WIRE for Agency

Wouldn’t it be great if there were an easy to follow recipe that we could follow to create the perfect classroom management system? Like, add a cup of creativity to three parts curriculum, then mince three cloves of student ownership until fragrant…and VOILA! Fresh from the oven, a beautiful classroom space with a fresh garnish of rules ready for all to enjoy. Any teacher who has worked in a classroom for even one day, understands that control is an important ingredient to making a classroom run. However, as it is with any recipe, the most pungent ingredient has to be used more sparingly than the rest.  Think strategically when you think of control, think in terms of tablespoons, not cups. Too much control tends to overwhelm students, to the point where there is no taste of freedom left to enjoy.

Agency: Opportunities All Around Us

We regard control as a flexible framework that can be leveraged to promote agency. The goal is not to control what students do with learning or even how they respond to what is taught. The goal is to regulate how our teaching will unfold, making sure to give space for students to decide what will happen next. It’s a real partnership, what learners do with our teaching can only be decided by themselves. This is true for everyone, we can only really control ourselves. Think about it, when students dutifully respond with conformity, is it control or is it oppression?  Transferable learning is the thing at stake here, learning has to matter (to the student) if we are looking for transfer over the long term.  Agency is the secret ingredient to successful learning outcomes because agentitive learners perceive an immediate positive impact for themselves. When teachers leverage their instructional pacing as a locus of control they achieve greater flow in all aspects of classroom life, handing off the learning to students as a shared pursuit. We are all just learning here together.

To overcome the anxieties and depressions of contemporary life, individuals must become independent of the social environment to the degree that they no longer respond exclusively in terms of its rewards and punishments. To achieve such autonomy, a person has to learn to provide rewards to herself. She has to develop the ability to find enjoyment and purpose regardless of external circumstances.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

It is so crystal clear as to why agentic learning is appealing and has such great potential to make really big important impacts on student expectations for learning and school.  So, where can we work this in? Once you know what to look for you’ll soon see opportunities for agentic learning are everywhere. Here are a few examples of how we leveraged teacher control to promote agentive learning for special days, school events, organization decisions and other daily experiences.

On the Playground

The big news around school was that we were getting a new playground! There was chatter in the hallways, hopes for certain pieces of equipment, and a deep rooted excitement for it to be ready to use.  We leveraged our teacher control  to take full advantage of this natural learning opportunity to promote greater agency.  We extended an opportunity for children to have a voice. What equipment would be chosen? How should things be set up? What colors will it be painted? We started by having students conduct interviews with the kids in the school to find out what they wanted the playground to be like.  We set up research groups to gather information so they could be informed of the different possibilities.  Students prepared little presentations to advocate for what they needed in a playground.  Most importantly, the voices of the students were heard and their feedback was a key part of the decisions that went into creating a new playground for our school. The students will not forget this, their voices were heard and they now have a true investment in their new playground.

Celebrating Earth Day

This month we celebrate Earth Day, a day to have a positive impact on Mother Earth. What better opportunity for students to work with a sense of agency.  We leveraged control in this way, instead of teacher-led lessons for the environment, we posed the question: “What can you do to make our Earth a better place?”  Now, the learning will be put in the students’ hands. We provided the space for students to co-construct the lesson plan. This came in the form of  time for research so they can identify problems in our environment that they would like to solve.  Partnerships or groups are formed around shared issues as they work together to find and plan out solutions to these problems. Then, we put all of their solutions into action as they try to have an impact on their world. This is agency that is relevant to their real life!

Classroom Organizers

It’s that time of the year when we reflect and reorganize our classrooms. We leverage teacher control to promote agency by asking students what they think. They became advocates for what they need  by examining where they are most successful in the classroom. Then they listed their needs in terms of seating or how to share supplies.  Many suggestions came in for how to better organize spaces and set up the classroom to best meet their needs.  They made a list of supplies and tools that would be most beneficial to them.  This gave us so much insight for how they learn best.  Then later, we encourage students to take visitors on a tour of the classroom, to explain how it works and how their design reflects what their community values. 

