Evidence of Agency Among Student Writers

   I frequently find myself engaging in wonderful conversations with young writers. It is particularly evident in classrooms where a genuine sense of the writer's agency is apparent. It is the natural consequence of a lot of mindful teaching on the part of those teachers. They display a commitment to building a classroom dynamic that values highly,  student engagement.

  These young writers are always keen to share their writer’s notebooks and the various pieces forming across the pages of their notebooks. They display an openness, and a quiet confidence, regarding the direction their writing is taking. Ownership and responsibility are most evident. 

  In one such Grade 5 classroom a writer informed me her writing concerned  memories of the toys she had when she was younger. She opened her notebook and quickly turned to a page which had a somewhat impressive title emblazoned across the top, - ‘The Headless Barbie.’ She smiled and informed me, 'I can't wait to write about this...'

  I then spoke with a boy writing a persuasive piece about the perils of smoking. The title was direct and unequivocal - ‘Smoking Should Be Banned.’ As an aside, he told me his dad was a smoker and the authentic motivation for his writing focus was immediately apparent.

  A third encounter revealed that the writer was working on a graphic novel concerning a boy who was part robot. No title yet, but this young author informed there was no concern regarding this matter. The title would come as the writing progressed. I liked the fact that the writer exuded confidence. The anticipated development of the story line was approached with a quiet calm. The writer felt assured the title would reveal itself through the words. The writer understood the important thing was that an idea had arisen and was being pursued. The title would appear at part of that process.

  Three different writers, three different projects underway, but in each situation the writer displayed a sense of ownership and direction. This was a differentiated classroom. This was independent writing in the truest sense. No teacher pleasing here. The teacher was not trying to control writing and learning. Instead the intent was on creating the conditions that would allow learning to occur with support and guidance.

 I recalled the words of Mary Ellen Giacobbe, who some years ago wrote,‘In the most predictable classroom environments, the most unexpected things can happen.’  

  As I wandered among the writers, the teacher quietly conducted roving conferences, guiding, suggesting, redirecting and teaching. The consistent nurturing words and actions of the teacher had brought about a genuine sense of agency among the members of this writing community. Trust was at play here and as a direct consequence, the writing flourished.

©Alan j Wright



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