The new language around learning

An interesting shift in current education talk revolves around agency.

The shift is captivating when we pay attention to the changes that are happening to the language that we use to talk about learning.

Taryn Bondclegg over at Making Good Humans writes about her reflection on a similar line of inquiry. Taryn shares the provocation,

What words are we using that create realities of student agency in our classrooms and schools?”

In thinking about this provocation, the relationship between language and reality is significant. I think of the quote from philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein.

The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.

Ludwig Wittgenstein

Metaphysics aside, the idea that language shapes reality in our schools is suggested by the revision of our social and institutional manifestos.

For IB schools, the revision of the IB Standards and practices represent a new reality and new language upon which our schools turn for guidance as we enact the IB philosophy in our communities.

New words and new statements

We have new words in our educational language, like agency. The word and concept agency has become prominent in our shared documents in IB schools.

We have new statements with a shift in perspective. The revised IB Standards and practices for world schools (October 2018) shifts focus onto manifested agency in students. For examples, the section of the document on “Students as lifelong learners” are all statements that begin with the word Students.

This is quite a shift in education in general and in our conversations in particular.

An assumption we can glean from this changing language is that we must necessarily recruit our students into this business of creating our school environments.

Imagine that.

There are other conversations around agency

I suggest that we widen our hearing a little and notice other language that’s peppering the conversations we have about education.

  • Personalized learning
  • Makerspaces
  • Student Choice
  • Student Voice
  • Student-driven
  • Self-directed learning

The language we use in our conversations about our profession include words, which point ever-clearer arrows toward this thing called agency, including the wider conversations in educational systems which are not part of the IB continuum schools.

If the results of what we do in our schools are going to be realities like,

Students take ownership of their learning by setting challenging goals and pursuing personal inquiries (0402-06, IB Standards and practices, October 2018)

IB Standards and practices (October 2018)

then we might want to figure this agency thing out so we can build schools that allow for it to happen.

Like all shifts in thinking (a bridge between language and reality), agency as a part of enactment in our schools can plunge us into the implementation dip.

An example might be, a classroom teacher who has relied on using a math program to teach mathematics. (I know that we want to think IB schools do not use textbook or store-bought, developed outside-context programs, and I gently remind the reader that yes, there are schools who still do. Change takes time and needs our support, and we need to keep that in mind as we transform practice.)

How does the description of agentic learning “Students take ownership of their learning by setting challenging goals and pursuing personal inquiries” bear implementation in that classroom where textbook driven instruction has previously been a matter of course?

If students have to follow the textbook to ‘learn’ math, doesn’t that disallow ‘ownership’ of ‘goals’ and ‘personal inquiries’? And how does the teacher set up her classroom if students are going to set their own goals and have personal lines of inquiry?

We can go on and on with questions like this. And, many teachers and schools are beginning to ponder questions like this. Just listen to the conversations we are having about education and learning.

What I suggest is that not all teachers in our schools are readily jumping into restructuring their entire approaches to teaching because of this new language we have got around agency.

The good news is, we have an extensive network of educators who are all on the same journey to traverse the new language into a co-created reality in their schools.

And, barring too great a grief about letting go of the old and embracing the new, we have within our schools leaders who are looking for ways to facilitate the crossing of this ecotone toward the shore we desire to plant our nimble feet.

What I suggest is that this is a good conversation to be in at this time. And, persisting with our conversations around the new language of learning may give us a good cognitive space to share.


Featured Photo by Todd Diemer on Unsplash

This week’s MYPChat on Twitter, hosted by Laura England focuses on the concept of agency in MYP. Please join us.

Author: alavina

Cognitive CoachSM and professional development leader at large. Writer and editor at http://myptoolbox.com.

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