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Agency in demand

Middle Years Programme (MYP) graduate Rebecca Vasconcelos reflects on the opportunity to develop student agency while implementing remote learning. Rebecca is also a Primary Years Programme (PYP) educator. This is her second story in our graduate voices series.

Creating opportunities for agency in uncertainty

By Rebecca Vasconcelos

You can hear, speak, see but not touch. Sounds familiar? Many schools around the world face remote learning at this point in time and student agency has never been so in-demand.

“Developing these skills and attributes ensures that students thrive in a world where change is constant and learning never stops.”

“Take care, we’ll see each other soon,” were my exact words to 22 fifth-grade students as I waved goodbye to them last week, uncertain of when that, “soon”, would be. We have now officially embarked on an online adventure together and hey, we are also right in the middle of the Primary Years Programme (PYP) exhibition, ain’t that something!

To those unsure what the exhibition is, it could be defined as a culminating, collaborative and in-depth experience that requires students to inquire and take action on real-life issues and problems. In my classroom more specifically, we targeted the sustainable development goals. Since day one, we (how awesome is it to co-teach?) have been encouraging students to find their passions and interests within their inquiries, to choose a heartfelt topic for their exhibition. Even more so, we hoped this exercise would allow students to develop enthusiastic and authentic feelings of wanting to know more.

Now, although we are privileged to have implemented remote learning, being at home means putting to show all the skills we long for them to develop. Among these skills is student agency―the responsibility for a student’s own learning that allows them to fully own their learning experience. Times like these can bring clarity and to me, it is as clear as it can be that content is just a vehicle to build the skills and attributes we wish to foster in our students. Developing these skills and attributes ensures that students thrive in a world where change is constant and learning never stops.

As a student or teacher, if you are five, 16, 28 or 42, you are required to be extra responsible for your learning, which includes active communication, collaboration, self-management, media literacy, creativity, innovation and so much more. With all the time at home, I asked students to verbalize this and reflect purposefully on their learning, and I, as a teacher, reflected as well:

Do we really want students to answer formatted questions just for the sake of attendance? Or assign a test that will slip through their minds a couple of weeks later? Or could we explore this moment as a way of pioneering into larger opportunities for connection and purpose? Do we want students to only be able to send a reply and complete assignments or do we want to challenge their creativity if given the chance for them to express it? All students in school today have been born after the year 2000. Whether they are familiarized with technology or venturing into this for the first time, their instinct will be to explore, create, innovate―but only if they are given a voice and a choice, which is precisely what student agency is: empowering students with a voice that is respectfully heard along with choices that value individual needs.

“In times of change there is opportunity”

Ok … It may seem dreamy and it can also sound like a lot to bear as teachers but for every big vision, lies a series of smaller chunks. Let’s break this down, one step and each day at a time but let’s not stop there. We’ll, “soon”, be in school again and what then? What could this experience have to contribute to our learning experience? To our attributes a student? As teachers?

Some of us have been confined by fear of not making mistakes, but remember, the IB is a community of learners. Do not feel afraid to make mistakes. Mistakes are part of the learning process. Mistakes are valuable if we reflect and grow from the lessons learned.

Don’t cover the curriculum. Explore it! Continue student-teacher dialogue, conversations, conferences, feedback … they are important! The social connection is important but what use is there to connect without agency? What use is there to do without meaning? Supporting student agency right now may be the greatest lesson we all take from this.

Remember, in times of change there is opportunity. Opportunity for us to understand and value the diversity of human learning needs. Opportunity for collaborative responsibility, productivity and creativity. Opportunity to foster confidence to try new strategies and explore new concepts and contexts for learning. Opportunity for responsible participation in local, global (erm … online) community environments. Whether you’re a teacher or a student, be a thinker, be reflective―let us take this time to better understand our strengths and weaknesses in order to support our learning and personal development.

R Vasconcelos600

Rebecca Vasconcelos is an international teacher, currently teaching in the Primary Years Programme (PYP). She completed the Middle Years Programme (MYP) at Shanghai Singapore International School in Shanghai—China, continued her studies in U.S. and Brazilian high schools and is now a Master in Education. When not involving her students in decisions about their learning through authentic inquiries, you may find her gathering friends for a game evening on weekends. You can connect with her on LinkedIn here.

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