What kind of educator are you?

One that thrives on being in control or one that is prepared to let go, even in the face of possible failure?

One of the people I look to in terms of someone who reimagines education is Salman Khan, founder of the Khan Academy. In his book, The One World Schoolhouse, he says the following:

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To me, this is what CONTROL is all about.  Creating a nurturing and supportive classroom environment in which children are actively engaged in their own learning.


 

A note on student agency…

Recently, a new blog “Educator Voices” has started. A blog designed as “a place to share and celebrate how we are pushing the boundaries, shaking up the system and challenging the status quo.” It is a blog focused on making school different and there is a lot to say about student agency. I encourage you to check it out and engage in the comments on blog posts. This is a tipping point in education and in “school” as we know it. None of us have all the answers but if we keep sharing our ideas and championing each other, we are likely going to get closer to serving our kids in the best ways possible.

We(chat) Are The Champions

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In the PYP Exhibition we have mentors. How this plays out can look different from school to school. As the PYP Exhibition is a culminating experience of learning from the PYP program, it has been common practice in many schools to expect all teachers from the whole school to participate. To that end, I have worked in schools where each child had their own mentor. I have also worked in schools where we have one mentor per group of children.

In thinking about authentic connections and about student agency, I am thinking about how we can help kids during the exhibition connect with people who can help move them forward. This may be their mentor, or it may be someone else who can offer fresh ideas and expertise.

At One Stone – an independent and tuition free high school in Boise, Idaho – they have Champions. Anyone can be a champion – just join their Facebook group and you’re in! A champion is there to do just that: champion the learners. Cheer them on, bounce ideas off, listen, offer feedback, critique, provide expertise. You don’t have to do anything until you see or hear something that catches your eye, sparks your interest. And then you’re in until…well, until you’re out. Sometimes they need champions to listen to pitches for a few minutes, give feedback on presentations, offer help with translations, or just bring sandwiches. Your commitment lies in your willingness to say yes when an opportunity pops up that you connect with.

How might we harness this protocol for #pypx?

What about a WeChat group of PYPx Champions?  You join because you want to help but you don’t want to commit to a certain time each week on the off chance that what you can offer meshes with what the kids need. You join because you know a lot about a bunch of things but not really enough to consider yourself an expert on any one thing. You join because you love learning and you hope that someone wants to share their learning with you. You join because you’re a teacher and you can spare 15 minutes to listen to some song lyrics and give feedback but can’t spare the time to be a mentor on a weekly basis.

What about a Human Library? We have floated the idea of human libraries before. Having a bank of human resources from within our community that our kids can “check out”.  This requires the big humans “checking in” first and classifying their expertise and is a lot of work for something that might not be used.

What about seeking Feedforward? Sam Sherratt recently shared on Twitter:

I checked with Sam, and the papers are “a printout of a google doc students use to capture their latest thinking and that “consultants” can leave feedforward in. Also links to their blogs.”

I like all these ideas, to be honest. But then I think about them in the context of student agency. And even as I type this, I think: “Am I confusing agency with intrinsic motivation”? To explain: the first option, that of WeChat Champions, seems most geared toward agentic learning. A call goes out, people respond and join the group, and then things only move forward if the kids reach out to people in the group. No one needs to alphabetize the humans in the library, no one needs to print the google docs. But will all kids be served by this model? Will some slip under the radar? Will only the intrinsically motivated reach out to the group for support?

OR, do we need to scaffold by having the library or printing the google doc? Perhaps, like most things, it is about balance, about having options, and about trial and error and figuring out what works for your particular cohort of kids in this particular moment?

How do you support your kids during #pypx or within other units to connect with people who can help move their ideas forward?

 

A note on student agency…

Recently, a new blog “Educator Voices” has started. A blog designed as “a place to share and celebrate how we are pushing the boundaries, shaking up the system and challenging the status quo.” It is a blog focused on making school different and there is a lot to say about student agency. I encourage you to check it out and engage in the comments on blog posts. This is a tipping point in education and in “school” as we know it. None of us have all the answers but if we keep sharing our ideas and championing each other, we are likely going to get closer to serving our kids in the best ways possible.