Making Morning Announcements

Moring announcements signal the official start of the school day.  Part of announcements include the Pledge, maybe information about school events, the weather, or some kind of interesting fact.  We thought that this would be a perfect vehicle to get student voices out into their school.  Sharing this platform is another way to leverage teacher control to promote learning with a sense of agency. Using this time for students to  share important ideas, to organize causes, or just share a little bit of humor or happiness for the day ahead just makes sense!  Some students used the announcements to start and share campaigns around different issues such as recycling, littering and saving animals.  Other students shared an important fact or information that was important to them and which they thought other students would find interesting as well.  Yet others used it to practice out their comical skills with little skits or jokes to start the day.  However they chose to use this platform, the commonality was that they had a place to use their voice and to have a possible impact on their fellow classmates and school community.  They had agency!

Click here to read about meaningful causes.

Agency: The Search Goes On

What do you think? When thinking about your role in school, how would you leverage control to promote greater agency for all? We would love to know your recipe for agency, so please share! Give it go, because finding these openings allows students to truly have an impact on their world. Agency is the path forward to  improve educational systems.  Schooling is an extension of the real world with consequences and rewards that are best regulated  by the learner.  What does it mean to have a voice in the world? What does it mean to make a positive impact? The answers to these questions are born from having lived experiences to learn from. This is the kind of learning that will stick with them forever and have long-lasting effects.

Here is a reflection tool you can use to find ways to “cook up” some experiences where agency will thrive in your classroom:

Agency is becoming a popular word among teachers and administrators. It is this idea that educators discuss at great length but do not always know how to pinpoint what it is and how to put it into practice. We are hearing it more and more; yet, it still seems so elusive to so many. Teachers know what writing instruction is; they know what reading instruction looks like; most have taught math in a variety of ways. Where does agency fit in the school day?  We are here to tell you, agency can take root anywhere as long as there is belief that your actions will make an impact. Learning with a sense of agency can happen at any moment in any setting. Agency is the lynchpin that brings learning and purpose together, it is belief in one’s own ability to effect a positive change for oneself:  

“Wiring students for agency begins with actions we teachers take, but ends with students generating their own power as learners.” 

WIRE for Agency Four Simple Moves That Transfer Learning

Agency Throughout the School Day


Students Teaching Students 


At the Document Camera and Small Group Table


The highest level of learning occurs when we teach each other.  When students step into the role of teacher they are stretching themselves as  learners.  Many students learn best from other students.  By providing this opportunity, we are maximizing learning for all students!


Drawing is an activity that our students love!  Whenever they have a free moment, the room explodes with drawing.  It goes beyond just creating a picture, students are steep in different techniques that you use as you draw such as shadowning, sketching, outlining, hatching and other technical strategies.  With such a strong desire to grow our drawing, it was natural for students to want to share their expertise with each other and to learn from their peers. An opportunity was right there, what we did with it made all the difference. We honored their requests and provided space for students to step into the role of teachers. They picked something they wanted to teach, signed up for a time slot, made a plan, gathered supplies and then taught their classmates.  


Students Organize to Solve Problems 


Classroom Library


Recently some third grade students were working in Jenn’s classroom. Jenn shared that it had been difficult for students to find books they wanted to read because the classroom library was not set up as a “user friendly” space for younger children to borrow books.  The students got to thinking, and suggested that they would be willing to lend a hand to solve this problem. 


The students quickly organized a plan. First, they laid  the books on the floor and started sorting them into big categories, fiction and nonfiction. There was a lot of chatter conferring with each other, checking in to see if a book belonged here or there. Then they started sorting within these broad categories into smaller ones. They thought of clever names for the bins, names that  children would be drawn to. And before anyone knew it, our time together  was done. They wanted more! One boy suggested that they form a club. One where they could sign up and come and work on the library during their lunchtime. Imagine that! Sure enough children have been coming, bringing new friends, and collectively working to make the library better than when they found it.  They are making this all happen on their own. What would motivate this?  Whenever learners come together to build something (that matters to them) agency exists. These children believe they are making a positive impact – they are wired for agency.


Sharing Book Recommendations 


At the Document Camera and the Mat


Any student who is recommended to the RtI process for a literacy goal is given a reading log that is to be used both at school and at home. It is done with the intention that students will see how the many grown-ups in their lives come together to support their reading goals by signing their logs. Once a week they come to the classroom library and share about the books they borrowed, and make recommendations to each other. This is where children are learning how to exercise more control over their independent reading practices, and learn how to really talk about the books they read. 


