There is nothing more rewarding than witnessing a student’s progression towards a goal. As the teacher, I observe patterns and needs in student writing, and I plan minilessons and conferences to address the skills necessary for growth. When I begin to see the students develop, I feel powerful. I have made changes! I have helped learners move forward on their journey of learning! After all, isn’t this why I became a teacher?
Well, yes, I became a teacher to help others grow, but I didn’t become a teacher to feel powerful. Who am I to own this power over others’ learning? Isn’t it the learner who should be feeling the power and pride of hard work and all its rewards? So why do I feel so powerful? Then, I realized I was the one setting the goal and designing the path toward achievement. My students were following MY plan. Through my work, I was holding the agency, not the students.
The Power of Student Agency:
Agency is motivating, it gives work purpose. This ownership keeps us pushing toward a mark. Agency is the motivator I want for my students. As an educator, my goal is to instill a love of learning. It was clear, I had to make changes in who owned the learning. I had to release the reins and turn the choice over to the students.
The students need to know the purpose of the lessons and to see a vision of what it is we are asking of them. With an understanding of what we are asking and knowledge of how it supports their development, students will find motivation and purpose. Students will find ownership and agency over their learning.
Student motivation and purpose will drive students to look more deeply at themselves as learners. Students will welcome the opportunity to set learning goals and design their path toward growth.
Releasing the Reins:
Our classroom is a responsive classroom; students are responsible for the way our learning community runs on a daily basis. So when it came time to release the academic reins to the students, it was a natural transition. We began as we were all gathered on the carpet for writing workshop. I asked the writers to reflect on our learning thus far in writing workshop.
After giving the kids a few minutes to reflect, I grabbed a sheet of paper and asked them, “Writers, what would you expect to see in a piece of writing?” They looked at me and paused, no hands shooting in the air and no shout outs. Finally, a brave soul said, “Pictures and words.” I turned to my paper and drew a tree in green and wrote tree with the same green marker. “How about this? I have words, and I have an illustration. “Immediately, the kids began to add ideas, ” No, you need a sentence and more than one thing in your picture and you used only one color.”
I grabbed a second piece of paper and wrote a sentence and added a few things to my illustrations. I turned to the class and asked, “Ok, how’s this?” “It’s better Mrs. Frazier (first graders are so compassionate), but you still need more.” “We can do like three sentences and three illustrations to match our words.”
So, I gave them just that, three illustrations and three sentences. They paused and began again, “Well, we can still do more.” I replied, “YOU CAN! So, what would it look like if we tried one more time?”
“We would write lots of sentences, with matching pictures to help our reader.”
“I think we should have feelings in our writing and lots of colors. One color is kind of boring.”
“We need punctuation marks too, and we can write ideas from our mentor authors.”
“WOW! You know a lot about writing!
I grabbed my final paper and began creating just what they’d asked me to do. When I finished, I taped each sample on a piece of chart paper and labeled each with a number for easy reference.
Next, I asked the writers to think about their writing, reminding them they could be anywhere on this chart.
“We are all working hard to grow, and each one shows us a step in growing as a writer.”
Before sending the students off to write, I asked them to envision the writing they were planning for today. Then, I handed each writer a pre-cut piece of a post-it-note (The super sticky notes to ensure its power to stick.) and requested they place their name with the number showing which writing they would aspire to do today.
I watched as Annie, who is at the prewriting stage, placed her name below the fourth page. I noted this in my notes and waited while the writers settled into writing. I watched as Annie worked, determined to improve her writing. At the close of the workshop, Annie gathered her work, and I noticed she had more than one page of writing. Anxious to see what Annie had written I invited her to share. Annie stood proudly and walked to the projection table to share her work. Not only had Annie produced three pages of writing complete with illustrations and several sentences, but she also demonstrated an understanding of mentor authors.
Annie began reading, the first few words showing strong attempted spelling, “I went to the forest and followed a path….” As she continued, her stamina for attempted spelling waned. Her enthusiasm and eagerness to share did not change! She kept reading her story with fluency and excitement. When Annie finished, she turned to the class, and the writers greeted her with silent applause and Annie beamed.
Annie saw what was possible; she understood what it was she was striving to learn. Annie pushed herself to grow as a writer. In doing this, Annie found ownership and pride in herself and hard work. We all learned Annie has grit!
While Annie’s story is unique, Annie’s ownership and purpose are omnipresent in our workshop. I watch as students move their names from place to place on the chart, seek out classroom resources as they write, and consult specific peers for feedback. As I confer with writers, I am noticing more specific questions and more grit! The writers want to grow, and they are striving toward a goal they’ve set, a goal they own.
On Friday, as we were packing up for the day one student said, “When are we going to make a five? I am writing one now we can use.”
I guess Monday we are making a five!
Don’t forget, we will be hosting a Twitter Chat TOMORROW evening!
Giveaway information is also below.
This giveaway is for one copy of Conferring with Young Writers: What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do by Kristin Ackerman and Jennifer McDonough (https://www.stenhou se.com/content/conferring-youn g-writers). Many thanks to Stenhouse Publishers (https://www.stenhouse.com) for donating a copy of this book.
For a chance to win one copy of Ackerman and McDonough’s Conferring with Young Writers: What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do (https://www.stenhouse.com/ content/conferring-young-write rs), please leave a reaction to any post in the blog series, including this one, by Sunday, November 6th at 11:59 p.m. ET. Dana Murphy will use a random number generator to pick the winners, whose names she will announce in our blog series’ IN CASE YOU MISSED IT POST on Monday, November 7th.
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