Having agency means having the power to produce a particular result. Similarly, being an agent means you’re an active driver towards that result. In a classroom environment, teachers and students together drive towards learning. It’s easy for students to take a passive role and simply receive instruction; but once students recognize their learning is a collaboration in which they have a part, they become the agents in the classroom, and ultimately agents of their own learning.
This also represents a shift from a fixed mindset - where students are trained to wait for the teacher to provide them feedback on their individual learning - to a growth mindset, where students seize opportunities to reflect on their learning process and continue to persevere towards the learning target.
As a middle school math teacher in Massachusetts, I train my students to use ASSISTments to guide their own learning, which creates a shift from fixed to growth mindset learners. The actionable data and immediate feedback that the platform provides is the key to developing student agency. It gives students a clear role and empowers them with the tools to reflect on their progress, adjust course, and take real action.
Here are three strategies that you can try in your classroom to create agents of learning.
1) Get students invested by starting a discussion on why data is important
By involving students in a discussion about the importance of data, and how it can inform the teaching and the learning, they get invested. They learn how it’s relevant, how to interpret it, and how to use it. Without feedback and data, students can easily focus on just completing the assignment. That’s a conversation-ender and assignments fall flat. Data makes assignments more meaningful, because it provides students with an opportunity to reflect on their work and try again, moving their focus away from right or wrong, complete or incomplete and advancing learning.
This is an important step while teaching students about the ASSISTments Assignment Report, which is the report teachers receive with every assignment detailing class and student performance. For example, when a teacher sees a common wrong answer, the teacher may assume that everyone has the same alternative student conception (misconception). Rather than assume and teach to the mistake, the teacher can ask the students to explain their thinking. This gives a deeper understanding of what the student does understand rather than what they don’t understand. Students reveal their alternative conceptions through discussion which in turn informs the teaching. This promotes a collaborative learning culture creating a learning partnership between the teacher and students.
2) Teach students about the tools in ASSISTments that support their learning process.
After you get students invested in the importance of data and the power it can give them, they have to know all the tools at their disposal for finding it and using it. That’s why the next step to empowering students to become agents of their own learning is to teach them about the tools in ASSISTments that support their learning process.
First, there’s hints. When a student gets an incorrect answer, they sometimes have the option to use the “hint” button, which can be just the instructional boost students need during independent practice to adjust course and work towards the correct solution.
If students do, they always have multiple attempts in ASSISTments. Providing students with an opportunity to reflect on their work and try again allows students to move their focus away from being wrong. Students understand that the error is feedback on their learning.
A final important (and often overlooked) tool in ASSISTments is the show answer button. Encourage your students to use this. It’s more than a way to proceed to the next problem; it’s an opportunity to reflect and work backwards from the correct answer, which can provide enough insight to identify their error.
When you teach your students that these ASSISTments features are all tools for advancing their learning, even and especially when working independently, their mindsets shift from fixed (“I’ll wait until tomorrow when my teacher reviews the assignment”) to focused on growth (“I can use this data to figure it out myself.”).
3) Focus on learning targets and effective student habits
Students can get distracted easily by the day-to-day, or the right and wrong of individual problems. As teachers, it’s important to constantly remind students to zoom out to the bigger picture, which is the learning target that they’re working towards. This can put data and performance into perspective. For example, at the start of a new concept, we don’t expect the class score on assignments to be high because the class is learning something new. As the lessons progress, the class score should also increase.
You can help individual students gauge their own learning in comparison to the class. It’s true, every student learns at a different rate, which is why this tip is about gauging learning instead of measuring success. In the end we want all students to reach the learning target, so by gauging their learning by using class data, students can adjust their behaviors.
This is where effective student habits come into play. Teach your students to be proactive, ask good questions, seek extra help, leave no stone of learning unturned as they move through the learning progression. The teacher can model the voice of a student thinking, “I still don’t understand why we all got the same wrong answer. I understand the math problem, but my solution is still wrong.” The student should recognize they need more teaching from a peer tutor, study notes, video, or the teacher. You can emphasize that dialogue and initiation is an important part of your students’ role in the learning collaboration.
Implementing these three strategies creates a collaborative learning environment between the teacher and the students. Once students recognize that their learning is actually collaboration in which they play a crucial part, they become agents of their own learning.
Using ASSISTments as a tool to help your students shift from a fixed to a growth mindset learner is even more powerful during remote learning. Students do not have the luxury of our face-to-face feedback. Teach your students how to use their data - ASSISTments calls this actionable data - and they will be successful students, even with the challenge of remote learning.