Monday, February 22, 2010

A Sense of Agency


This past weekend, the NJEEPRE Roundtable was held at the Kean University Child Care & Development Center in Union, New Jersey. It was such an inviting, relaxing and beautiful space, a really fantastic place to have a roundtable. We read and discussed the chapter on The Emergent Curriculum from the book We Are All Explorers: Learning and Teaching with Reggio Principles in Urban Settings.

It was a rich and interesting chapter, definitely worth reading. One of the main ideas was that the goal of Reggio-inspired educators is to give children a sense of agency - and, ideally, parents and educators should posses a sense of agency as well. Sense of agency was defined as:

Experiencing oneself as an active, self-directed agent who can, individually and in collaboration with others, formulate personally meaningful learning goals, figure out strategies to achieve them, engage the world to pursue them, construct understandings, and communicate the newly developed understandings to others. A sense of agency combines a sense of efficacy and personhood. It means: I stand in relation to others with my own motives and ideas and I have the competence to pursue them.

Unfortunately in our world, and particularly in many educational settings, no one is permitted to develop a sense of agency. Legislators decide on learning goals which may or may not be meaningful to anyone, administrators are put in a position where their accreditation and funding is dependent on meeting these learning goals, teachers are under pressure to ensure that these goals are met in their classrooms through a prescribed curriculum, students are the recipients of the information that people have determined to be important for them to have, and parents have little if any role in any of this.

By contrast, in a child-led learning environment, children have some control over their learning. They often decide what to study and how to study it in partnership with their teachers, who are supported by administrators who believe in this approach to education. Parents who seek out such learning environments for their children, also support the value of empowering children in the classroom (and in life) and are often given the opportunity to participate and shape the "curriculum". Teachers/administrators, parents, and students form a triangle of learning where each influences the others and all work together to achieve the best possible outcome. The relationship is part of the education.

In our world where information changes before the ink is dry in a new textbook, we need to focus more on teaching children how to learn than telling them what to learn. In a time where communication and collaboration are becoming more and more vital, we need to give our children the tools they need to form meaningful communities and relationships. Child-led learning achieves these goals, and more.

~KCD

Photo courtesy of D Sharon Pruitt under a Creative Commons License

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