Sharing The Teaching

Sitting in the dining room, writing resources spread out in front of me, my thoughts were turning to ways we could offer students a chance to take more ownership over writing time. We are currently in a unit where we are writing about reading.  A close examination of the letters students have been writing made it clear that there were MANY experts in the classroom. Some students wrote the title with the correct capitalization. Others, were able to state their opinion about a book or character clearly and with strong emotions.  Some, gave several examples to support their opinion as they retold events in the story. They even quoted what the characters said and described characters’ actions in great detail. It felt like just the right time to put students in the role of teacher.

Coming up with a structure that would work in the classroom meant making room for students to practice teaching before working with their peers. We believe all students have something they can teach, and if we celebrate each child’s strength that would give them all the opportunity to teach it to others. When we open up our minds to see what all children have to offer we will never be disappointed. What did we know about our young writers? There were students who created an illustration that really helped persuade their audience, students that knew how to address their audience and other students who knew how to write their signatures on their letters. These may seem like simple skills but sometimes they are just the thing that other students need to pay close attention to. What would it be like if we all just celebrated our students and let them lead?

Welcome, to our blog From Practice to Print. I am Jenn Hayhurst a Literacy Coach working on Long Island NY and it is my pleasure to introduce you to my colleague/ writing partner/ best friend, Jill DeRosa. Jill is an extremely talented Second Grade teacher. We are here to share our thoughts and experiences as we work with students and teachers to advance the concept of agency for all.

The first time I heard the word agency was when my friend Kim, attended a coaching conference at Teacher’s College at Columbia University. She said, “Living environments begin when students have a sense of agency. I thought of you right away Jenn.” Kim thought of me because Jill and I had just written an article for Heinemann’s Digital Campus: Teach Writers Independence with an Interactive Learning Wall and this word agency seemed to describe everything we were working towards. Agency, we rolled that word around and around – Jill and I were hooked. Since then we went on to read quite a bit about agency, one of our favorite definitions came from Peter Johnston.

“Children should leave school with a sense that if they act, and act strategically, they can accomplish their goals. I call this feeling a sense of agency.”

Peter Johnston, Choice Words (2004)

We have devoted many years of practice to developing a metacognitive framework to make agency a living presence in the lives of our students through our day-to-day teaching. We have come to understand that agency is more than a strategic move – it is a powerful belief system that energizes learning into tangible change. Agency makes learning actionable meaningful to students and so changes the trajectory of their progress. It helps students to understand their own sense of power in their world:

“We like to describe agency  as a  state of mind built on a belief system that your actions can and will make an impact.”

Jenn Hayhurst & Jill DeRosa
For release with Benchmark Publishing Spring 2020