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.