This article explores how agency in the planning process is expressed through listening, dialogue and the educators desire to nurture playfulness, participation and learning through play.
By Anne van Dam
“Agency is a complex phenomenon that constantly reveals new intricacies as we deepen our understanding of the connection between learner agency and personal, cultural and historical perspectives around children’s identities and rights.“
Since the inception of the enhanced PYP, educators across the world are thinking about how learner agency impacts student learning and well-being. Another challenge is to consider practical ways in which educators can support learner (and their own) agency within schools.
Agency is a complex phenomenon that constantly reveals new intricacies as we deepen our understanding of the connection between learner agency and personal, cultural and historical perspectives around children’s identities and rights. It requires ‘each of us to step out from behind our singular perspectives’ (Jennifer Davis Poon) and to reflect on our own perception of the degrees of autonomy, choice and influence students should have within their learning communities.
Agency can be defined as ‘the capacity and propensity to take purposeful initiative’ (Harvard: The Influence of Teaching Beyond Standardized Test Scores: Engagement, Mindsets, and Agency). ‘Students with high level of agency tend to seek meaning and act with purpose to achieve the conditions they desire in their own and others’ lives.’
As an early childhood team at a recently authorised IB PYP school in the Netherlands, we are committed to achieving high levels of collaboration and being responsive to our students’ preferences, suggestions, opinions and their ever-evolving interests, ideas and theories. This commitment has impacted the way we organize and share our learning spaces and materials and the way we plan collaboratively.
We view children as curious, inquisitive and capable in the way they connect with people and the world around them. Children seek to understand their worlds and are constantly asking questions. In this way, children create an image of themselves and their surroundings and constantly adjust this based on new information. Therefore, we observe and document their interests, ideas and theories and this forms the basis of our planning for individual children, small groups and the entire group.
Our planning meetings evolve around questions that helps us to make sense of our observations and documentation of children’s experiences, interactions and learning processes. These interpretations then guide our planning of questions and provocations. This is how we ensure provocations are embedded in the children’s thinking and support them with their research.
Some of our questions are:
How do the children connect with the lines of inquiry and the central idea?
What do we notice about how the children co-construct conceptual understandings, knowledge and skills?
How do the children apply their understanding and knowledge in new situations?
What options are there for the children to receive feedback from teachers and other children and how can this impact our planning?
What proof do we have of agency? What action do we observe?
“Play provides children with the opportunity to make choices and direct their learning.“
Student; “Purple is for girls.” Teacher; “Can boys play with purple and pink cars?” Student “No.” Teacher; “Why not?” Student; “They can’t, boys like red.”
As part our current investigation into how we organise ourselves, we have noticed that some children have unwavering ideas about who can play with certain materials. We have also realised that many children associate certain colours with a certain gender. To support the children with deepening their understanding that agreements are influenced by the behavior, values, knowledge and norms of the community and the individual, we plan to bring books and images that challenge those pre-conceived ideas about gender. We are also going to facilitate a classroom discussion around the question “What is fair?”
This delightful book points out that all the colours are for boys and girls. We wonder if the children might change their thinking because of reading this text.
Our programme is child centered. We ensure children have ownership of the learning through ample time for play in both indoor and outdoor learning spaces. Play provides children with the opportunity to make choices and direct their learning. As early years teachers, we aim to be intentional in the way we respond to children’s investigations. We use strategies such as modelling and demonstrating, questioning, speculating, engaging in shared thinking or problem solving to extend children’s thinking and learning. Through these interactions, we make connections with curriculum goals and are we able to gauge where we can go next with our planning for individual children, small groups and the entire learning group.
Planning in response to children’s thinking, honours both teachers’ and students’ agency. We use our values as a filter for decision making, learn together about how children construct meaning, listen to each other’s point of view and acknowledge at the same time the conditions our students seek in their play and learning spaces.
Anne van Dam learns alongside 4 and 5 year olds at an IB PYP school in The Hague. She is passionate about children’s identity as co-constructors of meaning and bearer of rights. Anne’s personal blog, that shew rites with Fiona Zinn, is called ‘Constant Conversations – Unpacking our Pedagogy’ https://unpackingourpedagogy.blogspot.com