Children put their books up under the document camera and show each other why this book was a good one and why they might like to read it too. Some children do a shared reading of a funny part; others talk about the author; some show how the book works and how that helps them to be able to read it. The thing that they all have in common is that they are learning how to use their voices to make an impact. They believe their recommendations are important because they are influencing what others read.  

Teachers Create the Conditions for Agency

Children understand that school is a place for learning.  When the learning process is demystified for them, they begin to know what that process consists of: to WATCH and learn, to have an INTENTION for learning , to REFLECT on the process, and to ENGAGE for long lasting effects. Knowing this, enables the learner to take control over this process. Asserting control over one’s own learning creates the conditions for agency to exist.  I know how to learn, and I can use my learning to make an impact. Agency is living and breathing within each of the stories we shared today. Whether students are: teaching others how to draw, or fixing up the classroom library, or recommending books to each other is not really the point. The really big work was the growing self-awareness of what learning is and what  could be accomplished when children believe in themselves.

It is Friday afternoon, and the weekend is coming on fast. The students are moving around the classroom with some urgency for writing. What does urgency look like? Children are acting out their writing with gestures to match. Some are collecting papers and supplies for writing; while others are in deep conversation about who is going to “do” what part of their series books over the weekend. Over by the cubbies, kids are scooping up their writers notebooks, filled with a slew of writing possibilities, and shoving them inside their backpacks. What does urgency sound like? Their voices bubble up into a frenzy trying to catch their ideas onto paper, and then right back down into thoughtful murmurs rereading their words to each other. Little chairs are scraping on the linoleum tiles as kids get up and down papers crunching; sharpeners wining plastic pencil boxes opening with soft pops. All of our students are trying to get in those last minute ideas to guide their weekend writing projects.  The urgency felt by the students was because their writing mattered to them – this is learning with a sense of agency. Their energy was innate, it was of their own doing – this what a joyful agentive classroom looks like and sounds like.

Of all the initiatives, and mandates, standards, and assessments let us not forget to prioritize joyful learning.  When speaking about teachers, Dr. Mary Howard once said:

Writing is one of those beautiful learning opportunities that can deliver critical thinking, agency, and joy all in one. Right now our students are writing series books.  It would seem that all of them have decided to have their characters make cameo appearances inside each other’s stories. Oh the power to create worlds for their characters to inhabit. Writing is a social beast, and they are learning how to use their words to explore the imaginary worlds of their own making, it is really something to witness. That and kids are really loving the series books they are reading. They are eager to try on craft moves they see in their books. Even though our students are just eight-years-old, they are authors.  What motivates them? They want what all authors want. They want  to be heard, to be validated, and more than that to find an audience.   

Looking Through the Eyes of a Writer: Access, Language, and Choice

Conner has really grown into his identity as a writer. He walks around our school with a notebook and pencil in hand, even when he is going to recess.  Writing has become a way for him to express himself and work through his feelings. His love of writing has spread throughout our classroom, he has grown a community of writers that he counts on for ideas, advice, and feedback.  They check-in with each other first thing in  the morning, throughout the day and before they leave school.  This is a natural part of their day which they look forward to.

It wasn’t always this way.  At first, Conner didn’t see himself as a writer.  He knew he had great ideas but he didn’t have the resources and supplies he needed to do the work he envisioned.  Day after day, we provided him with different resources;  a notebook with stickers, colored pencils, mentor texts that sparked his interest, and most importantly time!  These small gifts, coupled with high expectations and our deep belief in him as a writer, made all the difference.  By providing Conner with access, language and choice, we created the conditions for him to grow into an agentic writer.


  • Freedom – he has decided to write during lunch.  
  • Community – he is actively checking in with peers to give and get moral support
  • Resources – he is making the most of his time writing and becoming more efficient.


  • Texts – he is borrowing language from other mentor texts
  • Academic – he can converse with others about the writing process.
  • Crafting a writing identity – he is a writer and is cultivating a growth mindset


  • Feedback – he is giving thoughtful feedback, and is acting on the feedback he receives
  • Mixing genres – he is deciding how to bring in other genres of writing in his work
  • Ways to publish – he is making choices about how to publish his work 

Teachers who give these young authors the time and space for writing through access, language, and choice are helping them to discover how to use their voices to make a positive impact. Having the opportunity to be heard and celebrated as writers opens up the floodgates for joy. 

