As part of our CoL focus from our Theory of Improvement, we have been analysing what student agency means across classrooms, ages and teachers. It got me thinking about what specifically I do with my NEs to give them a sense of control in their learning. I thought it would be useful to summarise it here and reflect upon.
Choice – I give my NEs as much choice as possible – what they want to play, what topic they want to base their play on, what story they want to hear, what independent activities they do, what kind of brain break we have, etc.
Student Agency in Play – I don’t come with any plans for the play session, unless something has been discussed the day before that they have an interest in doing. We generally go with the flow, and if someone has brought something interesting to school, we often base our play around it. For example, one student brought ‘Whiskers’ his toy rabbit in and said it was his 5th birthday and I asked about what Whiskers likes to eat. He said carrots and asked if we could make carrots for his birthday! We grabbed orange and green card and we set about making carrots (for PBL, I do some modelling of the activity and the students run with it and make it bigger). I made the first carrot, showing how I could create curly leaves with the scissors, and they were off! What resulted was and hour of craft, fine motor skills, imaginary play and lots of conversation!
Student Agency in Reading – for a long time, I’ve given my students a choice in what book they choose for guided reading and this works so well for my NE class. We all go to the resource room and I give each group the levelled box of books to choose from. It’s up to each group to decide how to choose the book – i.e. some take turns, so it’s A’s turn on Monday, then B’s turn on Wednesday, etc. Others just seem to get on and agree pretty quickly, others do rock paper scissors. There are rarely arguments and if there are I just instruct them to sort it out themselves otherwise I choose. I’ve not had to choose yet! This also results in high interest in their book, as it was their choice. Funnily enough, even when there’s only one book left in the box they haven’t read, they quite happily grab it, as they say to me ‘we’ll have this one, as this is the only one we haven’t read yet’ and all seems well! During the actual reading session, if one seems a bit switched off (tired, distracted, etc), I let them join in in their own time rather than lots of pushing, as some of them need a little warm-up/confidence builder of hearing others in the group start reading, then before you know it, they’re joining in too.
Student Agency in Writing – 90% of the time, what they write about is entirely their choice. If they’re stuck for an idea, we talk about what they played that morning and that normally sparks an enthusiastic response. I also let them choose their goals – we have little goal cards ranging from finger spaces, first sound, capital letter and full stops, etc. They will choose which one they want to focus on. If there’s something specific that in my opinion they need to focus on, we look back at a previous piece of writing and I ask them ‘did you use your sounds?’, ‘did you use finger spaces?’. By asking my questions carefully, they can be steered into choosing the goal they really need to focus on, but still feeling that they chose it themselves. Lots of praise always given for identifying their own goal.
Student Agency in Maths – I find maths can be a little trickier, as there is always lots you know they need to know, but they don’t know what they need to know or why (other than saying ‘this will help your maths when you get older’!). They choose the maths songs they want to start the session with, then if we’re playing maths games, I let the ones who want to play it first come and play it first (regardless of ability – no ability grouping here!). The rest if they weren’t so interested in the game initially, soon are when they hear all the fun we’re having, then they choose to come next. If there’s anyone left at the end who really didn’t want to play, that’s ok, I know that they will either need to have a go tomorrow, or I can find a way of teaching the skill/concept in another way they are more interested in. Quite a lot of Maths is taught through Play Based conversations, the most obvious recent one is the shop we set up. Each ‘customer’ got $10 note, the shopkeeper had $1 coins for change, then bingo, we were doing pairs to 10 in a fun and meaningful context which they really enjoyed. Little light bulbs came on as I mentioned ‘oh, it’s like our pairs to 10 song’ and they were away!