Learner Agency

What is Learner Agency?

Learner agency is an intricate combination of students having a say in their experience (voice), an active part in the decision-making about their learning experience (choice) and they are personally invested in the process (responsibility). (Adapted from the work of Chris Harte and Summer Howarth in "Renegotiating learning in a hybrid world.")

Learner agency is about having the power, combined with choices, to take meaningful action and see the results of your decisions. It can be thought of as a catalyst for change or transformation. Within a school context, Learner Agency is about shifting the ownership of learning from teachers to students, enabling students to have the understanding, ability, and opportunity to be part of the learning design and to take action to intervene in the learning process, to affect outcomes and become powerful lifelong learners.

Source: ibo.org / Core Eduction

Learner Agency Infographic

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Source: Chris Gadbury 

What is Learner Agency?

Run Time: 2:02 - Nov 9, 2015

What Is Learner Agency?

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Source: Assessment Learning Network 

Students Demonstrate Agency When They:

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Source: OECD Education
In this article you will learn that:
  • The concept of student agency refers to students' capacity to set goals, reflect, and take responsible action to effect positive change in their own lives and the world. It involves acting rather than being acted upon and making choices rather than accepting those of others.
  • Student agency leads to greater motivation, learning of how to learn, and defining own learning objectives. It develops through interactions over time with family, peers, and teachers.
  • Agency can be exercised in moral, social, economic, and creative contexts. Students need certain skills to apply it responsibly.
  • Interpretations of student agency vary across cultures. In some Eastern cultures it relates more to group harmony, while in Western cultures it focuses on individual goals. But the active role of students in education is relevant everywhere.
  • "Co-agency" refers to supportive relationships with parents, teachers, peers, communities that progress students toward shared goals. All can be considered learners.
  • Teachers enable agency by recognizing learner individuality and wider relationships. Learning environments should involve instruction, evaluation and co-construction between teachers and students.
  • "Collective agency" means individuals acting together towards common aims at a societal level. This helps address complex challenges and builds unified societies.
  • The "Sun Model of Co-Agency" shows degrees of student participation, with the strongest co-agency best for all. Weak co-agency limits student potential.

Learner Agency Defined

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Learner Agency in PYP

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Source: Sheeza Ali Facebook

The Cycle of Agency

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Source: Twitter - Cindy Blackburn

Review or buy it here

From Agency to Zest presents a captivating exploration of concepts integral to inquiry-based learning, skillfully penned by the esteemed educator and inquiry authority, Kath Murdoch. 

The book takes an alphabetical approach, dissecting and contemplating 26 pivotal words (alongside numerous related terms) that encapsulate the core of inquiry. 

Serving as an invitation to introspection, From Agency to Zest encourages educators to engage in meaningful professional dialogues, fostering a deeper grasp of inquiry as a teaching and learning methodology. 

Amidst elucidating these concepts, Kath generously imparts practical insights on leveraging the book to enhance and enrich professional learning endeavours within and beyond educational institutions. 

This thoughtfully crafted work serves as a valuable resource for educators seeking to navigate the intricacies of inquiry-based education.

Review or buy it here

Foster a profound connection with young learners by instilling a sense of autonomy and inclusion. Kath Murdoch wholeheartedly endorses 'A Culture of Agency'  by Lisa Burman for its accessibility, practicality, and thorough exploration. The book equips teachers, especially those in early education, with a wealth of ideas to reconceptualize even the most basic elements of teaching, nurturing learner agency. 

In a time where external forces threaten to strip children of their right to actively participate in their learning journey, books like this serve as indispensable guides, ensuring educators stay informed and inspired, holding onto the belief in children as capable, competent, and naturally curious beings.

What sets certain early childhood classrooms apart, creating that distinctive atmosphere of vibrant learning?  Lisa Burman, drawing on the research traditions of the pedagogistas of Reggio Emilia, delves into this question. Through her observations of classrooms catering to three to eight-year-olds, she identifies common threads: engagement, agency, identity, and belonging. These threads intertwine to weave a culture of agency where learners are not passive recipients but active drivers of their own learning experiences, driven by curiosity and care.

Lias Burman challenges the common misconception of agency as merely providing choices to children. Instead, she emphasizes a deeper meaning where personal agency intertwines with community agency, recognizing our strength in unity. This connection lies at the core of democratic education, valuing children's rights and fostering participation, shared power, respect for diversity, and self-efficacy.

Lisa's framework for cultivating a culture of agency comprises five pillars: Relationships, Rituals for belonging and identity, Language of agency, Environment, and Learning Contexts. By employing this framework, coupled with the book's guiding questions and goal-setting tools, educators can intentionally shape their classroom culture to bolster children's agency and enhance the learning experience.

Review or buy it here

"I'm the Kind of Kid Who . . .: Invitations That Support Learner Identity and Agency" is a professional development book for educators written by Debbie Miller and Emily Callahan. The book provides guidance and strategies for helping students develop their identities and agency as learners.

As a professional development resource, "I'm the Kind of Kid Who . . .: Invitations That Support Learner Identity and Agency" could be used in an inquiry-based instructional setting to support the professional growth of educators and help them develop strategies for promoting student agency and identity in their classrooms. 

Here are a few ways that the book could be used in an inquiry-based lesson:

As a starting point for a discussion about student identity and agency: After reading the book, you could ask educators to reflect on their own practices and consider how they can create an environment that supports student identity and agency.