When you work with a sense of mission; sometimes things can go awry. Right now, we are doing some really important work, we are creating an academic toolkit. This toolkit is being designed to offer high utility for teacher use to find interventions to close academic gaps, with just a click of a link. We are building a system that rests on student driven data so that we may use an asset lens to meet them where they are. Sometimes, even when there is mutual respect within the team you work with, differences can arise. Having real values as a professional can complicate things. Recently, we found ourselves in a minority view. Things became a bit heated, and it didn’t feel great. Then Friday afternoon, Laura Robb posted this on Twitter and it put some things in perspective:

Thank you, Laura, for being the voice of experience. Thank you for putting your positive messages out there for all of us teachers to read every day. You make a huge impact, and really hope you know that. If you don’t follow Laura Robb on Twitter, you need to stop right now and follow her: @LRobbTeacher.

This toolkit is our effort to meet the high expectations for Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS). This idea, MTSS is very appealing, we are building a system where a responsive dynamic team works collaboratively to meet students where they are. Our work is to integrate a Response to Intervention (RtI) framework as part of a MTSS, with a primary goal to monitor student performance in an effort to meet academic and social emotional needs.

The best definition o RTI comes from our mentor, Dr. Mary Howard. If you don’t follow Mary on Twitter, stop right now, and follow her: @DrMaryHoward. Mary is a force for good in education. She is an educational beacon of light who will never steer you wrong if your goal is to view student performance through an asset lens and be 100% student centered. This excerpt comes from Mary’s book, RTI From All Sides: Click here to read a sample chapter

This is a Heinemann publication, and is an excellent addition to a reading list for RTI/MTSS

We can put interventions in place. We can read all the right books. We can follow all the wise people we can find on social media. However, we can not forget to listen to the most important sources of information right in front of us. Our students. They will show us everything we need to know to teach them. If only we are careful to watch them. Any academic or social emotional intervention we put in place for students will be hollow if we do not include student perspectives as part of our planning. This is the work, and we believe we are all up to the challenge.

Many students really love to write. Whether it’s series, how to’s, or any book that can get some laughs from others, this holds both rigor and joy for the developing writer. Having a personal belief that you are a writer among writers naturally builds a strong community. Teachers can make a big impact on the lives of their students because part of writing instruction is learning how. Why? One message rises to the top for us, “Your words matter to me, you can make a difference here.”

Both students and teachers need to believe that their actions will make a positive impact through writing. By honoring students’ voices, without being heavy handed with what they actually write, it really teaches them how to think critically and thoroughly. For young writers it’s not so much the content that they write, it’s the habits they are growing. But when we tell them what or how to get ideas down on the page, we take away the discovery of learning who you are as a writer, known as writing identity. Cultivating a writing identity for students is really job #1 for teachers.

We’ve been doing all this work and then we saw this tweet from our colleagues, @trustingreaders:

We did just love the side-by-side comparison of defining what writing growth means for teachers and students. To us, their tweet speaks to the undergirding of the power of personal belief, leading to greater agency. It got us thinking about how these beliefs can be transferred to shared intentions. There are natural links from student to teacher here. The list for what writing growth means for students becomes a list of potential goals. Where do you want to grow as a writer?  If a student wants to set a goal for “increasing volume” that would link up to a teacher’s goal to confer on “learning about the student’s writing identity.”  Strengthening a writer’s identity stems from the volume of writing a student produces. The more they write, the more we learn about who they are – one goal fuels the other. This is a way to follow the student’s lead into learning:
This is our thinking merged with Jen & Hannah’s. It makes sense since trust and agency go together. You have to trust your students to take ownership over their writing to get their voices out into the world.

We are taking a closer look on how to boost teacher confidence for conferring. One way to do this is by doing a Writing Running Record. This is an instructional technique we learned from our other friends at Teachers College, @TCRWP. Take a copy of student writing and look for patterns in this way – what stands out is the instructional goal to boost the process. As you can see, our student here is into development big time:

The word “you”  is woven throughout because we are creating a narrative for the student, “You are the kind of writer who uses dialogue.” This is extremely validating for her as a writer, and that really matters! It matters as much (maybe more so) as adding quotation marks, or fixing up endings. Also embedded within the feedback is the option for choice, “If you decide to do this…” is a very deliberate word choice because ultimately it is her choice.  If we said, “Go back and add quotation marks.” she would be doing that for us and our wishes rather than for her personal development as a writer, this is another way to get to a shared intention. Agency grows from access, language, and choice.  She was provided:  

Access: Space to grow writing identity within the writing process 

Language: Feedback that is given through an asset lens.  

