At the heart of student agency is engaging students directly in their learning in ways that provide them choice points, skill in navigating formative learning cycles, and increasing levels of expertise to assess, as Royce Sadler famously coined, “Where Am I Now?,” “Where Am I Going?”, and “How Will I Get There?” This session examines elements of student ‘voice and choice’ as critical enabling elements needed to build in students that kind of self-efficacy that will help them thrive and meet their full potential as learners. The conversation centers on practices and routines that are applicable to a number of scenarios and classroom contexts. Our guests are Myron Dueck, author of Giving Students a Say and Grading Smarter, Not Harder; and Brooke Mabry, Strategic Content Design Manager at NWEA.
Jacob: Welcome to "The Continuing Educator." As a reminder, in season two, our focus is building student agency. We'll be exploring student agency from different angles, perspectives, dissecting the factors that influence student ownership in their own learning journeys.
In today's episode, we're going to talk about giving students a say. At the heart of student agency is engaging students directly in their learning, in ways that provide them choice points, skill in navigating formative learning cycles, and increasing levels of expertise to assess, as Royce Sadler famously coined, "Where am I now? Where am I going, and how will I get there?"
This session will explore elements of students' voice and choice as critical enabling elements, needed to build in students that kind of self-efficacy that will help them thrive and fulfill their potential as learners. I'm so excited about today's guests. Our first is Myron Dueck, and when I say, giving students a say, that's a nod to Myron's most recent book of the same title.
Myron has been both a teacher and administrator for the past 24 years in Canada and New Zealand. He has been at the forefront of pushing, thinking, and grading assessment reporting and student involvement in the teaching and learning process since at least 2006. Myron is the author of the bestselling ASCD Books, Grading Smarter, Not Harder, and his newest book, which I just referenced, giving students a say, Smarter Assessment Practices to Empower and Engage.
Now, Myron speaks all over the world. And I will say, if you ever get a chance to hear him speak, don't miss the opportunity. He is simultaneously informative and laugh-out-loud funny. Welcome, Myron.
Myron: Oh, thank you, Jacob. It's a pleasure to be a part of this today.
Jacob: So glad you're here, sir. Our next guest is Brooke Mabry. Brooke has played a lot of roles at the leadership level to the classroom level in her 18 years. She is a nationally board-certified teacher. She chaired the Western Regional Education Service Alliance Curriculum Council for 18 school districts in North Carolina.
But what you miss in that is that Brooke is inspirational. When Brooke talks, she moves the heartstrings and the knowledge that teachers and leaders have to make a change in students' lives. I'm so glad to call Brooke a colleague and a friend. Brooke, welcome to "The Continuing Educator."
Brooke: Thanks so much for having me, Jacob.
Jacob: So friends, I'm ready to get into this conversation. There's a lot... And look, this idea of student agency is too big for one show on a podcast. Heck, it may be too big for an entire season. But the intention is to focus on certain elements of student agency within conversations, within the podcast.
Today, I really want to hone in on a couple of areas where both of you have great expertise. One, responsive teaching. Call it formative practice, call it what you will, this notion of being responsive to student needs is, I believe, at the heart of student agency, and certainly something you both know a ton about.
And certainly Myron, I'm thinking as well about your work with, as Hattie would say, "Developing assessment-capable learners." How do you manifest that? How do teachers lean in and actually do that so that the kids can have the kind of learning gains that Hattie's research points to?
My hypothesis in bringing you to the show today is that involving students in the assessment process, engaging responsive teaching and learning, not as consumers of the process, but as the central participants, is at the very heart of what we're after when we talk about building student agency.
So, let me start with you, Brooke, do you agree, and what would you add?
Brooke: Absolutely, Jacob. I think that what you're putting out there right now around responsive teaching and building assessment-capable, I might even go so far as to say assessment-empowered students, is the heart of creating agency. I think in our traditional sphere of education, we have engaged students in a way where we're doing to them or for them, and out of best intention. But we can't really get to that endgame of having these empowered graduates when they leave that 12th-grade year to go out into the world, and they don't have us to lean on anymore.
The goal is that we have created the opportunities such that they grow up under our tutelage, but then they enter the world in a way that they can engage with their environments and collect that data to continue Sadler's three questions, right? Like, where am I going? Where am I now? And how do I get there?
So, absolutely, the empowerment piece is essential to creating the next generation of citizens.
