WIRE for Agency

Creating Access to Agency for Why and How to Read Words

Intentionally Instruct and Learn: Creating Access to Agency for How to Read Words

How would you feel if you were referred to as the “low teacher”? You’d have a thing or two to say about it. What an incredible insult! It would be demoralizing and you’d probably show your resentment by either shutting down or through some act of rebellion. So why do so many teachers refer to students in this way? It’s something important to reflect on and to encourage colleagues to do the same. The way we decide to differentiate for students can (inadvertently) send out the wrong message. There are better ways to differentiate and it begins with teaching students how to be agentive learners.

Agency & Differentiation: Three Core Beliefs

Core Belief #1: the work we ask our students to do has to be linked to community. We need to see the work we assign students from their perspective first. From their perspective, will this work hold personal connection and meaning? We need to ask our students to know this. Setting up classroom structures where students can share feedback about our teaching is a positive way to make them part of the learning process. Another question we can ask, would we accomplish our goals for differentiation through a collaborative learning environment? More often than not, allowing students to work in partnerships is a positive way to bridge the transfer for learning.

Today, we are learning about words. Some of us may want to focus on how to read them (phonics) some of us may want to focus on what the parts of these words mean (morphology). So take a moment to reflect, why might this work be important for you as a read and and as a writer.

WIRE for Agency Approach – giving room for shared intentions

Agency means that learners have a personal belief that their actions will have an impact on the world. Having a sense of agency is a human right. Agency is more than an ideal it is the foundation for grit – it is the reason why we keep working even when the work gets challenging. All work has to hold meaning for the learner; otherwise it is just, well, meaningless.

Core Belief #2: data has to drive instruction, and it needs to come from more than just one source. Yes, teacher intuition has a huge role in how we provide instruction. No one is underestimating how important teacher experience and professional learning are here. And of course teachers who know “their kids” is fundamental to good outcomes for learning. However, we have all of this and be informed by data too. Data has two functions, confirm what you know, while revealing what you might not know yet. For us, we want to see what our students are able to transfer, while thinking about the learning patterns that emerge. For the lesson we are sharing today data has been derived from formative assessments (including feedback from students), NWEA/MAP, Fountas and Pinnell BAS, and TCRWP On Demand Writing Assessment results. Here is a sample of how we broke down NWEA/MAP data for the class:

Core Belief #3: instruction has to be aligned to state standards, and the school district’s curriculum. It’s very important for us to know not only how well our students are growing in this classroom, but we also want to know how well they are growing compared to their peers. Creating a student centered approach for teaching and learning is a driving force for everything else that follows. The only time we use the word fidelity is when it refers to our students themselves. So when when we are planning for word study there are three important questions we ask:

  • How does each student define their identity as a knower, reader and a writer of words?
  • Where does each child fall on the continuum of understanding language?
  • What does child need to develop next?

Putting Our Plan in Action:

We are sharing our lesson with you, if you want to give this work a try. The plan contains everything you’d need to focus on both phonics, and morphology. The lesson planner comes from our book, WIRE for Agency, Four Simple Moves to Transfer Learning. If you use this, or any of the tools we publish here, please let us know.

Has anyone been playing Wordle? We have, and we just love it!  The simple grid, no advertisements, a one time a day just for fun game that has built up its own little community. We share our scores, statistics, and even our strategies for playing the game.  Who would’ve thought a little game would spark word solving strategies on such a large scale!

Teacher Agency in Action

We started thinking, how might we connect our enthusiasm for this game to word study in the classroom?  At times, word study can be a bit dull or boring to students if we are not really thoughtful about the planning.  So we looked at our word study curriculum, the phonics principle was homophones. How could we do it? This simple desire to bring a bit of fun to have a positive impact on our teaching, is a show of agency.  The question, how could we do it still remained. Well, after years of putting together data, we knew how to format a Google Sheet to resemble the Wordle grid. Take a peek (not to be confused with peak):

Planning for Student Agency

Well we were excited because we identified an area of instruction that we wanted to improve upon, and our solution, Word Study Wordle, looked like a promising solution! The next question we had was, how might we extend agency to our students in this process? Learning with a sense of agency means that students have to play an active role in the planning and execution of the lesson. This was our thinking:

  1. Introduce the game and play it together.
  2. Provide suggestion boxes (shoeboxes in our case) for students to share words that conform to the rules of the game (5 letter words) and that fit phonics principles we are teaching or have taught. It feels like a fun challenge, and it’s also a formative assessment in disguise. 
  3. Use students’ words for future Wordles! 

The Benefits of Agency

For us teachers, this was a chance to make a positive impact on our curriculum. To make word study a bit more timely, light, and fun; but also, set the stage for higher level critical thinking. Kids have to synthesize, analyze, and make evaluations to play this game, and make contributions to the game. The first time we played the game this was the talk that game generated: 

  • “Look at the word wall!” – demonstration of strategy use
  • “What letter would go with that letter?” – analytical questioning
  • “I thought it was going to be ‘they’ because I saw the th!” – prediction based on word knowledge 

So what are the benefits of agency? It sparks creativity for our own teaching. It creates a new way for our learning community to come together around a shared experience, to build something together. It inspires and necessitates higher level thinking.  It’s a complete win, and we invite you to try it with your students. So in that spirit, we are gifting you a week of Wordles to play with your kids! The phonics principle is homophones, with a fun riddle on day 5: Wordle. Please let us know if you try it with your students, and how it went.