When I woke this morning, I saw a link that Katherine Sokolowski shared. She’s been reading through Thomas Newkirk’s The Art of Slow Reading (which I really need to read – it sounds like something I could use for myself as much as for my students). Somehow, she found this commentary by Newkirk: Stress, Control, and the Deprofessionalizing of Teaching.

The gist of this essay is this: taking decisions and control (agency) away from teachers either by top-down reform from a macro-level (nation, state) or the micro-level (school district or building – and sometimes even by department) can increase stress or decrease happiness or job satisfaction.

It’s interesting that I saw this on the same day that I saw a link shared on the NCTE Facebook page: a piece entitled We Should Have More Arguments About Teaching Practice by Ariel Sacks. She writes about the differences between schools driven top-down to describe and require best practices (model one) versus schools where teachers are able to act independently to set curriculum and pedagogy (model two).

As I read both over again (I was totally fascinated with the convergence of ideas here…), I couldn’t help but wonder whether something similar happens to students if you take all the choices away from them in the classroom.

I have often wondered about the discrepancy between the levels of interest and motivation to learn in the classroom versus out of the classroom. Students are willing to put in long hours of effort to learn the things outside of school – the things they choose to learn.    Is this agency at work – like in Newkirk’s piece?

But how many choices do students get in school? I know I assigned new seats today, so picking where you sit (other than maybe at lunch) is out. Does this affect students and their attitudes towards learning  more than others?

Given that much of what is dragging both teachers and students down (NCLB, testing, etc.), how do we work to empower ourselves and students despite those current constraints?  Is it as simple as giving the choices we can? Like the agency to decide how learning will be assessed? Or the options for what they’ll do to learn in the first place?

Doesn’t this – if we are worrying about these choices and factors for both teachers and students – doesn’t this look like the teacher has to become guide on the side rather than sage on the stage? That in order to get the maximum benefit, both the students and teachers are working together to create opportunities?

I don’t have answers. I’m just thinking at the moment. Observations and questions.

But I’m curious about your thoughts.


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