Jacob: I love that you went there, Brooke, because my heart in this is where are you landed, right? It's this idea of student ownership in student agency, certainly pays big dividends in the disciplines that we have the privilege to work with students around, but it's the larger aspects of setting students up with the skills to persevere in life. That is very exciting to me. But I'll yield. Myron, what's your perspective here?
Myron: Well, I was just so delighted you started with Brooke, because I was like, "Huh." I'm with you, Jacob. Like, this would fill a season. This would fill more than a podcast. What I've been thinking about a lot lately, is kind of a reversal of roles, if you will, and Hattie got me thinking about this on one side.
You mentioned John Hattie, and he... I was digging through former articles I had read and I bumped into an article he wrote, this is a number of years ago, called Know Thy Impact. And I think we...for most of my teaching career, I looked at assessment as a tool to rank and judge my students. I looked at it as a tool to tell them where they are.
Man, how do you rip the layers of the onion back because you know what, assessment is actually going to tell you, as a teacher, what impact you've had. So, it's like looking in a mirror. And so that's got me thinking about this reversal of roles. If assessment is actually intended for the teacher, in many ways, to know what impact we're having on our students, then where's the student? Where's the student role?
And I think this goes back to what I write about in my most recent book that you cited, and thank you for that, is the origins, the actual origins of this word assessment, go back to the assidere in Latin, which means to sit beside. So, if we were sitting beside another human being, and looking at our objectives together, not against, not I'm going to judge you where you're at, but actually together, makes me think about that reversal of roles.
And that's what's got... And I think it links directly to what you mentioned around responsive teaching and links directly to what Brooke was saying. It's that, I think there's a shift in this landscape, and it's profound. So, that's what I'm going to say for now, and I'm sure we got other directions to go.
Jacob: Absolutely. And I value that so much, Myron. You know, this idea or Hattie's idea, I should say, of Know Thy Impact, on our team and Brooke's a colleague, we talk all the time that we have a responsibility to help educators make and measure their impact. And I think this notion of student agency, just to borrow your "to sit beside" entomological roots of the word assessment, I think as educators, we have that same responsibility in the guise of student agency to help students know their impact.
If they are the main catalyst for their own efficacy, their integrity, their ability to persevere, then we need to help them as well, see and recognize the impact that their efforts have on their learning, on their learning journeys. And it reminds me, Myron, of our friend, Jan Chipley[SP], who once quipped, "This work..." and at the time, I believe that was around the assessment, literacy, and formative practice work, but I think the phrase holds true, this isn't the work of a year. This isn't the work of a workshop. This is the work of a career. And so committing ourselves to that, I think, is the right thing.
Let me widen the circle a little bit here because I know both of you have fostered student agency in your own classrooms. But you've also helped teachers and leaders around the globe open the door to doing the same in their systems. And so I'd like to ask both of you, from your perspectives, what are the most important elements you focus on with teachers and leaders? What are the highest leverage things you focus on to help leaders, to help teachers, begin this journey of student agency in their classrooms? This time, let's start with you, Myron.
Myron: My email lights up from time to time, and my phone rings from time to time with something very...with people, I think seeking exactly what you just threw out, Jacob, and that is, where do I start with this? Or, we want to shift to...and you can just bust open your Rolodex here and go, we want standard-based grading. We want sound grading practice. We want to look at our policies on this, that, or the other.
What I really go back to, and call me old school, but I go back to, what are the standards you're trying to teach, and how accessible are those for students? Like, for God's sake, don't crack open the California standards, or the Delaware standards, or the British Columbia standards, and throw those in front of your students. But how are you breaking those down?
And if you go a step, one step back of that actually, when you kick the stones across the parking lot on your way into that school building, what's your purpose? What brings you to work? Is it, "Man, I got to teach the Paris Peace Conference because my students might one day go through the Paris Peace Conference." No. No, I don't think that's it.
If you're a history teacher, or you're an English teacher, and Brooke's English, I'm history, and there's a waft of other teachers listening to this, what are you doing through your content that's going to teach bigger, greater applications, and make better citizens? And that, I think has to act as the rudder, and then you look at your material and go, "How am I going to achieve this?"
And I think a lot of my own classroom systems, policies, a clear learning target plan for each student, came from that, came from what my greater purpose was and what I wanted to achieve. I know that it sounds a bit pie in the sky, but I really...that's where I would start, if I was in charge.
Brooke: Oh, pardon me, Myron.