 

Be Like A Tour Guide

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?

Stand Up for Something Different

 

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I think we have all had students in our class that “suffer” a bad case of the “can not’s”. The kids who can’t cut that, can’t find that, can’t put that away, can’t get that out. And we are busy, and the class is waiting, so we grab it for them, cut it for them, put it away for them. I am guilty of it. You?

The thing is, their helplessness is where the learning starts. If that is the hurdle they are facing, that is the first one to practice jumping over.

As a Design teacher in a PYP environment, my role has evolved to its current focus on developing and building upon skills within a design thinking context. Some of the focus is on skills building: can you cut? drill? saw? code? program? construct? Some of the focus is on developing a progression of understanding based on trial and error following our Think-Make-Improve cycle. Kids are in and out in 60 minutes or less, twice every 8 days. So how do I structure our time to plan for:

  • inquiry
  • agency
  • efficacy
  • choice
  • skill building
  • and inclusion?

Here’s one idea:

We have an upcoming unit in which G2 students are shoe designers, designing the perfect shoe based on their client’s needs. Students need to find out what these needs are, design a pair of shoes, get feedback on their design, iterate, create a prototype, feedback/iterate, present final sample and receive feedback. As it is written, the unit is pretty structured with each new part being revealed to the students as we move along together.

Logistically, it is a good(ish) idea but I am not sold on it. I can already picture the bottlenecks, the processes that need big hands helping, the stress (for kids and teachers!). Skills wise, the kids will get to cut with the coping saw, pattern, construct, tape. Process wise, they will learn to interact with a ‘client’ and put their needs ahead of their own as the designer.  How can this be achieved in a different way?

Honestly, I am not sure. I want kids to be autonomous. I want them to do more than “feel like” they have choice and voice. I also want to honor the work that was done before me in getting our design program where it is at, while at the same time helping to move it forward.

For this unit, I am going to focus on PROCESS over PRODUCT – something I have always been a big fan of (since 2012!)

I want to introduce the roles of client and designer.

I want to re-introduce the cyclical nature of design (Think – Make – Improve).

I want to include a new element to our cycle: SHARE

I want to offer a “play day” where the kids have time to play with the tools and materials we will use for prototyping.

(It has not escaped my attention that the above is all my thinking, my choosing).

 

SO…

What about the kids? What do they want? Where is their agency? Where is their voice in this? And, to come back to the beginning of this post, am I reinforcing the idea of the helpless student by deciding so much of what goes on, for them?

How can I rework this unit so it is worthy of our time together?

I feel that I may be on the edge of organizing a way of thinking, making, improving, sharing, that is empowering. But I am not there, yet.  Do I need to ditch the “shoes” and focus on the client/designer roles? History tells me, that the prototyping can become challenging/messy when opened up to different product prototypes, but we can do challenging and messy, right? Even writing this has me thinking of the benefits of sharing the relationship roles, the prototyping tools and materials, and the iteration cycle, and then stepping back, sans overarching banner of “Shoes”. I don’t know…yet.

Watch this space.

Maybe, to honor my students I will avoid the habit of falling for what is already in place, and instead, stand up for something that is different? I just have to figure out what that ‘something different’ is.

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Action and Agency

I was going through my digital sketch book and came across two graphics on Agency that I created a few weeks ago. The first looks at the relationship between agency and action. The second asks you to look at how your decisions support agency in the PYP.

Agency isn’t a new concept. It is linked to choice and to self-efficacy – the belief in one’s effectiveness in performing specific tasks. And it isn’t something we as teachers need to give but rather, create room for.

These graphics illustrate WHAT a dynamic outcome of agency could look like and offer reflective questions for educators on the path to creating opportunity for learner agency, but HOW do we put it all into practice? Cue #studio5 at ISHCMC and a very thorough post on how agency is approached with students, thanks to Taryn BondClegg : Student-Planned UOIs.  Regardless of where you are in your journey toward agency, this blog post will give you an idea of how one school are putting into practice what they believe about student agency.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON STUDENT AGENCY?

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If The Shoe Doesn’t Fit…?

