How giving learners MORE agency can SAVE YOU TIME as a teacher.

Kate Friedwald  |  Nov 2020

Following on from my post looking at what learner agency is,  I wanted to visit the idea of teacher workload, in relation to providing learners with more agency.  

I often hear things from experienced teachers like “It looks like so much work” or “I really don’t have the time”. The reality is, that yes it does take work to get set up, however, in the long run, the more agency you provide in the classroom the more time you save yourself.  

All planning takes time, doesn’t it? so really, the initial part is unavoidable.  How much time the setup takes will depend on how future proof you want to be.  What I mean here is let’s say you want to put together a comprehensive google site (or another setup) to record and store all the bits and pieces needed for a large number of learning tasks that you can then just direct learners too.  This would take some work.  However, you will have it forever to save yourself so much time in the future.

Think about a traditional teacher-led learning programme for a minute.  Each week you need to put together the tumble/rotation charts for reading, maths, and potentially writing.  You either need to move the velcro tasks each day or set up a digital version for each different order combination.  Then what happens when a disruption to your plan occurs? You need to reconfigure these and adjust your planning for the following days.  You will need to source activities for each group for each task and ensure required resources are available.  You will need to collect and mark any learning prior to the next day only to realise your comments were not read anyway.

In a student-led setup like that included in this Give it a Go Freebie the contrast is this:  You utilise rich learning tasks that can be reused over and over.  Learners love repeating the same engaging task several weeks later so they can improve and try something new with it.  The more agency you give, the less you will need to create instructions and templates as learners will be developing the skills to create and make these decisions themselves.  How long do you think it would take to come up with 4 rich learning tasks like I did?  Even shorter if you use ones that are already created by others.  This provides for around 4hours of learning but could easily be more as learners start to get more in-depth with their learning.  Marking? Nope, these tasks are all open-ended and creative.  The learning comes from doing the task and is not something that will necessarily be evident in the end product.  So instead of marking I encourage sharing along the way.  Sharing by learners to learners of what they did? how? and why?  What skills and knowledge they used?  This sharing time is part of learning time, not after school by yourself, like traditional marking.

As you progress to providing more and more opportunities for learners agency you will find your learners start to come up with their own task ideas even.  They are learning to take on more equal responsibility for their learning than in a teacher-led programme.  This is all more time for you, the teacher.  More time to focus on actual teaching, more time to discuss, share and celebrate learning, and god forbid, more time for your own personal life.

Let’s discuss teacher-led group sessions or workshops.  So if these are part of a tumble you have committed to seeing X number of groups for X amount of time.  But what if not everyone in the group needs to be seen? or if some learners need longer with you?  You then need to go back to your planning and find additional time. When will you do this? After school?  With an agency-based approach, you may still run similar group sessions, to begin with, but as there is no tumble some learners may stay with you for 5 minutes and then return to their independent tasks and some may stay for 30min while you also call upon others.  As learners understand more and more about their own learning needs they will develop the skills to be able to opt into workshops or even run workshops themselves.  This happened to me once.  It wasn’t planned or anything, I just had a learner who grasped a concept that others were struggling with.  A quick “hey team Grace is running a workshop over here on XX” was all the time it took.  I was then free to support other learners and return just to check in and support Grace if needed.

The bottom line here is this.  The more responsibility, choice and ownership that learners have the more time you will save.  Through planning, organisation, teaching time and marking, you will find the learning programme not only runs smoother with less teacher time required it is also more enjoyable for and engaging for both teachers and learners.  Win-Win.

How you go about this is the next question.  My online digital course, Ditch the Tumble will support you with everything you need to get started with agency in your classroom.

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