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Aurora Institute

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: A Move to Increase Agency

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Courtney Belolan

Issue(s): Issues in Practice, Learn Lessons from the Field

This post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on March 4, 2017. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

One of the core questions in creating a learner-centered proficiency based environment is “who has the control?” Posing this question in a variety of circumstances can help teachers and staff in a learning environment take steps to increase the learner-centeredness of any place or experience. Today I want to talk about this question in relation to handing out papers or materials for assignments and tasks.

Imagine you are sitting a class, let’s say a social studies class. You know that you and your peers are learning about the responsibilities and qualities of effective leaders and how individuals have a voice in democracies through the driving question “Who decides who gets to lead?” You also know that you and your work group have decided to explore the connections between the Occupy Wall Street movement and the Bernie Sanders campaign as part of your culminating project. You even know all of the foundational pieces you need to learn, and which input resources and processing activities match those foundational pieces. Your teacher has even given you access to a document that lay out all of that information so you can look at it at any time, there is also a big map on the wall showing the order of targets. Today started off with a self check in and goal setting for work this week. You have your plan for today and will start off reading an article about Gandhi before you meet with your group to talk about how what you did today connects to Bernie Sanders. One other person in your group chose to read about Gandhi too, and someone else is watching a video about leadership qualities with a few other people. You walk up to the teacher’s desk and wait for your turn to get the reading. They move your name along the big map, and hand you the text you chose. You head back to your desk and begin to read.

Who has the control?

The teacher still has control in a significant way. The teacher is the one who moves the names along the target map. The teacher is the one who hands out the readings. There are some great systems in place that support transparency, and turning some more control over to the learners would go a long way for increasing agency. Here are some things this teacher might do:

Learners Take On The Responsibility For Getting Materials

  • Set up an area of the room where materials for assignments and tasks are kept, organized and labeled by targets and foundational steps
  • Create an SOP for getting materials, and returning them if necessary
  • Set up a digital collection of resources and materials organized by targets and foundational steps
  • When a learner asks for a material, point to where they can find it (but don’t get it for them)

Learners Take On The Responsibility For Tracking Their Progress

  • Create a small map for each learner to keep and mark progress on
  • Each learner gets a marker that they are responsible for moving along the big tracking system
  • Ask learners to make the argument that they are ready to move on by providing evidence of their learning
  • When a learner asks how they did, turn the question back on them and how they know how they are doing with the learning

Of course, teacher personality as well as class culture come into play when deciding which method of turning over control to try. As you think about your classes and learning environments and try to find ways to turn control over to learners remember that what works best for you may not be the same thing that works best for the teacher next door. Also, whenever you try something new, especially around learner agency, be prepared for it to be messy for a while!

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Courtney Belolan works at RSU 2 in Maine where she supports K-12 teachers with performance-based, individualized learning. Courtney works closely with teams and teachers as a coach, and with the school and district leadership teams as an instructional strategist. Courtney has worked as a 6-12 literacy and instructional coach, a middle level ELA teacher, an environmental educator, and a digital literacy coach. Her core beliefs include the idea that the best education is one centered on student passions and rooted in interdisciplinary applications, and that enjoying learning is just as important as the learning itself.