Brooke: I don't think that's pie in the sky. I think that is right on. When you started talking about that, I was saying in my head, "Yes, yes," and I think that it goes back for me to relationships matter. If we, I always, you can't see me on this podcast, but I would say, if you don't get students here, I'm pointing to my heart, then you can't get them here. I'm pointing to my brain.
So, what are we doing to really learn who our students are, to value them as human beings, to value them as our partners in this experience? This does not, I think... I was trained 25 years ago, and in my college coursework, to really be the sage on the stage, that I had all this knowledge that I was trying to transmit to my students.
And I think over the course of these last 20 years, we are shifting, thank goodness, in the landscape and really thinking through these pieces where we've gone from assessment-capable to assessment-empowerment. What we're really talking about is, how do we do with our students?
And I don't think we can do anything with our students until they feel like we value them as humans, as we value them as learners, co-learners with us, right? You talk about that in your book all the time that we are these passengers together. And so, the way that we can start to make some of those connections is to first focus on creating the environment that's necessary for learning to take place, and how do you create that opportunity for psychological safety, and the space for authentic risk-taking to happen, right? To make the space for people to feel comfortable showing both what they know and don't know. And that's the bigger piece.
Myron: Oh, totally. I mean, when we, you and Brooke, this happens when you and I chat. Like, I know we send each other's thinking and in a myriad of directions, and it's awesome. I was fortunate to watch at one of the ASCD conferences a number of years ago, Maya Angelou... And if anybody has ever seen Maya, saw Maya speak, it was, you know, none of these fancy PowerPoint slides or Apple keynote slides, like the stuff I lean on hard for a presentation, she doesn't need any of it. And she started with a song.
And anyway...and she did reiterate in her talk that people are going to forget a lot of things, and I think we all know this quote, but they're not going to forget how you made them feel. And you're spot on Brooke with that piece. And if anything dawned on me through these changes in assessment from the very beginning and Jacob, you mentioned it, 2006 and it was great. It was the likes of Jan Chipley and folks like that, that kind of got...jarred my thinking.
If there's one thing that has reverberated through all this, it's relationships. And Maya Angelou is absolutely right. They're going to forget some of those content pieces. They're going to forget some of those elements. But I had coffee recently with a girl that I did write about in Grading Smarter, Not Harder, and she's the one who said, "Mr. Dueck..." she was doing a redo, like a retest on a Friday afternoon orally, just telling me how she would have answered the question differently.
And as she was leaving, she turned back and she said, "You know, every once in a while I feel smart here. You know that, hey?" I was like, "What?" She said, "I feel smart in this space and I haven't felt smart in the past." And if that doesn't feel...if that doesn't put some wind in your sails on a Friday afternoon, you're in the wrong field. And I think that's what's really dawned on me.
Jacob: I appreciate that and I appreciate both of you coming, if I can synthesize for a second. Myron, your recommendation or how you approach this with educators around the world, is beginning with this idea of your greater purpose, or what Simon Sinek may say your why, the why of the content. What... And there's connections there, right, to relevancy, to the hooks that will bring kids along the journey and ignite the intrinsic motivators to stay with you and to persevere.
And Brooke, your call out to really begin looking at the environment, the ecosystem of learning and how students have, as you say, psychological safety and the like. I think these are fantastic points and illustrate for me, it's just something I've been spending a lot of time thinking about, that the pathway to student agency is not linear. And it is not, you start with the why and you go to the environment, or you start with the environment, you go to the why, you go to your learning targets, etc. And bear with me here, I want you to react to this.
But then, in fact, it's back to our friend Jan Chipley, who often said to me, "When people, as practitioners, or when systems come to these concepts of responsive teaching and assessment literacy, they always want to know, where do I start?" And Jan's response always was or is, I assume, "Start somewhere, go slow, and don't stop," right? That there are several elements here that lead to this concept, to this actualization of student agency.
And if I can borrow...and then I want you guys to react to this, but if I could borrow from the Maya Angelou quote, "People remember how you made them feel." If I could extend, based on what I heard from the two of you, it's not just how you make them feel in this teacher/student context, it's what you awaken in them that they feel about themselves, the efficacy of that, that self-efficacy.
That student you just mentioned, Myron, she views herself as smart in this area and therefore is motivated to move forward and take pride in that. I'm pressure testing here, how does that land for you guys?
Brooke: I think you're right on. I think it's iterative. You talked about this thing that it's not linear. I think that, you know... I think about the great tennis player, Arthur Ashe, and he says, "Start where you are. Do what you can." And I think that's what we have to do. We have to figure out...
