“The most dangerous experiment we can conduct with our children is to keep schooling the same at a time when every other aspect of our society is dramatically changing.” ~ Chris Dede
‘Is it our curriculum that allows for the scope of student-agency or is it student-agency that should drive the curriculum?’ This is a question that I have pondered on considerably in the past several months. I believe the distinction is important and has implications as to how we approach the curriculum and how we manage our time. The answer may also suggest what we value within education.
Through conversations with educators it seems that the current trend is that many are still working with the curriculum and timeframes that they have had previously. Within these already fixed curriculums and timeframes they are looking for greater opportunity to allow for student-agency. It is amicable but in this scenario student-agency may occur but it is very limiting and arguable unauthentic when the scope and timing of learning has already been predetermined by the teacher? This approach to the curriculum creates an unnatural learning environment, drastically limiting the opportunities for agency to flourish. We not only increasingly limit the choice of the learner but fail to recognise student voice and ultimately ownership of their learning.
I would argue that rather than developing a curriculum that allows for agency we allow student-agency to develop the curriculum. If we dictate the how, when and where of learning we are sending a clear message that our learners are incapable of making these decisions on their own. As we follow our set path of learning objectives and routines we are sending a clear message to our learners that their wonderings, interests and self-inquiry have less value than the learning objectives of our curriculum.
I don’t think the answer is re-inventing the curriculum rather than re-imaging our approach to it. I believe that it is more about breaking it down and co-creating it with our learners in a way that is meaningful and purposeful to them. Creating a less structured curriculum that allows for flexibility of learning, authentic inquiry naturally leading to authentic student-agency. A more flexible approach to learning, coupled with strong academic advising structures allows our young learners to find their strengths and interests, and to change direction if needed. Flexibility does not mean that teaching isn’t without structure. Our learners are still dependent on their teachers for providing some element of structure so that they can put in context and make sense of their learning. What we are doing is transferring ownership so that you are working for the learners and not the learners working for you. Being flexible allows educators to respond to different learning abilities, needs and interests. Authentic learning environments should be in constant motion, filled with disruptions, discussion and new ideas. The more flexible a teacher’s approach, the better they are able to adapt to the room and the higher the chances are of increased student participation, engagement and ownership creating a more natural learning environment. It allows students to naturally explore subjects through their own questions, ideas, previous knowledge and level of intelligence. Real learning rarely follows a predictable and clearly linear pattern.
Please read my previous blog posts on how I have worked towards creating a less-structured and flexible approach to the curriculum:
“Student agency is nurtured when teachers see learning as layers of choices that are made increasingly by students as they develop their ability to use the information in front of them to make them.” Sam Sherratt
“They see or seek the possibilities for layers of choices and providing the time, space and resources to ensure the layers are accessible to all.” Tania Mansfield
“We often limit students’ agency and limit their imagination due to our own logical thinking. We are adults who come with our own culture, our own background and the wisdom of our world view. We often don’t recognize this as we plan provocation and provocative learning engagements.” – Kristen Blum
Developing a less structured approach to the curriculum is more than just an experiment but also has some grounding in research:
‘Consistent with Vygotskian developmental theory and programs that build on that theory, such as Tools of the Mind, less-structured time may uniquely support the development of self-directed control by affording children with additional practice in carrying out goal-directed actions using internal cues and reminders. That is, less-structured activities may give children more self-directed opportunities. From this perspective, structured time could slow the development of self-directed control, since adults in such scenarios can provide external cues and reminders about what should happen, and when. Findings offer support for a relationship between the time children spend in less-structured and structured activities and the development of self-directed executive function (EF). Children who spent more time in less-structured activities displayed better self-directed control. By contrast, children who spent more time in structured activities exhibited poorer self-directed EF. Executive functions (EFs) in childhood predict important life outcomes. Thus, there is great interest in attempts to improve EFs early in life. Time spent in less-structured activities would give children opportunities to practice self-directed executive functioning, and lead to benefits.’ – Less-structured time in children’s daily lives predicts self-directed executive functioning.