Friday, March 9, 2018

Learner Agency at RJHS 'Take Two...'





Learner Agency at RJHS
Take Two..."

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By Paula Wine

Learner Agency at RJHS…Take Two

Last year I wrote a blog about learner agency at RJHS and how we have tried to develop learner agency at our school...through Learner Narratives, IEMs (Individual Education Meetings), SOLO rubrics and curriculum trackers.  After two years, we have reflected on these tools and practices, and we’ve made some changes that I’m excited (and optimistic) about.
So what have we done? Well first of all we’ve got rid of the Learner Narrative.  The original intent of the Learner Narrative was to act as a tool to empower each student to be a leader and driver of their own learning.  It was essentially a google doc with a template where students could link in samples of their learning, set learning goals, and reflect on these goals and their learning.  Great idea right? Except it wasn’t. After two years we realised that it wasn’t achieving what we’d hoped it would. The Learner Narrative became exactly what we didn’t want for many students...something they complied with, completing each section begrudgingly.  It became an ‘add-on’ and far from the ‘inspiring tool’ we’d hoped it would be. The other design fault that was niggling away at me was that it was organised into courses (Modules and Flight Times), which was basically silo-ing their reflections by subjects. The exact opposite of ‘connecting our learning’.

So what have we done instead?  Firstly we’ve introduced the Learner Portfolio.  How is this different from the Learner Narrative?  What makes this a better tool to empower and develop Learner Agency?
  • We’ve changed the structure of the Learner Portfolio - The Learner Portfolio is now organised, not in courses, but in C-L-O-A-K sections.  Our CLOAK is our dispositional curriculum, it is the essence of our vision and the characteristics we are trying to develop in our learners.   We want to ignite our students’ passions, develop their resilience, perseverance, collaboration, kindness, and their ability to drive their own learning so that they can achieve in all that they pursue.   The CLOAK is not a ‘subject’ on its own, but is woven through all of our learning through every Module, Flight Time and Advisory Session. Previously we felt like we were trying to 'teach' the CLOAK, mostly through our Advisory programme. What was sometimes missing though was the meaningful connections to link the CLOAK to...for example, we would talk to the students about 'Challenge Our Mindset' or 'Learning is Connected', but these habits and skills have more meaning when they are taught in the context of our ongoing Module and Flight Time learning.


  • We’ve changed who owns the Learner Portfolio - What goes into the Learner Portfolio is completely up to the learner!  Previously the teachers would tell students what to include as evidence and tell them when to link it in.  Not exactly agentic. Our new Learner Portfolio allows students to choose which piece of evidence they want to submit, when they want to submit it and why.  The learning evidence can come from any Module, Flight Time, Advisory class, extra-curricular activity or experience outside of school. Learners then link their evidence into whichever of the five C-L-O-A-K portfolios it fits best.  For example, if they have evidence that they have demonstrated ‘Challenge Our Mindset’ in two of their courses and then at their weekend netball game, they can link in photos, samples of work, or video with a reflection as to why this is evidence of their Challenge Our Mindset learning. If we want our learners to feel inspired, engaged, and truly driving their own learning, we need them to own the process.  
  • We’ve changed the scaffolding of the process - each learner now has a set of guidelines with reflective questions they can refer to independently to support their portfolio development:
Learner Portfolio Guidelines:

  • Work on your Learner Portfolio regularly - set time aside during your Independent Advisory time each week to prioritise your Learner Portfolio
  • Include evidence of C-L-O-A-K learning from across your learning...your module learning, flight times, or advisory time, extra-curricular activities, etc.
  • Quality Reflection - think deeply about your learning using the prompt reflection questions below
  • Make it yours!  Use written work, video clips, photos, etc.  
  • Aim for a minimum of 1-2 pieces of evidence per C-L-O-A-K each term.  
  • It doesn’t have to be a finished piece of work...try to capture genuine evidence of CLOAK learning anywhere, any time.  
  • Enjoy!  This is your learner portfolio.  Make it matter to you!
  • Remember the ‘why’...reflecting on your learning helps you become an active, effective,  life-long learner.





