Kahukura Community of Practice, Christchurch (TLIF 4-033) - How can we increase students’ agency, especially in digital spaces? Publications
Project Reference: Kahukura Community of Practice, Christchurch (TLIF 4-033) - The Kahukura cluster of schools had been part of the New Pedagogies for Deep Learning (NPDL) global cluster since 2014 and had applied the four quadrants NPDL maintains are essential for deep learning: new pedagogies; learning partnerships between and among students, teachers, whānau and community; identifying opportunities for students to act using learning competencies; and ensuring part of the learning context used digital tools to enhance learning. In their inquiries, the schools had focused on the new pedagogies quadrant and had woven in aspects of the other three.
Author(s): (Inquiry Team) Donna Buchanan, Clare Donnerbal, Ross Hastings, Cade Englefield, Christine Harris, Chris Panther, Liz Williams, Abby Blanch and Jared Fretwell
Date Published: May 2020
The cluster had run a very successful cluster-wide inquiry around Parihaka, which met all the pedagogy and partnership requirements of deep learning. However, the schools believed that inquiry had been too ‘top down’ and ‘expert-led’, and saw an opportunity for students, teachers, and parents to work together in a more inclusive and responsive way to reshape the ways they approached teaching and learning to better support student agency and citizenship.
When [the students] weren’t sure of the answers, we researched the answers together, scaffolded by the teacher but led by the children. This led to deeper learning and applying it laterally across more than one area.
Teacher reflection on increased use of student voice in their class
Building on their experiences in the Parihaka inquiry, the teachers gathered students’ perceptions and understandings of agency and citizenship, and then worked alongside them to create authentic learning contexts in which they could further develop agency and citizenship. Collaborative teams used the Deep Learning Evaluation Tool to design deep learning and to evidence the ways in which students’ sense of agency was increased.
Overwhelmingly, the two practices teachers grew in the most during the inquiry were using student voice as a driver for learning design and improvement (52 per cent of teachers) and designing deep learning tasks that scaffold thinking and levels of complexity (27 per cent of teachers). These were linked to significant increases in students’ sense of agency and opportunities for them to be more agentic. Students also generally responded positively to the disruption to regular schooling during the Covid-19 lockdowns, with many demonstrating greater than expected agency and deepened learning partnerships between them, their teachers, and their whānau.
This project was led by a team made up of two principals and a lead teacher from each of the cluster schools:
- Addington Te Kura Taumatua — Donna Buchanan
- Cashmere Te Pae Kereru — Clare Donnerbal
- Christchurch South Karamata Intermediate — Ross Hastings and Cade Englefield
- Te Kura Huriawa o Thorrington — Christine Harris and Chris Panther
- Sacred Heart Te Kura o Te Ngākau Tapu — Liz Williams
- Somerfield Te Kura Wairepo — Abby Blanch
- Te Ara Koropiko West Spreydon School — Jared Fretwell.
Sue McDowall (NZCER) was the critical friend for the project.
The inquiry story
The inquiry involved all the classes and their teachers in all seven schools in the Kahukura cluster, between July 2018 and June 2020.
What was the focus?
The teachers had observed that student and teacher engagement was at its highest in their earlier cluster-wide Parihaka inquiry, although the data was anecdotal and interpreted by the teachers. They had a hunch that one of the reasons for the high level of student engagement was that teachers enabled student voice across all age groups, and this drove the actions in this change-makers inquiry. They also thought that an inclusive cluster-wide collaborative approach built strong relationships around learning across schools, and between teachers, students, and parents.
The teachers knew their students from different backgrounds had different views and different access to digital technology, and there were discrepancies in how they interacted and engaged online. They wanted to look at ways they could use student knowledge and experiences to create learning contexts that enabled all their students to act with agency.
The cluster dropped its initial dual focus on citizenship to focus solely on student agency. From this, they developed their inquiry question: “How can we develop students’ agency, especially in digital spaces?”
What did the teachers try?
NPDL focuses on developing the competencies identified as priorities for the 21st century: collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, citizenship, communication and character. The schools identified six focus areas of teacher practice from the New Pedagogies for Deep Learning that supported student agency, and tracked them through observations, teacher reflections, and teacher surveys:
- Taking the role of activator of learning.
- Creating transparent learning goals and expectations in partnership with students and families.
- Using collaborative processes and measures to engage families with student learning and communicate progress.
- Using student voice as a driver for learning design and improvement.
- Designing deep learning tasks that scaffold thinking and levels of complexity.
- Fostering student innovation to use digital tools to deepen learning, create knowledge, and apply digital tools in innovative ways.
