What is Student Driven Instruction?

If transfer for learning is the ultimate goal, then we need to design classroom experiences that make room for it to happen. Transfer of learning is something students do for themselves, it represents a transformative moment in the learning process. Now is the time, for deep meaningful conversations how to set the conditions for transfer. As we see it, there are three main ingredients for transfer: independence, choice, and agency. Some questions that followed this thinking were,

  • What actions do I take as a teacher that shows I value student transfer?
  • What independent experiences do I give students that promote choice?
  • How do I collect formative data when it comes to choice?
  • How much time do I spend analyzing formative data concerning choice?
  • What is the difference between independence and agency? Spoiler Alert… it has everything to do with student choice!

Students make hundreds of choices every day, yet we really do so little with that data. We decided to pick one big important part of learning in school to focus our attention on. The first step is to reflect on our most precious resource – time. We wanted to look at how we structured literacy learning for students. Here is an example,

We decided to examine book choice, because the classroom library provides a natural lab site for a study into transfer, student independence, choice, and agency.

Creating Shared Intentions for Growing Strong Reading Identities

Creating shared intentions with students has to do with following their lead. So often we get caught up with what we have to teach, we lose track of how to teach it best. Having a shared intention between teachers and their students demystifies why this learning matter to them. In our case, we want students to genuinely love reading. We want them to make smart book choices that reflect who they are as readers right now. What books are funny? What books captivate them? What books represent the kind of readers they want to be known as?

As teachers, we run with their curiosity, and their goals become our goals – shared goals.

Hayhurst & DeRosa, WIRE for Agency p 109

Our work is to honor and nurture these reading identities by making space for students to continue to grow and expand upon the types of meaning making that fuel their desire to read.”

Scoggin & Schneewind Trusting Readers

When we honor student curiosity and nurture their reading identities , we make a powerful contribution towards bringing relevance to what we teach them. In this case, the shared intention is to bring awareness and understanding to reading identity. Once we do that, we can harness its power for positive reading outcomes.

Our school district is putting a lot time and effort into growing our resources for Response to Intervention (RtI). This made us wonder about a broader perspective when it comes to RtI, so we tapped into social media to get the pulse. From what we’ve been reading on blogs, and social media there seems to be a push to put an overemphasis on isolated skill work as means to close reading gaps. Targeting skills is important, providing strategies for skill work is important, but so is authentic transfer of learning! For transfer to be measured, it has to happen during authentic learning experiences. In this case improving reading skills and strategy work is needs to transfer during independent reading. Independent reading requires:

  • seeing yourself as a reader at school and at home
  • knowing what books you like to read and being a advocate
  • having a plan for how to access the text in the book
  • fluency for talking about books, what did this book make you do? think? feel?
  • a robust community that makes reading relevant – reading is a social endeavor

We are just starting this work but this is the structure we have so far. With any intervention put into place for students, book borrowing is part of the plan. Once a week students come to my classroom to borrow books from my library in addition to their interventions. Their book borrowing habits are a valued source of formative data for their growing reading identities. The create an index card with their names and a picture that depicts them reading. They can select any book, and we take a picture of their selections (this is much easier than typing a title into a document). Now at a glance I can see what they want to read:

The next part is to show students their choices will have a real impact on what gets taught. This data gets gathered and share back with students the following week in this form:

This presentation is the structure we use to do the reading identity work that follows. So let’s say one student has a phonics intervention to read vowel teams. That work becomes more meaningful when students can transfer that learning when reading their books of choice. It’s not only about about independent transfer for RtI goals, it’s about wanting to do this work because it made relevant through their choices and the experiences we create for them. Students cross the bridge from independence to agency when they transfer learning during authentic experiences. Before students can get better at isolated skill work, like reading vowel teams, they have to believe they are readers. Every child has a right to discover their own reading identity. Belief in self, and belief in one’s own ability to make an impact stems from learning with a sense of agency.

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