Choice: An opportunity to decide what next steps may be

“Do you have the book, People?” she asked with a shy smile.

“No, I don’t have that book. Is it any good?” was the response to her small request.

“Yes! VERY good. My best friend has it and I want to read it too.” she bounced up and down a little with each syllable.

“Well, let me see if I can get that bo. If you’re saying you really want to read that book, and it’s a good book for our library, I will do my best to get it for you.”

Opening Minds Using Language to Change Lives

When children make book requests to their teachers it is an important moment. To ask for a book, is to be an advocate for yourself. If we act on these requests, students will experience agency. There are so many ways books create bonds between teachers and students. Think of how a child might feel when a teacher says, “This book made me think of you.” Yet another powerful message has been sent, “Yes, you are a reader” and “Yes you are important. I see you.”

A Few Days Later…

People by Peter Spier, first published in 1980

“…(Spier’s) work possesses a charming, colorful, ‘lookability’ to which children as well as adults respond. This… volume with its message of respect and tolerance will be no exception.

New York Times Book Review

The book turned out to be an extremely progressive. It’s message: we are all different in many ways but we are all one, we are all people. This book would make a welcome addition to our classroom library. With a hot cup of tea and this new glossy book in hand, it was time to read it cover to cover. That was when a dilemma arose,

Literacy opens us all up to all kinds of different perspectives. Perhaps our student sees this as a book that offers naked bottoms, and an open grave. To us, this is a book about our shared humanity adrift in an expansive universe. One book, but more than one way to look at it…

That is the most important lesson we think we can impart to students is that we think better together. We can show them how to come to learning with an expectation to negotiate meaning through discourse. There is a deeper form of learning that happens when we open ourselves up to learning from perspectives other than our own.

The Struggle is Real… Important

“Quick. Simple. Fast.” was the attitude that was voiced during a planning session when it came time for providing classroom interventions for students.  Lately the desire to provide that thing, that hurry and do this to fill that gap, or identify that one instructional approach that will move the data point up in the right direction fever… feels like a knee-jerk reaction to the cohort effect of COVID-19. Yes, we have to act and be efficient and there is certainly no time to waste during the school day. This is serious business. However, we cannot let our fears win out over their joy. 

Learning how to grow into a reader and a writer is not a zero-sum game. We cannot afford to take away student agency to give more to a program driven model or restrictive prescribed curriculum goals that are being made in isolation. The truth is if we want to win intellectual freedom for our students; if we want to grow a robust literate society, we cannot think in a vacuum of skills that are divorced from authentic reading and writing.  Kids learn from having experiences that are connected to their learning.  They learn from making choices for themselves, that lead to the application for that targeted skill work.  Learning in school has to be similar to how they learn in the real world. It has to hold some relevance to them, they have to want to learn how to read and write.  If we don’t let them write their stories, and read the books they want to read then what in the world is the point?  This is the truth, like it or not. Another hard truth is that teachers need to share some control and even give it up to their students during the school day if learning is going to have any real value to them.

There is something in the educational ether right now that is driving the decision making towards a skills based, controlled text approach to reading and writing.  Let’s be clear, we believe in skill work, but… if students don’t have some agency over their educational day, all that effort is doomed from the start. Kids have to care about what they are learning. When they are only  trying to learn to please us, they are missing out on how wonderful learning can be.  When the decision has been made to accept and expect that kind of learning, we (as a profession) are being intellectually lazy. That will never be enough to close the Covid gap. Never Ever.

How do we know that compliant learning, driven by isolated skill work and controlled texts, is not the answer? How can we be so certain in the face of such high stakes?  We are not being flippant, we care about our students more than anything.  We know this because we are learners too. Last week, we wrote about that thrill of solving the Wordle.  That thrill comes from  the synapses firing in the brain, because a new neural pathway has been formed. All of that is remarkable and it all came from simply being learners who successfully used strategies to figure out the word. And, if we don’t – that’s ok, we come back tomorrow to try again.  This experience would not have been fun if you were being told what to try or do during the game. And then to top it off maybe it didn’t even work! What about scaffolding? Learning how to read and write is harder than the Wordle. To that we say, yes, yes scaffold student learning! Just do it in a way that shares control with the student.