Examples of reflective questions we have provided, different questions are provided for each letter of the CLOAK:

CHALLENGE OUR MINDSET Reflective Questions
CHALLENGE OUR MINDSET
Challenge our Mindset Goals:
We have a growth mindset
We try new things

We embrace the learning pit
We persevere when things are hard
Possible Challenge our mindset reflective questions:
  • How have I demonstrated a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset?  
  • How have I taken a risk in my learning?  What have I tried that is new? How did this go for me?



  • When I was in the learning pit, what strategies did I try to get out of the learning pit?
  • What learning was challenging for me?  How did I persevere through this? What was the outcome?


    • We’ve changed our Advisory Time by introducing Independent Learning Time (ILT) - students now have 45 minutes during each Advisory block.  This is a time for learners to make decisions for themselves about their learning.  As John Spencer describes in his book ‘Empower’, it is important to develop the mindset of self managing...of following through on your plans and continuing with tasks even when nobody's looking over your shoulder. During ILT students will learn how look at their week ahead, prioritise what is on top for them, set learning goals, and self manage to achieve their learning goals.  This is a time for teachers and students to model, coach and use ‘learning to learn’ skills; learners need to be able to organise their time, identify their priorities, figure out how they learn best, practice study skills, concentration skills, meeting deadlines, etc. This is a time when students can spontaneously add to their Learner Portfolio, when they feel motivated to do so. This might also be a time for learners to engage in design thinking, inquiry, or passion projects.  While students are working independently Advisory Teachers will have time to do ‘one-on-ones’ with their students; during the one-on-ones Advisory Teachers can connect with their learners and see how they are going with their Learner Portfolio. If progress is slow, this is a learning opportunity.
    • We've changed the tool we use to link our evidence...instead of a Google Doc (not that engaging) this year we have introduced a new LMS called Schoology. Schoology has a user-friendly, engaging interface and functionality. It allows for easy uploading of evidence in multiple media (print, photos, video, voice recording) so we expect our learners will be more 'into' this tool. It also allows for embedding reflections, teacher comments and 'in-the-moment' sharing with parents/whānau.


    In essence, we wanted our students to shift from a compliance model of learning, to a model where students see themselves as the main drivers of their own learning journey.  

    Where to next? In the background we have been working on a Graduate Profile for a Year 10 student leaving RJHS. Our guiding question has been 'What dispositions, skills and knowledge do we want our students to have by the time they leave us at the end of Year 10?' In our draft Graduate Profile the focus is on future focused skills and dispositions as opposed to a bunch of content knowledge. Once we have worked through the Graduate Profile as a staff, eventually we would like to have a system where students 'pitch' for their C-L-O-A-K badges, by sharing evidence from their Learner Portfolio to justify that they have achieved that particular level of the CLOAK. Again, the onus is on the learner to drive their learning in their time.
    Through the combination of student choice, engaging authentic contexts, Learner Portfolio, and Independent Learning Time, we are excited about moving in a direction that is truly going to grow student agency.  It won’t happen overnight.  Ultimately developing student agency will happen with agentic design and pedagogy. We will need to teach our learners how to be agentic; we need to model and scaffold how to be drivers of our own learning.  There will be some students who will struggle with self starting or with self managing during Independent Learning Time; this is their learning.  To develop student agency we need to give students some times during the day when they are not told what to do or how to do it, and they have to decide for themselves.  We need to give them space to get it wrong (and right) and to learn from this. As John Spencer says ‘Student choice is the heartbeat of ownership and empowerment’ (Empower, 2017, p. 35).

    1 comment:

    1. Nice reflection on progress Paula, great to see school leadership putting their hands up and saying this is not quite right, how can we make it better?
      My fav parts are this line
      "In essence, we wanted our students to shift from a compliance model of learning, to a model where students see themselves as the main drivers of their own learning journey." and
      "We need to give them space to get it wrong (and right) and to learn from this."

      ReplyDelete