DigiLit Sunday: Agency

Children must be in control of their own learning. — Marie Clay

Peter Johnston, the author of Choice Words and  Opening Minds, spoke these words yesterday at my first session of the Annual Cotsen Conference.

Students should expect to learn from each other.
Children’s questions are the most important part of the process.
Students should see themselves as mentors.

What better way to start a post on agency.

To make these words a reality,  I need to adjust expectations and plan towards that kind of thinking. Students can’t just walk in the door and take a thoughtful agentive stance as learners.  And, it isn’t something I can schedule or compartmentalize.

9:30-10:00 Reader’s Workshop
10:00-10:15: Read Aloud
10:15-10:35 : Agency

But to be honest, there is an element of this in my classroom. Student agency opportunities exist in some parts of the curriculum. And sometimes, agency disappears or is a quick add on and not a priority.  Saying “turn and talk” isn’t enough. Explicit teaching as to how that looks needs a bigger place in our lesson plans.

It’s a relentless choice of how we draw lines.

How much of the perceived must do’s overwhelm the agency necessary to “control your own learning.” And how compelling is the choice? Is there a reflective protocol around choice and agency? One that transfers. If I value and believe in Marie Clay’s words, more reflection is needed.

Johnston went on to talk about constructing causal process. In other words, when you do “x,” this is the outcome. It’s a reflective and potentially predictive.  Perhaps, constructing causal consequences with students is the cornerstone of understanding how to have an agentive classroom, academically and socially.

It’s complicated work. We as individuals and as a community of learners need to set goals for this kind of learning; intertwined with each other and understanding:

Mistakes and quirks are not who we are.
Kids want to be a participating part of a community.
They (students) need to know how to live together

Seeing our differences as positive additions to a community is more than just up to the teacher. Students need to be taught to see we are better and stronger individually when we listen. Listen, as Johnston stated, “because we give a damn; because we find them interesting.” To create this kind of community, it takes many conversations around literature and learning where student talk is the majority and teacher’s questions are minimal.

It is a journey. One of redrawing the lines and approximating.

Thank you, Margaret Simon, @ Reflections on the Teche, Peter Johnston and The Cotsen Foundation for making me think about agency in my classroom.

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Writing has great mental health benefits. — Peter Johnston

 

Celebrating the Cotsen Foundation and the Gift of Teaching Teachers

Yesterday, 500 educators had the opportunity to learn. I was fortunate enough to be one of them as a guest of the Costen Foundation for the Art of Teaching.

Since 2001, the Costen Foundation has provided professional development for teachers. My students and I are indebted to organizations such as Cotsen, who develop teacher-learners.

This post is a reflection on yesterday. I hope some of it inspires you as it did me.

Lovely is an idea that is Katherine Bomer. She embodies a passion for learning and pushes our understanding of teaching. Years ago, she taught me to value my students’ writing by looking for the gems, not the errors. That changed me as a teacher.

Yesterday she did it again with the idea of an essay. Not the five paragraph kind so many teachers ask their students to do.

A “true” essay, as Bomer calls it, is a journey. One that makes connections, and in the end comes to a place that isn’t just a thesis stateimgresment with three supports, but a view of our thinking around and about an idea. It’s filtering thinking through the writing process.

Rather than the hamburger formula of essay think of it as a collage, a road, a mosaimages-11ic of thinking.

It’s writing to think.

It’s an exploration. More like jazz. A mashup, unified around a central idea. It’s narration of thinking.

It entertains and engages. Stand images-10up comics are some of our best essayists.

It can take you down a road to discovery.

It poses the question, “What do I know?”

Consider fueling student thinking with open-ended prompts that push our thinking such as maybe… perhaps…I wonder…it seems…

Can you imagine your students going there? I certainly want mine to.

Christopher Lehman was next on my schedule.

Think of the notes your students take. If your students use notes as a means to copy the text word for word, these strategies can move them towards thinking and learning.

As I write this post, I looIMG_2679 (1)k back at my notes. I re-read and consider my thinking.  I start to own it. I notice patterns and collect ideas. I notice how it connects. By doing this, I add my voice to the notes. That’s what we want our students to do. We want them not just to take notes but to use them.

The strategy of read, think, cover, and note can capture student thinking about the text rather than copying of the text. Going back and re-reading allows readers to search for vocabulary that an expert might use or to look for concepts or information missed in the first read.

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If your students have some knowledge of note taking, review those tools.

  • Ask, how and why you might use one
  • Ask, which one of these tools might fit a text
  • Let the text guide you notetaking

Encourage the use of notes by having students do something with them. Add color. Sort their notes. Re-read and add in what the notes make them think. Note taking should become a student tool for thinking. Not a recording of what was read.

The last session of the day was building vocabulary with Kylene Beers and Bob Probst.  I have a love/hate relationship with vocab. Love the power of it but hate the fact that I can’t do enough for my students.

Kylene and Bob took the stage and engaged us. Exactly what we need to do to raise the “rigor” of our instruction.