In other words, the first thing you need to teach them is how to advocate for themselves. Let them tell you what works for them. We have developed a special kind of conferring called, Conferring for Agency, How to Reveal Productive Struggle to Students:

If you believe that the first thing we need to teach our students is how to advocate for themselves as learners then try Conferring for Agency How to Reveal productive struggle for students. Click here for the blank anecdotal notes sheet.

The cure for dealing with the loss of educational experiences to students will not be a quick, simple, fast intervention. A school is not a pharmacy, with a secret remedy hidden behind that high counter. Instead, it will rest on the relationships and bonds teachers build with students.

  • Teachers who believe in their students
  • Teachers who listen to students.
  • Teachers who help students to better know themselves.

The dedicated, informed, engaged classroom teacher is the cure. So use all of the resources your district will provide you; knowing, that you are the one who will teach students the most important lesson of all – that they have agency over their own learning. Be honest, tell them the truth sometimes learning is hard for us all, but you know they have everything they need to be successful, that you believe in them.

If is this post is meaningful to you, please let us know. Give us a like, or leave a comment if you want to continue the conversation.

Think about a time when you had to do something complex. You have a plan, you know what it is you want to do, and you are ready to go. Now think about how that scenario would go if someone else was watching you. It’s a little different, right? Fear is real. Professional teachers learn quickly that their teaching will be on display from time to time. It is meant to help us reflect and grow. However, it is also tied to an evaluative end. We have skin in the game, so how do we get comfortable with discomfort? It ‘s one thing to feel uncomfortable, but we can power through it if we can set-up some conditions for a safe learning environment. 

A condition for safety is coming to mutual respect. When we focus on our strengths and use positive language overcoming those nervous feelings becomes a natural part of the process. Complex work, like teaching, requires so much risk because there are so many facets that go into planning.  Being uncertain about what another person believes about you, your values, or your performance undermines potential. However, we can take some control to feel safe. This is how it can be done:

  1. Know how to make your curriculum relevant to the real work of students.
  2. Have a deep understanding of how to support students’ developmental needs.
  3. Go into each lesson with a clear intention, with an array of potential outcomes. 

What’s true for us, is true for kids. Consider how you are creating a safe environment for your students to take risks. What would that look like in your classroom? We show students we believe in them by the way we speak to them, the way we show them respect and the kinds of expectations we set for them.  If we just look at what they can do we cannot go wrong. We are teaching them that they are safe, respected, valued, and only then will they take the really big risks

Sometimes someone else can see things that we take for granted. Having the benefit of a fresh perspective at something that has become an ordinary practice, reminds us of the ongoing importance of making agency a reality. Jill works as an Adjunct Professor at a college on Long Island. As part of this work, she opens up her second grade classroom to both student observers and  student teachers. Today was one of those days, Jill welcomed a bright engaged student observer to come spend the day with her class.  

The reading lesson was to use a reader’s notebook as a tool to help support the work of  keeping track of longer books. The students are experimenting with different ways to take notes to keep track of the setting, characters and their feelings, thoughts, actions, and to follow a story’s problems and solutions. The class was engaged, and Jill and her student observer were circulating the room. First they noticed a boy who was making a list of the setting, a question followed, “Is it important to know the sequence of when each setting was introduced?” The boy decided on numbering the settings and it turned out they were not in sequence. Now we know something important about this student. There were many students who were keeping track of their reading in many ways. 

At the end of every lesson, there is a time to share and reflect on the learning that happened.. Jill asked her students if they would like to come up and show their classmates how they are using their notebooks and other tools to do this work.  Volunteers eagerly raised their hands and excitement grew. Now was their chance to share their strategies with others. One by one, they came up and shared all the many ways they recorded their thinking using post its, sketches of the changes in the setting and character diagrams showing all they have learned.  Each way so unique to the child and their way of learning.

While children are sharing their work, strategies, thinking or tips, Jill dipped in and out prompting and questioning to help children make connections to real life learning.  Questions like, “How did they help you as a reader today?” or “How does this strategy help you to better understand the book?” or “So you did… and then you understood…” This language was generous and inclusive, she did not tell students what to say. Instead she asked them questions or mirrored their words back to them. 

