At the middle school level, students come to me with a preconception of school. Their first questions are "How much homework will we have? Is this class hard?" I think this is simple proof that agency has not been built with these students in their previous years. It is our responsibility to build agency with our kids. To show them that no matter what the system says, they have ownership of their learning. In both the article and the book selection language is seen as a creative force to challenge, encourage, and motivate our students. It defines our relationships and our goals within the classroom. If we continue to use phrases such as classwork and homework, it's no wonder students are burnt out early on. Aren't we too when we have a lot of "work" to do? By rephrasing into expeditions, adventures, inquiries, students take ownership and are not constrained by the walls of our classrooms.
Week 3C (Oct. 11-Oct. 17)- Word Choice that Leads to Building Agency
The researcher and author Peter Johnston, who wrote Choice Words, develops a strong argument in his book in regards to the importance of teachers using words and language that build "agency" in children. The sort of agency to which he refers is demonstrated by children who take initiative, believe in their abilities, persist through challenging tasks, and have-a-go even when they are not sure of success. I believe this idea of agency applies powerfully to the concept of engagement.
Here is an article by educational speaker Gary Stager on the subject of building agency in children.
And here you may read one chapter of Choice Words , courtesy of Stenhouse Publishing. Select the “Preview” button above the book cover to read the first chapter from Peter Johnston's book.
Discuss in the comments section a teacher's role in building agency in children. When and how can we do such a thing? Is it our role to help students build agency? What are the words we say and the actions we do that help to build this quality in students?