How Can Teachers Nurture Meaningful Student Agency?

The term “student agency” continues to be at the forefront of the educational discourse around the world. By encouraging children to have more control over their learning, educators hope students will leave our classrooms and schools with a range of skills that will support them in being lifelong learners, engaged humanitarians and empathetic people.

As of late, this has become increasingly apparent as teachers and students have pivoted to more distance learning experiences. Supporting students in this different educational landscape has proven challenging for many.

What do we mean when we talk about student agency?

Genuine decision making

Student agency is about having students take on some of the heavy lifting of learning. When students can have a genuine role in the decision-making process, this will create a classroom culture that values learning as an action.

Knowing my strengths and stretches as a learner.

I often ask myself if my students know where they are at in their learning, where they need to go next, and if they can identify the steps they need to take to get there. Teachers can often answer these questions about each of our students, but can our students answer these questions for themselves?

Exploring my wonderings, curiosities and passions in school.

All students enter their schooling as curious and inquisitive beings. They are full of questions and wonder as they explore and discover the world around them. However, somewhere in their schooling, many become complacent, disengaged and uninterested in their learning and in school. What does our teaching do to support and honour the innate curiosity of all students? How do we lean into student wonderings to make rich connections to our curriculum?

Having my questions shape my learning.

Questions are an invitation to learning. They call for us to be engaged, to be inquisitive and to research and problem-solve. In order to utilize this opportunity to create student agency, I often pose big, unGoogleable questions to frame our units of study in class that draw students in and will act as our overarching big idea for our learning.

Having a genuine voice in assessment of my learning.

Students need to feel psychologically safe if we are to ask them to take on a more active and meaningful role in their learning, which is why as we nurture student agency in our classrooms, it’s important that we also nurture relationships, trust and risk taking.

Showing and exploring my learning in different ways.

Whatever the big idea or content we are learning about, I often begin the school year with a new group of students by providing a choice board through which kids can explore content. A choice board is a digital slide that I have embedded resources into that allows students some options to select information in a means that they feel best supports their learning.

Deciding how I want to share my learning.

I often ask my students, “If you could show me your learning in any way, how would you show me what you know?” My hope is to honour the diverse learners in the room whilst simultaneously leaning into student’s strengths when it comes to agency.

Growing into the person I want to be.

Student agency is not about pushing all kids down the same pathway or having all kids choose the same goal. Student agency is about empowering students to know themselves better, determine who they want to be and identifying steps we can take together to have this goal become a reality.

Excerpted from “How Can Teachers Nurture Meaningful Student Agency?” by Trevor MacKenzie, an award-winning English teacher at Oak Bay High School in Victoria, BC, Canada.  Read the full article in MindShift for an in-depth exploration of these values.  

Source: MindShift | How Can Teachers Nurture Meaningful Student Agency?, | Copyright © 2020 KQED INC

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