Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Encouraging Student Agency and Ownership

My friend Michele recently sent me this teaching video saying that it reminded her of my math workshop. I was so encouraged by the teacher in this video! I love that Ms. Scalzetti is increasing student agency and ownership by having students decide what kind of support they need for each math lesson. It sends a clear message that the students are in charge of their own learning. There are many resources for them to learn from, but they decide their own learning path.

Seeing this teacher’s work made me start thinking about how I might also begin to encourage students to take ownership of their learning during my math workshop. So far, we are loving the small group instruction and differentiation that the workshop model affords us. Now that we have settled into the routine of our workshop, we are using data to drive our daily instruction in order to guarantee that every student receives the support they need to reach our learning goals. Here is a quick overview of three typical lesson types that we teach and how we have started increasing student agency.

New Skills

When we are first introducing a new skill to the students, we make sure that we see every student in a small group. We typically make these groups based on unit pretest data. We have also created student groups based on how students learn and how quickly they typically pick up a new skill.  Sometimes we extend our whole group learning time when introducing new concepts that students have very little prior knowledge of. During these types of lessons, we ask students to evaluate their own learning, encouraging students to take responsibility for their learning so far.

Progressing Skills

On days that we are continuing learning from previous lessons, we usually use our mini-lesson time to briefly review the previously taught skill. At the end of our guided practice, students complete a few problems on their own. Student groups are created on the spot by my co-teacher and myself based on student performance. In this case, we still meet with every student, but our lessons are differentiated. While some students are receiving additional guided practice, others may engage in a reteaching lesson or be challenged to apply their mastery in new contexts. We increase student agency by allowing students to gauge their learning and notify us when they think they are ready to work independently.

Near Mastery Skills

When our class is nearing mastery of the skill, we use a quick check to determine the best learning path for each student. Our quick check might take place as an entry ticket the day of the lesson, or as a exit ticket from the day before. In this case, we do not meet with every student. Some students spend our math block working without teacher support. During this point in our learning progress, students usually use a teacher-created teaching video so that they can control the pace of their work while assessing their own understanding. Targeted groups of students meet with the teachers to move toward mastery. Students working with teachers have been teacher-chosen in the past, but recently, we have encouraged students to decide if they need to work with a teacher, much like Ms. Scalzetti does in her class.

Making a teaching video using my document camera. 


My co-teacher and I have started taking small steps toward increasing student agency in our math workshop. We are wrapping up our current unit and we required students to choose if they met with a teacher today for review. Students who did not meet with a teacher were also given choices of teaching materials to use to review independently.

I had two students that I know needed further help but chose to work independently. I had them sit close to my instruction so that I could keep an eye on their progress and pull them into a group when they needed help.

Today, one of my students asked, “What if I used to need a lot of help, but I know I’m getting better. I still need some help, but not a lot. Should I see the teacher today?” Wow! She has really been monitoring her learning closely, and she is invested in progressing. I was so pleased to see my students reflect on their learning to determine their own next steps toward success.

Next Steps

Ms. Scalzetti also mentioned that students who do not attend the seminars for the day work on applying their learning to the real world and creating something using that skill. I think this would be a great next step for our own math workshop. Right now, our independent activities are mostly review and independent practice. I like that this teacher is having her students apply their learning to new situations, increasing rigor and requiring students to deepen their knowledge. For our future units, I’d like to create more challenging independent tasks and projects.

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