This is a follow on from my previous post titled ‘Student Agency in Grade 2’ where I tried to establish what agency was and what it looked like in a grade 2 classroom. I have really noticed this year just how much my students value responsibility. They thrive when given the chance to be in control of what they are doing and having their opinions and ideas help guide the learning. I’m still working at developing this but I feel very happy when seeing the difference it has made to the students.
Since the previous post our classroom changed. My approach to working with the students changed. And as I suggested in my last post, I did literally bring down the boards. Because, why not? (the maintenance team at school may have some strong answers to this question. But I’d like use this opportunity to pass on my thanks to Micha, Tony and Rocco for all their help.) The children also have a little step ladder which we use when adding their connections to our connection board. A contentious piece of equipment in a place very much concerned with health and safety, but we trust each other in grade 2 so all is well.
Sometimes you need reminding of best practice. We read, talk with colleagues and share ideas, but sometimes the key ingredients of teaching can become routines. It isn’t that we don’t include them in our teaching, but we can very easily fall into the trap of routines and not do it justice. Recent PD from Kath Murdoch @kjinquiry broke my routine and this was when I decided to create ‘The Wonderwall’. Simple self-adhesive whiteboard rolls quickly turned the blank wall in to another part of the room strictly owned, managed, and controlled by the students. And the results have been fantastic.
The ‘planned’ unit from previous years didn’t include many of these questions, which left me thinking what a tragedy it would have been if we’d stuck to the ‘plan’ instead of leaving it all behind and re-doing the unit, a truly student led unit. We are only in week 2 but the students are already taking over the room with plants, and inquiry time is in full flow. Just goes to show what some simple design changes that support agency can do.
As well as the design changes, I also amended my teaching to involve more choice in what we were learning. Not my end goal but my first step. And the feedback from the students has been great. One thing I have realised though is that grade 2 students can be beautifully honest without even trying. And if you ask the questions, then be prepared for the answers because they don’t hold back. So asking the class how they think the new choice structure was going resulted in the following responses:
Child A: It’s great, much much better than before Mr Jeffrey.
Child B: Why didn’t you always do this though? Were you not a good teacher?
Child C: It is better than before. Now you can choose what things to do and before it was boring.
Child D: When we get to choose, I like it more. Because before if I wanted to do the drawing first and you made me do it last, then I did bad in the other things on purpose because I just wanted to do the drawing.
As well as making me laugh, it showed me that giving over a little bit of choice can make all the difference. I work with Grade 2 and so agency will look different than it does in Grade 5, and I’m not there just yet with implementing some more drastic timetable changes. But preparing them for this eventuality and making sure they are ready for this environment are things that I can do right now.
So, I’m trying to provide more opportunities for students to have ownership, choice, agency in their learning. If I was to give advice to anyone starting on this journey then just look at what you have planned for tomorrow and ask yourself the question “How much choice, input, agency do the students have in this?” And if you don’t like the answer, then tweak it. Nothing massive, no big bold statements, just small changes and then see what happens. That’s what I did and I like what I’m seeing.
Finally, give over the room. You can still manage it, but listen to them. If there is anything you can provide that gives them responsibility, then do it. For me this is the first step to agency in the lower grade levels. It’s about fostering the necessary ingredients needed to make agency work later on: responsibility, trust, reflection, curiosity, connections, questions.