A Sense of Agency
“We don’t want to teach children something that they can learn by themselves. We don’t want to give them thoughts that they can come up with by themselves. What we want to do is activate within children the desire and will and great pleasure that comes from being the authors of their own learning.” –Loris Malaguzzi
As I’m thinking about developing a culture of Story Workshop at the beginning of the year, I’m working to support children to see themselves as the authors of their own learning: they are the protagonists. I’m thinking about the ways in which I’m communicating and making visible what I believe about the children I’m working with. I want them to know that this classroom community will be a place where their ideas and contributions are sought out and valued. I want them to know that I expect them to show up every day ready to share their ideas. I want to make it visible from very early on that it will be their work and their words and their ideas that drive what we’ll do together.
I shared in Module 2 that one of the ways I’m preparing for Story Workshop is by thinking about the provocation I’ll offer to children on the first days of Story Workshop. It was my plan was to begin by inviting the children to find and capture stories from their summer. My intention was to get to know more about these children as authors—about their experiences and the things they care about. But before I got a chance to launch Story Workshop on the second day of school, I found an idea that inspired me, so I decided to switch plans a bit. My intention didn’t change. I still wanted to know more about these children as authors. But I observed something on the first day of school that seemed like an opportunity to begin to communicate my belief that these children are the authors of their own learning.
On the first day of school, we had Explore, a structure where the children were invited into an open-ended exploration of different spaces and materials in the classroom. During this time, Caylan and Aleeza worked with watercolor paints.
Here’s what they created:
I realized that Caylan and Aleeza had done what I was hoping students would do as we began Story Workshop—find and capture ideas that they care about. I was excited that they had captured their feelings about something they were paying attention to – the blanket of ash we were all living under as the nearby Columbia River Gorge burned. I wondered about bringing Caylan and Aleeza’s writing to the whole group. I wondered how beginning Story Workshop with these texts, which came from children, might support the development of a culture of Story Workshop where a sense of agency was at the heart of the work.
I decided to rewrite these poems on large chart paper, so everyone could see and read them together. I shared the images and, with some help from Aleeza and Caylan, we told the story of what they had been inspired to do at Explore the day before. By introducing Story Workshop with Caylan and Aleeza’s poems, I was able to invite the children into Story Workshop that first day to find and capture the ideas that they cared about.
As children began using the materials in the classroom to find and capture their ideas, I noticed and was excited by what I saw. Using the language of ideas rather than stories (which was part of my original plan) seemed to encourage children to write beyond the traditional narrative.
Here is just a sneak peek of what they did that first day:
- August, Rory, and Abbott wrote letters to their families
- Aurelia joined Caylan and Aleeza to create more poetry
- Mead decided to create a journal of various scientific experiments he was planning on testing out.
After this first experience, I was eager to jump ahead and begin thinking and playing together with the children about how authors craft, develop, and revise their ideas. Even though these are the things I was most excited and curious about, I know that we couldn’t go there – yet. First, there are other pieces to developing a culture of Story Workshop in the “Dogwood” community that we needed to attend to and have experiences with.
As we moved forward I was asking myself:
- Do all the children in this community see themselves as authors and generators of ideas?
- What conditions might I create during Story Workshop that will continue to support all children to find that innate motivation to develop their ideas through writing?
- How can the children’s texts continue to play a central role as we explore what it means to be an author? How might this influence the culture of Story Workshop we are developing together?
- In what other ways might I communicate to the children that they are the authors of their own learning?
- This early on in the year, what do the children see as the purpose of writing their ideas? Who is their audience? What connections might support the development of this understanding?
For reflection, in your journal:
- What choices are you providing for children that support their development of agency through Story Workshop?
- What does this post inspire you to try in your classroom?