Starting studio time has been been like throwing a pebble in a pond. If the pebble is studio time, the ripples are what has happened outside studio time. It’s been the catalyst for starting to reflect in a different way about how I think of learning and about how the students think of themselves as learners. It’s just not possible to say to students that what they think and value is important, and what they want to learn and what they choose to investigate is worthwhile during studio time, and then put that aside and tell them exactly what to learn and how to learn at other times. It doesn’t sit well with me and they see straight through it. It’s fair to say that they are not content with the status quo when it comes to education – and who could blame them? I’m not happy with the status quo either.
Why can’t they design the classroom? Why can’t they have an equal say in how things work around here? If they don’t agree with something, why can’t they (respectfully) voice their opinions and make suggestions for improvements? Why can’t they self select individual skills to work on during learning time? Why can’t they identify a way of recording their thinking that works for them? Why can’t they make informed choices about what will help them with their learning? And won’t all of these things help them to understand themselves as learners and therefore help them develop into life long learners? Reflecting on my professional practice through the lens of learner agency has been somewhat confronting. Things that I’ve never considered to be an issue or ways that I’ve unintentionally taken unnecessary control have been become apparent. Why am I making decisions that students would be more than capable of making? Why am I making this choice when, with support and scaffolding and careful planning, they would be able to think independently and take informed action? Sure it’s ‘easier’ in the sense that I would be in control and know what is about to happen at all times, but to what end?
The ripples of studio time are expanding and the momentum is building. Something that happened fairly quickly was students self selecting workshops to attend, based on their learning needs. Developing an understanding of how to identify areas for improvement and things that are of interest to them has meant they are becoming more and more able to honestly and critically reflect on themselves as learners and their actions. Currently, the students have asked to organise and run their own workshops into reading and writing and we have two weeks worth of sessions lined up. They’re taking their own inquiries and questions, investigating them, synthesising the understandings and skills, developing an interactive workshop and rolling them out to their peers. They’re gathering mentor texts, asking for advice, summarising the main points and crafting examples. The thinking and learning that is happening through this is incredible and their questions are becoming deeper and deeper. They’re also asking for specific workshops and I’m reminding them to chat with me if something comes up that they think would make a purposeful and engaging workshop. From my perspective, I’ve become more conscious of consulting them in the process of developing inquiries. This week, instead of rolling out an idea I had for how we could tackle a maths unit of inquiry, I put it to them to see their thoughts and ideas, transparently sharing the understandings we would be investigating. Again, they blew me away with how they approached this and with the maturity they showed as they worked collaboratively with each other and me to plan the inquiry. I’ll be posing the same question about other inquiries. I’ve also began consulting them about what they think the split screen questions should be during different inquiries and sessions. They were immediately into this. Their suggestions showed recognition of their needs and the needs of the collective. More and more their conversations show increased metacognition and more awareness of who they are as learners, their strengths and their areas for improvement. All of this has lead to them being more collaborative and interested in their peers as human beings and learners. They’re much more inclined to call each other on inappropriate behaviour or learning choices, provide suggestions, give encouragement for others as they tackle things that are challenging and recognise achievements. It’s as if in getting to know themselves as learners, they are understanding how others work and what makes them tick. They are empowered and feel accountable and responsible for themselves but also to others in our community.
A definition I read recently, through Stephanie Thompson (@traintheteacher), explained learner agency as this: ‘Learners taking ownership, making decisions, driving their journey, to the degree that works best for them.’ It was a lightbulb moment for me as it put into words what I have been grappling with and trying to communicate. They need guidance. Of course. This should go without saying. I am there to guide, scaffold and support. I have expertise and knowledge to share. There are times when I know what they need to move their learning forward. In fact, there are a lot of those times. But their needs are consistently changing as they become more self aware, flexible, self motivated and independent learners who understand how to learn. Sometimes I am more direct, sometimes I am less direct and my actions and choices are dependent on the needs of the situation and the needs of the child. Always in the back of my mind is the belief and understanding that the journey and the process of inquiring and learning is just as important, if not more so, than the destination.