Most people are familiar with the ‘old’ way of doing things in schools: the teacher controlled what was learnt, how it was learnt, even where and when it was learnt. But, a key trend that has characterised education in recent times is a move towards learners owning more of the process: to give them ‘the power to act’ in their learning, or what is known as ‘agency’.
Agency can take many forms; from being empowered to make decisions about which activity to move onto next, through to learners being empowered to take positive social action in their communities. Providing choices in learning (whether to work individually or in a group; whether to provide evidence of learning using a piece of writing or a diagram) is an important factor in engagement, which is, in turn, a contributor to student learning and success.
Many schools now build student agency by doing things like fostering a greater sense of ownership and self-efficacy in learning, inviting students to have a voice in that learning, and even to take more control over the way things are learnt. Student-led inquiries are one way to build agency, as learners often control not only the challenge or question that is explored, but also the method of investigation, the tools that are used, the action taken as a result of the inquiry and the means of demonstrating evidence of learning.
An interesting challenge with this way of learning is scaffolding all learners towards success, particularly when all of them have very different levels of experience and expertise when it comes to the inquiry process. We know that without some core knowledge and skills- such as questioning, researching, investigating or analysing information- it’s going to be difficult for them to be at their best as learners. This is about getting that balance right between ‘just in case’ learning and ‘just in time’ learning.
A crucial outcome from these new approaches to student agency is the development of so-called ‘soft skills’ such as self-management, prioritising, time management and teamwork. It’s probably these skills and competencies that will serve our students best in the future because it’s the ‘soft’ skills that are often the hardest skills to develop.
In this video, Claire Amos describes how Hobsonville Point Secondary School is embedding learner agency into their school culture.
- What different components of agency can you identify throughout the video? What is agency comprised of?
- What is the relationship between building ‘base’ knowledge and skills, and providing agency over leading?
- Student-led inquiries are one way to provide agency, but how else do schools and centres offer it?
- How does providing agency prepare students for the future?
- In what ways does the role of the teacher change in a ‘high agency’ environment? In what ways does it stay the same?
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