I think we, as teachers, have students come to us in different stages of readiness, different stages of readiness to engage with us in a relationship as co-learners, and at different stages of development, relative to the content we're trying to teach. And I think it's our jobs to really use this process to find out, to help us find out where they are, but to meet them there and really respond, if you will, to what our data is telling us. And that's then what we want to teach our students to do, is to respond to what the evidence that they're learning from.
And I think the piece that I want to go back to is this idea too that many of our students, I think, Myron, what you're talking about, the first time this person felt smart, I think some of what we're talking about is the greatest predictor of future success is past success. So, how many of our students are sitting in our classrooms and they've never experienced success academically?
And if we don't engineer opportunities for students to experience that success, then they never get to those other outcomes. Like, we've used the word persevere so many times already in this podcast. Well, how do I get to being motivated and having a drive to persevere? I have to experience success.
If I don't, then...if I don't see my return on investment, if I try and fail over and over, then why should I be motivated to try? So, I think it's our job. So many educators that I work with ask, what's my role in motivating a student? We should be the lead motivator in the classroom and we should help generate that interest and that excitement until... And I say sometimes it's like spoon-feeding.
I think about when my son was a young baby, and he was learning to eat. And I would help him eat with the spoon, and eventually, he was so excited about mealtime that he would grab the spoon out of my hand and feed himself. That's what we should do in our classrooms.
How do we help these students experience success in a way that eventually they're going to grab that spoon out of our hands and they're going to run with it. And we don't have to be that lead motivator anymore, because they have experienced success in a way that their persistence is up, their motivation is up, their willingness to take risks is up.
All of those positive effects can only happen once a student gets to that place that Myron's student was, and talking about, "I feel smart here." That's the goal of creating our environments and setting up, Myron mentioned standards, creating those student-friendly, accessible learning targets so students can see the pathway, right?
How many times do we... I've certainly been in classrooms where I didn't really understand what we were trying to learn or where we were going so I certainly didn't have any agency in making decisions and understanding where I was. So, I think it's all of those pieces.
It's the relationships, it's the why. It's the creating opportunities for early success for our students, and then making the learning so clear that students can see the pathway and can start to assess along the way, whether or not they're getting it, and can help feed some more of that information to themselves and to us, as teachers, so that we can respond.
Jacob: I love that, Brooke, and even that last commentary in your image of your son makes me think about, maybe what I might offer is the next title for your next book, From Spoon Feeding to Running with Spoons.
Brooke: Great, great.
Jacob: I'll let you think about that. Myron...
Myron: It's got a great ring to it.
Jacob: It does, doesn't it? Myron, your thoughts, sir.
Myron: I'm going to go back... I'm going to go back to where I started this morning, or on the podcast is, the reversal of roles. So Brooke, while I'm listening to you talk about success, I'm thinking about my own trajectory through this, through this assessment journey, and the experiences I've had, and I don't think I'm all that different than the students you're talking about.
We have to...you have to feel that success and you have to put yourself in situations that do not feel comfortable. I mean, if this is going to be kind of a help session, Jacob, I don't know if you know this or not, but the only reason I arrived at the first conference where I ever met Jan, down in Portland was, my principal walked into my classroom and he says, "Hey, Myron, you want to go to a grading conference?"
I was like, "No, absolutely not." I mean, I'd sooner do my own dental surgery with a spoon. I'm good. I'm good, thanks. Because I had arrived. Like, I was teaching at this high school I most wanted to teach at, I had the courses I wanted. Nobody was going to tell me anything about my testing structure or grading. I've arrived. But you can edit this out, well, after I told him "no" numerous times, he says, "Well, that's too bad. We have Trailblazers tickets and there's talk of a brew pub. It's called Rock Bottom," and I was like, "Oh. Yeah, yeah, I'll go."
Jacob: Changed your life, didn't it?
Myron: Changed my life, literally. So, when I first sat down to hear this guy named Ricks Diggins going...same thing you're talking about with Sadler. There was so much overlap in the thinking where...could your students answer three questions? And I was like, "Okay, pal." I mean, I've told many an audience this. I was actually looking at furniture on IKEA and I looked up at him and said, "Okay, pal, hit me with your three questions."
"Well, do your students know where they're going, where they are now, and how they close the gap?" And the fact of the matter is I couldn't answer those things. But here's my point. My students couldn't and I couldn't, is, what that principal did for me, what Rick did for me... I went to Jan's session after that. What they all did collectively was push me out of the comfort zone of thinking, "I don't need any of this."