If you had a pair of shoes that didn’t fit – too small, too tight, too loose, too high – what would you do with them? Put a bow on them and a row of sparkles and wear them anyway? Cram your feet in and mash up your toes, bloody your heels, and suffer?

No. You would put them in a recycle box, trash bin, or donate them and move on to something that worked.

Why don’t we apply this analogy to school? So many of the embellishments we are slapping on: iTime, differentiation, personalized learning, flexible seating, choice boards, passion projects – are the bows and sequins that don’t make the shoe any more comfortable or any closer to fitting.

What if instead of focusing on building agency, we focused on building a school that is radically different to the production-line-based factory model we are currently saddled with? Agency already exists. We are born with it. It is not something you give someone. But schools and the structures we have created, do a great job of taking that agency away and out of the hands of the learner.

So, what do we do? 

While we work on the audacious goal of revolutionizing school as we know it, there are small things we can do now, to make a shift. Here are five things every teacher could do to start the journey of change:

  1. Stop making decisions 
    • Take a tally of all the decisions you make for your students. Better yet, write them all down – you’ll be exhausted. How can you switch so that more decisions are made by each child for themselves?
  2. Unplug the photocopier
    • Kids don’t think in A4 or legal shaped boxes of paper! And they don’t need us to pre-think on this paper for them. Try ditching the grids and templates and cookie-cutter forms and see what your kids come up with.
  3. Teach like a designer
    • I just retweeted this image. How can you use your observational powers to see where the paths need to be laid instead of rolling out the concrete where it fits best? Screen Shot 2017-11-05 at 5.06.22 PM
  4. Go behind the curtain
    • This one stems from a phrase we used a lot at the Learning2Asia conference this past week. Think of freeing kids from the checklists and criteria and just let them play, create, explore, make, do! YOUR job (behind the metaphorical curtain) is to be tracking their learning and watching for what they can do independently, with support, or haven’t gotten to just yet. Guide. Observe. Ask. Or even just say nothing and keep quiet while they get on with the real work!
  5. Bring back boredom
    • You don’t need to entertain your students. That doesn’t mean you can’t be entertaining, but it does mean your job isn’t to ensure that every second is packed with – wait for it – ACTIVITIES! Let them play, them them iterate, let them be bored. They’ll soon find something to do.

As John Spencer has pointed out, we need to move from entertaining our students (“The kids love this activity!”) to engaging them by connecting them with real ideas that matter, and then go further to empowering them to seek out the learning for themselves instead of waiting for it to be delivered.

john spencer

 

These ideas have been percolating for a while and the perfect place for them to synthesize a little more clearly in my mind was over the last three days in Shanghai at the Learning2 Asia Conference.

In addition to some excellent practical tips and ideas from Jamie Stevens and Nici Foote in the realm of Makerspaces, Tinkering, Playing, and STEAM, I was incredibly inspired by what I am calling my “Unconference Fung-Kee-Fung” Sandwich.

First layer: Unconference Session #1 in which a group of 20+ passionate educators discussed the idea of student agency and in which I got to meet (in real life!) Taryn Bond-Clegg, the educator extraordinaire behind the blog Making Good Humans.

Sandwich Filling: Lisa Fung-Kee-Fung (Best. Name. Ever) and an extended session on Launching Student Learning with a focus on who we are really here for – the students. Coupled with a really interesting discussion with the Deputy Director of WAB, John D’Arcy on the concept of Flow21 and WAB’s 2021 vision for the future of learning.

Top it all off: Unconference Session #2 in which 20+ shrinks to 7 and we have yet another focused, inspiring, and fast-paced discussion on agency and beyond.

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“Nothing’s more powerful than a group of committed educators who believe they can solve any problem together.” –

In sketchnotes, the Unconference Fung-Kee-Fung sandwich looks like this:

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This is a huge thing to think about and it can seem overwhelming to know where to start. In addition the ideas mentioned above, I would recommend exploring the Global Goals and seeing where these might take you and your students. These goals encompass a wealth of understanding and knowledge – and “it’s hard to change the world if you don’t know much about it.” –.