First we took the time to play with words. With a bit of nonsensical text in front of us, we were asked, which three words could help us make meaning. It wasn’t the level of the text we viewed; it was our engagement around it. Here’s an excerpt:

The blonke was mailly, like all the others. Unlike the other blonkes, however, it has spiss crinet completely covering its fairney cloots and concealing, just below on of them, a small wam…. It was probably his bellytimber that had made the bloke so drumly.

The three types of words we chose mattered. We didn’t need to know every word but, we needed a few key ones to make meaning.

  • Context:  — blonke (horse)
  • Cause-effect — bellytimber (ill)
  • Tension creating — drumly (food)

Consider building vocabulary around words that give context, are related to cause/effect, or create tension in the text.

Consider building vocabulary around multiple meaning words rather than the bolded words many textbooks highlight. “The tsunami was triggered…” Students know about the trigger on a gun. But how does that relate to a tsunami?

Consider building vocabulary around words that students might have some understanding of, but don’t make sense in context. “He was appointed to lead the committee.” Students know they make an appointment with their dentist. But how does this connect to this text?

We can’t teach students every vocabulary word they need to know, but we can teach the kind of words they need to know to understand a text. Think notice and note for vocabulary. That’s vocabulary work that sticks and grows with the reader.

This session ended after 3 pm. Several of us sat after most had left, sharing our thinking. We were engaged and energized. We were lucky to be there.

Thank you, Cotsen for believing in teachers. For developing teachers as professionals. That’s the best thing you can do for our students.

Celebrate: Student Explorations and PD with Colleagues

This week felt huge. Was Spring Break only a week ago? 

celebrate link upEvery Saturday, Ruth Ayers hosts a place to celebrate the big and small things in our week.  For me, it is a way to focus on and grow the good work that happens daily. To read more of these celebrations click here.

First – Poetry! My students are in the midst of writing poems of apology. Inspired by William Carlos Williams’ This is Just to Say. Read more about it here...

We also attempted to a Progressive Poem.

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Each student has a number and they were to write a line when their number matched the date of the month. It was an interesting experiment. The poem started to go one way and then another and then back again. Interesting process. Each child trying to make sense of the lines that came before them. Now I’m wondering what will they title it? And now that they see what they did, I wonder what they might come up with next month.

Next:  Owning Vocabulary. We study vocabulary throughout the year based on our read alouds. I try to choose words that are used or are concepts addressed in the text. I try to select words that can be used with a fair amount of frequency in reading, writing and speaking. Over the course of the year we have amassed nearly 100 words.  The trouble is, over time students forget the meaning of words that they don’t use enough.

Looking to engage them in the words we’d accumulated, I took some of the ideas presented in Word Nerds by Brenda J. Overturf, Leslie H. Montgomery, Margot Holmes Smith that make words visible part of the student’s classroom life.  Every day this week each student got a word to wear . If they used it in conversation or in writing they gave themselves a point. If they used another student’s word they would also get a point. They could switch words  once they felt they got it.  The newness and gaming qualities did something to get them going. But, I think by simply putting it up front and visible made it top of mind. It gave permission to ask questions of their peers, to try it out and to try again. They wore their word to read aloud, to reading workshop, writing workshop and recess. I’m looking forward to continuing this practice-working on using what we have and developing some word ownership.

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Next: #WRRDchat: The twitter chat based on the book, What Readers Really Do by Vicki Vinton and Dorothy Barnhouse, was on Tuesday. Quite simply it rocked. Thanks to  Ryan Scala, Fran McVeigh, and Allison Jackson hosting many like-mined groupies of the book shared their thoughts and reminders of what it means to be a teacher who listens and coaches in to student’s wondering. If you don’t own this book, get it. It is something that simply will change your teaching approach from the query-filled stance of the all knowing, to the listener and coach that pushes students to wonder about what they know in the text they are reading. It honors the student’s thinking without butting in with our own. It promotes the fact that all students will come to understand text if we give them the room and time to find it. It reminds us that we are all on the path to knowledge, some are just not there yet. Read Fran’s recent post on the power of yet and get some insight into the book and the chat.

Next: The Cotsen Foundation. This year I have had the privilege of being a Cotsen fellow. This program promotes what the organization terms The Art of Teaching by looking to move teachers from good to great. Teachers can choose their focus and pursue that passion with support of a mentor coach (Michelle Baldonado @MrsBaldonado4 is mine) and access to many professional resources. Part of the beauty of this program is that teachers are valued as resources that  should be cultivated and nurtured through mentoring, observations and inquiry. This foundation honors teachers. Read more about this  program here.

Next: Fellowship Inquiry Work: One part of this program includes inquiry work with other fellows at your school. Our monthly meeting is one of my favorite times. We meet with no interruptions, and talk about our challenges, successes, and a professional text.

Our current read, Make Just One Change: Teach Students to Ask Their Own Questions, has got everyone  excited. This book looks to move students to inquiry through their own questioning. Teachers create a question focus, not a question, and the students are taught a method to develop and prioritize questions from the focus statement. The focus can be determined in many ways, but it isn’t a question and it shouldn’t show teacher bias. The end product of content learning may vary based on need, but the universal end result, if done successfully, would be teaching students to question issues in a systematic way. If we choose to teach just one thing, the ability to question in a thoughtful manner, just might be the one.

Here’s to the weekend and a wonder-filled week.