And Brooke, here's my point, when I got back to my classroom and said, "Okay, okay, I'm going to build a few clear unit plan target documents and give them to my students, and that's it. And you get students coming up going, "Oh, can you do this again?" Like, "This really helped me focus on what I need. I'm trying to manage a job in a sports team right now and this has just been gold."
I'm feeling some success. And Brooke, it's the same thing you're talking about with students. We're all human beings. We crave having an impact. We crave having some success. And I think...man, maybe one of the best, the best adage that that same principal gave me when I was really, really starting to look at changing some things in my classroom, the best thing he left with me was, "You know, Myron, you can always go back to what you did before."
And just hearing that was about all I needed to...or it's about all I needed to take some chances and without, and then to feel some of that success, Brooke. My point is, I just don't think teachers and students are all that different in that area.
Jacob: Yeah. Well, let's start or let's lean into an area where I anticipate, knowing you and having read your works, where you likely jumped in to take some chances. In your most recent book, you talk about sharing and co-creating student-centered learning targets.
Jacob: Certainly seems on its surface to play right into the idea of building student agency, and also having students use rubrics to assess their performance. Can you talk for a moment about how you see these two things working together for the good of student agency?
Myron: Well, both of them kept the door open on things that have largely...on areas of assessment that have largely been reserved for the teachers. Man, I tell... I explain too many things through story probably, but it dawned on me that when students were coming up to me, let's take, you know, I have an account in my history class where a student named Trevor come up to me and he goes, "This is part of a retest."
And he had gotten one or two questions wrong and I didn't know how to retest the kid. So, I said, "Listen, look up something on mandates," and he was being cheeky about me giving him an automatic 100% on his test at the time. And I said, "Listen, Trevor, I'm going to ambush you. I'm going to...you got to look up something on this topic and...something I don't know. I want to be intrigued."
And he says, "Hey, it's on, Dueck. It's on. Let's do this." And so I proceeded to forget...proceeded to forget about our whole deal, and two weeks later, he comes up, "I thought you were going to ambush me." So, when I eventually ambushed him, maybe at his job...maybe at his workplace, but we won't get into that, he goes...he got into this thing about some secret deals that were made at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, stuff that was just intriguing.
And it dawned on me only later, Jacob, that why wouldn't I have a space in this unit plan where if Trevor wants to go deeper into some really interesting governmental decisions in 1919 that have forever shaped the politics of Africa, why can't he go there? And so...so to just make some space, and Hattie talks about this, just make some space for student voice and student agency in everything you do.
So, what do I do? Literally, I'm going to pull a Brooke here. People were watching me. I have my two hands close together, and now I'm separating them apart a little. On that unit plan, what if the student could plug in a learning outcome related to what we're talking about? Any teacher out there that goes, "Oh, yeah, it's going to just turn into chaos, and then now people can do whatever they want."
Jacob: No, no, no.
Myron: No, no, no, calm down. It's going to go into an existing plan, but it's going to have the student at the helm going, "I want to go further into this."
Myron: Now, once you kick that door open, when it comes to assessing that, that journey, that exploration, can't we be a little clearer on our rubric design about what are the criteria? Could we start a criteria with a verb? And it's like, "Oh Myron, now you're getting into Brooke's territory, verbs." Now, I'm just saying, I was in Alberta, working with the Alberta Assessment Consortium, and they said, "You know, you just start your rubric criteria with a verb."
What are you talking about? Discuss a connection between your photo and your descriptor. Oh, kick it off with disgust, yeah. And it's just one of the little things that in making this clearer for students. Because I'll challenge any educator listening to this right now, you go scampering down the hallway of your school, you find the first rubric that you bump into, I bet you the criteria are largely nouns. Bibliography, topic sentence, kids don't know what to do with those things. Students don't know what to do with those things if they're not provided a clear direction. Okay, I'll calm down now, but that's my answer.
Jacob: I love it, Myron, I love it. I want to scamper over to Brooke. And Brooke, space to respond briefly to anything Myron shared that resonated with you. But then I want to turn our attention, a lot of your work focuses on responsive teaching, the actions of responsive teaching. And I'm hoping, as it relates to student agency, you can call out why it's such an important area for practitioners to focus on, as they build student agency. And obviously, there's some Venn diagram overlap with what Myron shared, but I'll yield the floor to you, Brooke.
