WIRE for Agency

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.

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!

Jenn tweeted this last Thursday during #G2Great on Twitter:

This Is Balanced Literacy Chat #G2Great December 12, 2019 Click here to read Brent Gilson’s post

There were so many “likes” and “retweets” that we grew curious. This tweet prompted us to think more deeply about the Gradual Release of Responsibility (GRR).  Anything that is discussed widely by so many stakeholders in school is deserving of a closer look. We would bet most teachers think of the GRR in this way; I do / We do / You do. That is very memorable, and it is true, but to stop there would be an oversimplification of what it is really all about. We wondered if teachers actively think about the fact that the GRR is imbedded inside of the curriculum they teach each and every day?

From Theory

First a little history for the intentionality of the GRR’s theoretical design. Let’s go all the way back to 1983…

Gives us an idea of how long ago this was!

1983- The problem was that there was no comprehension teaching going on in school (Durkins 1978).  So, Pearson and Gallagher created a theoretical cognitive model to better understand the process for reading comprehension. It  was based on the work of Lev Vygotsky’s ZPD, or Zone of Proximal Development (1978). Otherwise known as the “just right” amount of scaffolding from an “expert” learner to a child. It had three stages:

  • I do it: Teacher models comprehension strategy like summarizing a text
  • We do it: Teacher works with the student to practice the strategy together, we summarize a text
  • You do it: Teacher observes students do it on their own, you summarize a text

2002- A new goal was being formed around using the GRR as a basis for lesson and curriculum design. Duke and Pearson moved the emphasis to embed the GRR as a part of daily practice.  They started to use it as a way to design programs and curriculum that would support instruction for reading comprehension. This was a step-wise approach of instructional scripts that teachers could follow. 

2008- The framework begins to shift again, this time moving toward a more student centered approach. Fisher and Frey included a fourth phase: a collaborative stage where students work on their own, together. The energy of the framework was being invested in creating spaces built for independence and a teacher’s observational work. Doing this opens up the learning process, I watch what you are doing and I respond with what you might need. This shift is a big step away from the GRR’s linear script to a more authentic student centered process. Students could move more flexibility throughout all four stages: focus, and guided, collaborative, and independent.

To Practice

Today, curriculum and standards are designed to be cyclical. Students are getting lots of repeated practice as their learning grows more complex over time. This is what is meant when we think about how the gradual release of responsibility rests on a strong vertical alignment in terms of curriculum. Teachers are growing a more sophisticated bank of  instructional repertoires in order to meet these higher standards and to accommodate the expanse of students’ developmental levels. The GRR has become a flexible dynamic tool that moves fluidly in order to meet the differentiated needs of our students. How do we do that in the classroom? Think of it this way: 

Three Important Questions for Your Consideration:

  1. In what ways can I work with students to support their independence?
  2. In what ways can students work either by themselves or with each other to be independent?
  3. In what ways can I monitor growth and/or adjust challenge over time? 

Our Take Away

We are facilitators for students’ learning. Students need to be driving the process, and our work is to create the conditions for that to happen. The GRR is the way to get there, it is so much more than just, I do / We do / You do.