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Agency by Design

I have been re-visiting the Agency by Design website over the past few days. One of the things I was reading about was a “Big Rocks/Little Rocks” task which was designed as a way to have teachers  prioritize their values related to teaching and learning. The idea is to think about what you want your kids to be like when they leave your classroom. What is important to you as a teacher? What do you value? The premise is, that articulating what we value will shape what we assess. I would add that it will likely also change the way we teach.

Here are my rocks:

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My big rocks are things I value AND things I really want kids to experience in our learning space. I notice that “listen to me talk” is not one of my big rocks. I am working on cutting down on talk time in place of having conversations that simply start with “What are you learning?” or “Do you need anything?”.

I am trying to build in time for “fix or make better” – the IMPROVE part of our design cycle, so children have a chance to make iterations of their initial ideas. Ideas - 12

I want my kids to have to learn to share and engage and interact. For me, learning is a social activity. I also notice that I haven’t put ‘reflect’ or ‘process’ or ‘work on my own’ as my rocks. These are valuable too and are things I need to consider for those students who shine in the quiet spaces of our classrooms.

I look at all these and then I think about how I plan my lessons. And I think about Agency. It doesn’t appear on a rock. Not because I don’t value it, but for me, the entire bowl holding ALL the rocks is learner agency. But do I teach in a way that reflects that?

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Who makes the decisions in my room? How are the choices made? Do the kids really get a say in what they are doing or have the parameters for their choices been so narrowly focused that the choice they have is really just a token one?

My last post on Agency and the questions I have regarding it are very much on my mind. If I want to show that I value agency, what am I doing on a daily basis that reflects that? And what does agency in the grade 1-5 Design classroom actually look like?

In order for agency to authentically exist, do we need to rethink the way we do school in its entirety? 

#grapplingwiththeconcept #agencyadvocates #help

Don’t Say “Agency” Unless You Really Mean It

The IBO recently shared a graphic as part of it’s work in revamping the Primary Years Programme. To be clear: This is their communications graphic illustrating the new organizing structure; not the new programme model. Agency (Voice, Choice, and Ownership) feature heavily. As I looked at this and thought about each of these components of agency, I imagined what I might look for in a classroom in which this existed. I thought in questions:

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And then I read this. An amazing post by Will Richardson. I started to highlight the parts that resonated and then found the whole article highlighted. Seriously. Here is one of my favorites:

So, don’t say “agency” unless you really mean it, unless you truly intend to create classrooms where kids “have mastery over themselves” and the freedom to employ that mastery with other learners.

-Will Richardson

I watched a second webinar today on Inclusion. A lot of what was said came down to respecting all students as individuals – and in doing so, creating the type of classrooms that Will Richardson mentions above.  And not just for some kids, but for all kids.

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It made me think …if our classrooms really were places in which kids “have mastery over themselves” wouldn’t they also be inclusive? If an inclusive classroom is one in which all students are supported where they are at right now, it seems that the two are mutually co-dependent.

So, what needs to change? Lots!  Change is one of my favorite topics. For someone who has moved around a lot in the last 18 years, you would expect as much. But there is a lot that needs to be in place for change to be effective. Some of the challenges are outlined above and there isn’t a one-stop solution or a prescription for how an inclusive, agency-based classroom can be created. But there are some steps that can  be considered in order to make any attempt at change more successful.

Change researcher, Anthony Ambrose, theorized that five elements must be present in order for change to occur and that if one or more of them is missing, there is a specific emotional response. The change equation will allow leaders to plan the change strategies and also analyze where previous change efforts may have gone wrong.  They need only ask the question: “Why is this person reacting this way?”  The equation looks like this:

Because We Believe in Change (4)

And here’s what happens when we don’t plan for change:

Because We Believe in ChangeBecause We Believe in Change (1)Because We Believe in Change (2)Because We Believe in Change (5)Because We Believe in Change (6)

You can read more about this process here.

As the changes to the PYP come about and as people start to change their classrooms to be more inclusive and agency-driven, it is going to get messy. Schools who have not started this conversation are going to find themselves falling behind as more change-focused schools work to reimagine education. I feel very fortunate to be at a school who has been having these conversations for years already and is actively seeking ways to ensure we are a truly inclusive learning environment.

Here’s to building something gorgeous!

Because We Believe in Change (3)