Brooke: Yeah, I think you're spot on. And I think I've spent a lot of time coaching teachers who have had that response that Myron is talking about, with like, "Oh, my gosh, it's going to be chaos." I can't release what we call control to the students, because they don't know what to do with it.
Of course, they don't, because we don't normally empower them in our classrooms in a traditional landscape. So, we have to remember at the heart of this is teaching and learning. So, how do we create what I like to call accountable structures so that students understand how to be in the space that we want them to be in.
I used to teach high school, and I used to think that my students would come in and just know how to have group discussions. And then I would release them, like, I would give them this wonderful question and with this very rich text, and I would release them to these discussions, and nothing would happen, or chaos would ensue. And I would go, "Wow."
Like, this was just such an opportunity. What feedback for me, as a teacher, to go, "Man, I've really got to set this up differently, and I need to do some instruction." And I always remember what my mentor said, which was, "Don't introduce a new process and new content at the same time, because it's too much cognitive load."
So how do you have them have discussions that are relevant to them, teach them the process, and set the criteria for the discussion, and then layer in the content once they've learned the process? So I think that would be my reaction to thinking about when it doesn't go the way that you want it to, what's the reason behind that. And really digging in to go, "Okay, I made the space for choice and voice, but it didn't happen."
So, there are some things that we need to do differently, which gets us to the process, Jacob, which is, I've really been working through this process to try and simplify for teachers. I'm a big fan of planning with the end in mind, what's known in the field as Grant Wiggins' work around backward design or Understanding by Design.
And so, I think we really have to think about what is the focus of my instruction? And of course, we all have standards that we should start with and breaking those out into learning targets and success criteria. And then we have to think about, what's my plan, my assessment plan? How will I know...how will my students and I measure that we are moving along those learning target trajectories towards mastery of the standards?
And that was the step that I often missed. A lot of times, I planned my assessment at the end after I'd already done my instruction, when I first started teaching 20 years ago. But really, in order to get that strong alignment between our standards, our curriculum and instruction, our assessment, that assessment has to be designed right then at the beginning.
And then we look at our instructional plan, what are the activities and the tasks, and the processes that we're going to use that will help students move along that learning target? And then recently, I've been thinking a lot about Zone of Proximal Development. Vgotsky is one of my educational heroes. And when we think about that Zone of Proximal Development, about ZPD, what we're really talking about is instructional readiness, and where do we have some background knowledge, but mastery hasn't occurred yet.
And so that's the critical piece where data comes into our plans, and I call this...this is where responsive teaching comes from. So, what data do we have that helps us understand where our students are ready to learn, relative to what we're trying to teach? If you're fortunate enough to be one of our partners, you might use your NWEA NRM assessments.
You might use your classroom formative data. And then, based on what that data is helping me understand about where students are ready to learn, how can I tweak that plan so that I am providing opportunities to scaffold for access, or scaffold for extension before I get into the instruction? I can already anticipate where students might need some support or challenge.
And then that's where I get in there, and I'm really thinking about the evidence that we're collecting as teachers and learners and responding in real-time. And so this is really speaking to planning. This is speaking to making the space. I would argue, I think what I have learned most over the last 20 years or so, is that we get what we plan for.
And so many times we do not make enough time to do the deep planning, so that when we're thinking through what I like to call option ABC, and if, then scenario. If this happens, like if my students respond in this way, this is the trajectory I'll go down. If they respond this way, then this is where we'll go.
And so I think that comes with experience. It comes with, I think that's probably the difference between a novice teacher and experienced teacher is we've had so many opportunities to teach certain things. We already know what to anticipate. And I start to get better at designing these trajectories of what I'll do, of how I'll respond if students go a certain way.
So, I would argue that to really deeply provide student agency, I better be a really strong planner, and think through different ways that I'll respond.
Jacob: Wow. Brooke, I really appreciate the connections you've made to the critical acts of teaching, the things we know and do sometimes routinely. And I don't mean that...well, I suppose I do mean that as we do it as it's a routine planning. I remember my cooperating teacher during my practicum period, where he pulled...and Myron, you'll probably... Well, I don't know what your reaction will be, but it was time for me to lean in and teach a geography lesson, and he pulled out a drawer that must have been lesson plans he created his first year of teaching.
And his view was, "I'm done, right? I did those lesson plans. I'm done now." And so the map had...and what tipped me off was, I wasn't familiar with Siam as a country, but then I noticed the USSR. And let's just say that this was definitely after the Soviet Union had collapsed. But that was one of the countries we needed to learn was the USSR.