The schools ran two inquiry cycles and used the NZCER student agency survey three times (between each inquiry cycle) to measure shifts in student agency. The two inquiry cycles were based around broad cluster learning themes of ‘Enterprise’ and ‘Growth’, with units that were appropriate to each school’s situation and age of the students.
Teachers started by reflecting on how students acted with greater agency during the Parihaka unit to action change intended to make a difference in the lives or environment of others. They ran focus group conversations with students on their experiences of agency in the Parihaka unit, and with parents on their aspirations for their children in terms of agency and linked that to learning design for each inquiry cycle.
Teachers used a teacher self-review tool aligned with the SOLO taxonomy in an ongoing, formative way to measure the growth of their practice in developing student agency. They developed a teaching as inquiry template to support self-review and moderation and to record rich stories and descriptions of the positive impact on students’ agency.
Teachers designed their first inquiry cycle to ensure learning aligned with the cluster-wide themes, had student agency and citizenship as drivers for learning and teaching, leveraged digital tools by using digital spaces, and enhanced learning partnerships with whānau and the wider community. Lead teachers facilitated student and teacher workshops to co-construct learning with students. Teachers linked student agency and deep learning by taking a ‘surface to deep’ approach, (that is, starting a unit of work in an open-ended way, but planning for possible deep learning pathways). They had open-to-learning conversations with their students throughout all stages of the process to ensure surface to deep learning.
At the end of inquiry cycle one, the teachers reviewed their experiences and practice changes and the impact on students’ agency, competencies, and declarative knowledge. They incorporated those findings into the design of cycle two.
What happened as a result of this innovation?
Through the inquiry cycles, teachers developed a clearer understanding of what student agency is, and designed learning opportunities with a greater focus on increasing students’ agency. They developed greater coherence in their application of deep learning pedagogy through competency-led design, implementation, and assessment of learning. They became more accountable in inquiring into their practice using the deep learning evaluation tool across all the cluster schools. The opportunities they had to share their approaches within and across the schools supported students’ sense of agency.
Teachers’ practice shifts
Almost all teachers (98 per cent) said they were using more strategies in their classroom to try to increase student agency because of their professional learning.
Two of the six practices discussed earlier emerged as the ones teachers had grown the most in. More than half of teachers (52 per cent) said they were using student voice as a driver for learning design and improvement. The main themes in teacher’s comments on this practice were about involving students earlier in the design process, re-engaging with them throughout the learning, and not leaving it until the end to get their thoughts or recollections.
More than a quarter (27 per cent) said they were designing deep learning tasks that scaffold thinking and levels of complexity. This was helped by using the cluster co-constructed deep learning and evaluation tool, which allowed for a more structured and sequenced approach to designing deep learning tasks that scaffolded thinking.
There were positive shifts for students across the Kahukura cluster, although these shifts varied with different cohorts.
Covid-19 lock down impacts
Students were able to demonstrate agency in an authentic and demanding context during the Covid-19 lock downs. In many cases, digital environments were used to support learning and teaching at this time. Many students responded positively to the opportunities and reported they loved having more flexibility, freedom, and autonomy. Older students were more likely to engage successfully with the learning opportunities provided in a digital space. A lot of the agency was dependent on the confidence of the children’s family in using digital technology, and the support of families helped many students who would otherwise have struggled with tasks in a digital context.
What did they learn?
As a cluster, the seven schools identified initial overarching cluster teacher learnings about ‘How can we increase students’ agency, especially in digital spaces?’ These are:
- Agency doesn’t happen without effective teaching and planning for it. Scaffolding and support are also needed throughout the process. Student agency is not about “letting kids go for it”.
- The process of knowledge acquisition is still important. The application and demonstration of knowledge should happen through student agency. Purposeful teaching of academic skills and language allows for the connection between surface knowledge and deep application of this knowledge.
- Student agency is relational. When done well, it permeates through all aspects of the classroom culture and is not time bound. Learning partnerships and conversations play a role in this. Student agency is fostered through effective learning conversations and accountability throughout all stages of the learning process.
- Developing and teaching for the managing self / character competency enables students to become more agentic. This links to their ability to understand themselves as learners and provides them with a vocabulary with which to discuss this.
- A transition in pedagogy to support agency is moving from choice to student voice in the design of learning. Student agency is not just about student choice from a menu the teacher had created. It is more about students helping to create the menu.
- Purposeful design for learning (planning, implementation, assessment, and evaluation) actively seeks and acts on student voice throughout each key stage.
New Pedagogies for Deep Learning, retrieved from https://www.npdl.global
Learner Agency (15 November 2016) retrieved from https://nzcurriculum.tki.org.nz/Curriculum-resources/NZC-Online-blog/Learner-agency
For further information
If you would like to learn more about this project, please contact the project leader Cade Englefield at firstname.lastname@example.org
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