 After the lesson was done, the student observer shared her surprise at the levels of student ownership, and how interesting it was to see each child’s approach. This less directive approach proved to be just what the students needed and this was a great surprise to her. These practices of giving students: a tool, a suggestion, or even just a positive nod was enough. Better than enough – just what they needed to take on the work themselves.

Teachers are being inundated with a need to collect data. Data is important because it is meant to inform day-to-day teaching. That looks like an examination of student writing, rubrics, checklists, and anecdotal notes that are driven by close “kidwatching”  inside the instructional day. Yet teachers are often faced with the need to collect data in a sequential way, to plot growth on a graph. When plotting numeric scores on a graph becomes the “thing of importance” many times that score is relating to oversimplified disconnected academic tasks that can be completed quickly and that do not require deep thinking. The problem is there is no quick fixes when it comes to transferable learning. 

To understand what students can do we need to gauge growth within authentic learning situations. That looks like:

  • There is a student in my classroom who is reading below grade level expectations. 
  • I decide to provide an intervention in my classroom: Guided Reading 3 times a week for six to eight weeks. . 
  • My progress monitoring is the RR that triggered the need for intervention and subsequent Running Records throughout the process. Those along with my anecdotal notes are the progress monitoring data. 
  • At the end of the cycle reflect and refine my practice to see if it worked, or if something needs to change, or if I need some help to come up with a different approach. 

When teachers are collecting formative data like running records and anecdotal notes they are capturing the intricial features of what the reading process is and what it is to  transfer learning. In the end the whole purpose is to actually read in the real world. To learning something it has to connect real life experience. Responsive teaching is driven by real interactions with students. It is not a form, a chart, a graph. We need to be careful not to oversimplify the process in service of a number, a level, a cut-points. Everything we do as teachers is in service to our students’ developmental needs. 

In some classrooms, the last day before a holiday recess tends to be a time to host a class party, watch holiday videos, or do crafts. We look at this day as our last chance before a prolonged break to spend some meaningful time with students. We want our students to go into their time off with energy and excitement around learning. Today was a day full of celebration, fun, and excitement, and it packed an academic punch.  We hosted our informational museum exhibits, and the students had great experiences. Children went to work setting up their displays and materials to get ready to TEACH other students. Our second graders taught first graders all about:

  • What dogs need to live
  • How volcanoes erupt
  • Different types of tornados
  • What different baby animals eat
  • Different planets in the solar system
  • What tigers eat
  • All about baby pandas
  • How whales use their bodies to survive 
  • Different types of clouds
  • Different things dinosaurs eat
  • What damage a hurricane causes

As you read through this list you get a little glimpse of who these students are and what they really care about. The topics all belonged to them, and how they presented it to their first grade students was completely their decisions. It can be done, kids really can take control over their own learning. When we allow it we will always be amazed because we will know them even better.  We want to make the most of every single moment in school and we want it to be joyful. 

We love @Twitter because any day we can hear @VickiVintonTMAP & @KellyGToGo is a good day.

We walked our students out to the buses as holiday music played throughout the gymnasium. We will be off for two weeks. It is important to us that we keep our blog connected to students, so we will be back on January 6, 2020! In the meantime, you can find us hidden away in a corner of Panera writing. We are deep into revisions with our book, WIRE for Agency Four Simple Moves That Transfer Learning. We hope you have a happy and healthy holiday. Please take some time out to renew and gear up for all the great learning ahead in 2020!

Sometimes we think about all the energy it takes to teach and it feels daunting. Students are coming to school with a sweeping range of abilities and needs. Some days in the classroom feel as though we are making great strides, those days are the best! While other days it’s as though we aren’t hitting the mark, those days really don’t feel good at all… We have to pause to wonder, “Are we enough?” These thoughts pass through every thoughtful teacher’s mind.

The most important thing is that we keep showing up and doing our best. We keep trying to find solutions, we keep looking for better ways of doing things. Despite all of our vulnerabilities teachers put themselves out there and lead. We are working on the front lines of society and we see our students coming to school from all different circumstances. We worry, we celebrate, we plan, we try, we fail, we grow. Responsive teachers live a learner’s life.

Living a life as a learner means that we are indeed, enough. Our students can learn from our experiences as well as the content we teach them. They can feel safe because they know that we hold them in the highest esteem. Every time we see a student make academic gains, find a topic they are really interested in, or make a new friend we know we had a part in that. Yes, we are enough.