So, this idea of habits, needing to be challenged, needing for us, as educators, to think about the way we've always done things, let's do them differently to have maximum impact in kids' lives. That's really powerful, Brooke. I appreciate you naming those things. Myron, any reactions from you on Brooke's commentary?
Myron: Brooke has mentioned... Brooke has kind of come around to a theme a few times today, and that is environment, that is... She's been speaking I think a lot...when I hear her talk a lot around the culture of your classroom, safe spaces, I think we all... I'm going to say again, this is a human condition, not a student condition. We all crave those things, especially when we're going to make ourselves vulnerable.
And, you know, I go back to... I write about him in my book, Don McIntyre. Don McIntyre said, almost word-for-word, something that Brooke touched on earlier, and that is, "Don't assume your students know how to do anything if you didn't teach it." And Brooke, you cited this earlier with, "Don't assume that students..." What did you say? Don't assume that they know how to... I forget. I'm putting you on the spot here, but you mentioned it earlier.
Brooke: Oh, the discussion, "Don't assume they know how to do those things that you're trying to empower them to do, if we haven't made the space for that in our classrooms."
Myron: Exactly. So, whether you watch BBC News or CNN or Fox or the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, if you flick the news on tonight, do you think you might get the impression that we don't necessarily know how to relate to one another? And I'm just throwing it out there. It's possible. And that is global.
Myron: And I think when I take your thought, Brooke, about don't assume they know-how, and Don McIntyre telling me, kids over curriculum, Myron, kids over curriculum. It's probably why I've recently wrote about sharing circles of all things. Like, sharing circles. Are you kidding me?
When I entered this thing, if somebody had said to me, "Myron, one day you're going to write about starting a sharing circle in your classroom," well... In full disclosure, like, don't tell anybody this, but besides all my assessment changes, the best thing I have done in my classroom is kickoff the year, and usually each week, with a sharing circle, where we shove the desks aside and we sit in a circle, and we have an item we pass around, and the person holding that item gets to talk.
I have seen transformations of my teaching spaces, once we begin to reach across that circle...
Jacob: That's right.
Myron: ...once we start to sit beside, once we start to find a connection between the local captain of the boy's hockey team with the Japanese exchange student, who has just arrived in our school, seeing these people connect. We have to first build spaces that are safe and strong learning environments, then we will be able to go so much further with our unit planning, with our instruction, with our responsive teaching.
Brooke, I see your fingers lighten up and I know...
Brooke: That's social-emotional learning right there. I mean that term has really been elevated, I think, to the level that we elevate academics. And finally, and rightfully so. But I don't think it's something we buy in a box. I don't think it's a curriculum. What you're describing is helping...it's hard to shut people out and to be mean to people, or to ridicule if you've humanized them.
Myron: Oh, so true. And let's be clear right now, and if people want to read up on this, they can pick up my book. But those... I'll just tell you, you don't have to read it. The starting of that sharing circle was beyond brutal, like beyond. I'll be real quick. One of the protocols of the circle is you can always pass, right? I was looking at local aboriginal protocols, and this is so far outside my comfort zone that, okay, I started off with, "Tell me something about your summer and something you're looking forward to the school year."
So I said, you know what, my son and I watched some baseball games in Atlanta and I'm looking forward to coaching volleyball. And I pass the branch to the student beside me. And one of the protocols is, you can always pass. Well, Jacob, what do you think the first...what came out of that kid's mouth faster than anything you could ever say?
Myron: Yeah, next one.
Jacob: Pass. Pass is right.
Myron: Yeah, till we got around to the farthest side of the circle, and this boy took pity on me and he said that something to the effect of, "I didn't do anything this summer. I'm not looking forward to anything." Thank you for sharing. I was so happy he shared. And so I called up the two colleagues that told me to start a sharing circle, and I said, "That is the worst idea anyone has ever had." They went, "No, no, no, no, no, no. Stick with it. Stick with it." And I did. And to save everybody the whole story, a month later, we can't finish a circle in under 45 minutes, because of the amount of people who have something to say.
And these things, to Brooke's point, they don't come about by accident. These are systems. These are structures we can put in place and be purposeful and meaningful behind them.
Jacob: That's right. And I want to be mindful of the time of our listeners in this conversation, but I do want to underline what I think you're both hitting at, that building student agency is a complex act. It is an act that requires perseverance, to say the word again, Brooke, of the educator, intentionality of the educator, and of the students. And so, we've named a lot of elements here that I think our listeners can chew on, that they can try out.
