What role does technology play in building student agency and engagement?
Technology is a great tool in the classroom - but it is just that: a tool. The students and their teacher are the most important part of building student agency and engagement. So before powering on a device, they must ask themselves: What am I passionate or curious about? What ideas and perspectives do I have to share about those topics? Once they start finding the answers to those questions - or the questions that stem from those questions - they can begin to break out those tools. At this point, students can use technology to research their curiosities, learn more about their passions or connect with experts or others who know more about or share their passion for these topics. They can also use the wide array of multimedia tools available to create digital media to communicate their learning and ideas. So technology isn't the catalyst for student agency and engagement, but it can certainly facilitate both.
Do you have any advice or teachers and district leaders who are eager to make learning student-centered but aren't sure where to start?
Yes! Begin by talking to students. Learn more about them, their ideas and their curiosities. As I wrote above, this will help you to build that agency and engagement. Ask your students to dream about the "what if's" in their classroom - "what if we could build our own schedule?" or "what if we could use music in math?" Collect these what if statements while also being more transparent with the "must do's". What are the "must do's" in your classroom? i.e., "We must cover these math topics by December." or "We must start school at 8:30am." These are the non-negotiables that you don't have the ability to change. Then invite your students to help you dream up ways to make the classroom more learner-centered. If your students are part of this design process, they will inevitably have more buy-in and be invested in its success.
"If risk-taking isn't publicly celebrated and valued in powerful ways, it will always be pushed aside for whatever seems to be the district priority."
How can school districts better support teachers in taking risks in the classroom that transform learning?
Create a culture that embraces risk-taking and failing forward by celebrating risks being taken and reflect this celebration in the way you measure success. If your district cannot escape standardized testing, then find an additional way to celebrate growth - one that celebrates student and teacher risk-taking. In staff and district meetings, take the time required to review test scores and mandated growth reports - but then take equal time to celebrate those who tried something innovative for the sake of their students. Reflect on how it went as a team and share ideas for iterating on this idea in the future. If risk-taking isn't publicly celebrated and valued in powerful ways, it will always be pushed aside for whatever seems to be the district priority.
The best classroom technology sets students up for success in school and in life.
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