And to your point, Myron, if at first you don't succeed, right. As Debbie Silver might say, "Fail better," right? "Fall Down 7 Times, Get Up 8," I think is approximating her book title. But the benefits here are beyond academic. The benefits...the promise here is as impressive as it is, within the visible learning research-based, the benefits of assessment-capable learning or even teacher clarity in these areas.
Coming out of the pandemic, coming where we are, as you know Myron, globally, socially, these things take time and the benefits are measurable, and at the same time, hard to measure because they are so far, far spread? I'll yield there. I sometimes have a tendency to take it to a too high of a level. So, you guys feel free to keep me on the ground here, as we wrap this conversation.
Brooke: No, I think you're aspirational. Oh, pardon me, Myron.
Myron: No, I was going to chime in so that, hopefully, you had last word, Brooke. But you go ahead, no problem.
Brooke: No, I think Jacob, you are aspirational and that these are the things that we should be aspiring to. And I think the point that you're making is, we must make time in our practice to cultivate these things. And we should plan for them, plan intentionally, and then we should try them out. And Myron, to your point, we should persevere with them. We should keep trying when they fail. We should try new things and I think that gets to Hattie's work around efficacy.
I think so many people think efficacy is just believing that we can. I think it's more than that. It's persevering when we can't. And not just being a problem identifier, but a problem-solver. And continuing to try to solve a problem, even if we don't get it right the first time. And so those would be my parting words to teachers is that I know we often think that time is our biggest barrier and we have to spend so much time on academics and content, but what if we can make that content more relevant and more impactful, if we made this time to do this kind of work?
And so that would be my parting word to say, don't be afraid to make this space in your practice. It will pay dividends down the road.
Jacob: Thank you, Brooke. Myron?
Myron: Well, boy. I guess earlier, I spoke about that rudder that teachers, when they're walking across the parking lot or getting off to subway, going into their school, why? I'm going to turn it back to the student and I guess, I wonder at Summerland Secondary School, where I'm going to go to after this podcast because I'm working as a half-time VP or AP there.
What do they expect? When students are walking across the parking lot or the sidewalk to enter my school, what are their expectations of the environment? And here's where I'm going to tip my hat to Celeste Kidd. She was the one that did the marshmallow study revisited, where she questioned whether it was all about students' self-control, whether they eat that second marshmallow, which we've probably heard about that study.
What she had uncovered is that one of the issues we never thought about is, do students believe adults? Do they believe the people they're working with? So, I lean hard on Celeste's line, "How students act in any situation depends a lot on their expectations of the environment."
If we will continue to have schools that do not open the door to student agency, if we continue to have schools where kids are going to be told how it is, and not have any time at the control desk, they are probably going to continue to expect those environments and react accordingly with apathy, with disinterest, with becoming disengaged, because that's what they expect. We have to change that.
Jacob: Thank you, Myron. Thank you, Brooke. You've given us a lot to think about today. As we lean into building student agency, as our listeners go into the week ahead, teaching, assessing, learning, as you say, Myron, sitting beside kids, this work is so important.
And building student agency is one of the critical levers to improve outcomes. Complex as it is, many-faceted as it is, I just thank you both for joining and providing such thought-provoking interactional advice, stories, and the like, to teachers. So, thank you both.
Myron: Thank you. It's a pleasure to be a part of it. And I'd come back for part 2 any ol' time. I think we only scratched this surface.
Brooke: Absolutely, thank you. I always leave these podcasts having learned something. If I were to...if we were on video, you would see that I have a whole page of notes to think about. So, I hope that you're leaving this podcast today with a page of notes to think about too.
Myron: Oh, same here, Brooke. My pen has been moving a lot.
Jacob: Well, I look forward to continuing the conversation here on The Continuing Educator. So, listeners, join us next week where we're going to dive into this concept of student agency from an equity lens, from a culturally responsive teaching lens. And certainly, we're going to jump back into this idea of setting up environments where student agency can flourish.
Don't forget to check out our blog teach, learn, grow, to follow Brooke, Myron, and other thought leaders, internal and external to NWEA, to help guide teaching practices and continue your learning. So, that's it for today. We'll see you next time on The Continuing Educator.
Announcer: For more great teacher content, check out NWEA's teach, learn, grow blog at nwea.org/blog.