As a source of ideas and strategies: Educators could use the book as a resource for finding new ideas and strategies for promoting student identity and agency in their classrooms.

As a basis for an inquiry-based project: Educators could use the book as a starting point for an inquiry-based project focused on student identity and agency. This could involve researching best practices and developing a plan for implementing these strategies in their classrooms.

Debbie Miller and Emily Callahan believe that it all begins with choice. In "I'm the Kind of Kid Who . . .: Invitations That Support Learner Identity and Agency" they provide a framework for introducing choice making in small, medium, and large ways through "invitations" that ask children to consider:

Debbie and Emily use a predictable structure to describe each invitation from beginning to end, offering practical suggestions for how to fit invitations within the day and across the year.

"There are no magical programs to call upon to develop learner identity and agency" write Debbie and Emily, "because the truth is, children and their teachers don't need them! What kids really need are invitations from their teachers to discover themselves for themselves, invitations that encourage them to find out even more about who they are, how they learn and what they need to thrive."

Overall, "I'm the Kind of Kid Who . . .: Invitations That Support Learner Identity and Agency" is a valuable resource for educators looking to support the development of student identity and agency in their classrooms.

School Should Be Like A Video Game, Not A Movie

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My daughter came home in January one day after school, very excited. She is in 7th grade and it was the first time in her schooling experience that she had some choice in her courses for the following year.

“We get to pick our classes for next year”, she said to my wife and me. “I don’t know what to choose. Should I do…”, and she rattled off all her various choices.

As she started to go down the path of making these choices, she eventually became bogged down in “what she was supposed to do”. Was she supposed to take an advanced science class instead of another special? Was she supposed to leave room for advisory/study hall or jam pack her schedule?

We said it was up to her what she wanted to do, but she was looking for input during our conversation on what she was supposed to do.

School As A Movie

This was not the first time I had this conversation. I had it countless times before as a middle school and high school teacher. Students asked what they were supposed to do, instead of making the choice that they really wanted. Whether it was a middle school student asking about classes that would help as they went to high school, or a high school student asking about decisions that would impact their future resumes or college applications. 

Many students believed that school was like a movie and they were just playing a role. In a movie there is a set beginning, middle and ending. We know how most movies go, we understand that there will be a character that struggles, finds what they want, loses what they want, and ultimately either gets it back (or never does). 

They believe that school follows the same plot. And to succeed at school the easiest way is to look at how others are playing out these roles and follow what you are supposed to do.

The problem, as most of us can attest to, is that is not how life works. If there was a set path that led to success for everyone, we wouldn’t be where we are right now. There are multiple paths, multiple choices, many opportunities, many challenges, and ultimately an individual path for a variety of outcomes.

School As A Video Game

Imagine if students believed school was more like a video game than a movie.

In a movie, there is a set beginning, middle, and ending, but in a video game you get to chose where to go, what to do, and how the story unfolds.

Movies are often watched alone and in silence. Video games are much better when you play with someone else, talking and enjoying the journey.

In a video game when you are struggling it’s not over, you restart and get another chance.

In a video game, you are going to make mistakes, have ups and downs, and learn every time you play together. In fact, it’s the act of continued playing of the game that makes you improve and get better.

Students with more options for what to learn in their classes, more options for how to demonstrate their learning, and more options for showcasing their work with a real audience

How would kids respond if schools were more like a video game and less like a movie?

How can we make this shift?

4 Ways to Build Agency

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Source: Twitter - Cindy Blackburn

Agency is Like...

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Source: Twitter - Cindy Blackburn

Cultivating Learner Agency

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Source Website: Edutopia
This article from Edutopia points out that elementary students may stay more engaged in school if they feel that their voice matters in their learning experiences. The article explains how learner agency includes identity, belonging, mastery, and efficacy.

Encouraging Student Questions

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This resource, created by Toddle, will introduce you to ways of establishing a culture of questioning and give you 5 take-home strategies on how to elicit strong, deep student questions that drive effective learning. It is designed as a presentation, you can use it for workshops with teachers, peers, and parents!

Articles That Support Learner Agency

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Agency Requires Building Character

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Source: Sylivia Duckworth

Agency Requires Being Creative

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Source: Sylivia Duckworth

What Agentic Learners Do Poster

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Source: What Ed Said Blog

Engagement & Choice Through Choice Boards - Blog

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In this blog by A. Juliani you'll learn how to make your first Choice Board with a step-by-step explanation plus some examples.

Learner Agency in an Innovative Learning Environment

Run Time: 2:32 - Nov 22, 2015
An example of student agency in a Hallswell school in Australia. Take a look at "Open Planned Classrooms."

Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone

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Source: Sylivia Duckworth

Empowering Collaborative Learners

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Source: Inovative Global Education

Empowering Student Agency Through PBL

[Gever Tulley]

Run Time: 1:42:11- Nov 18, 2021
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Drew Perkins talks with Gever Tulley, founder of Tinkering School and SF Brightworks, about their use of PBL to develop student agency and deeper learning that works.

Links & Resources Mentioned In This Episode:

Source: The TeachThought Podcast

Creating A PYP Student Leadership Profile

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Source Website: Seisen International School
This document was created by Grade 5 students at Seisen International School, Japan, during a leadership week. You can view the entire process here.

Are We Preparing Students To Be Chefs or Cooks

Run Time: 11:54 - Oct 24, 2018
Source website: A.J. Juliani
Is the goal of education to have learners that are compliant, follow the rules, and can do what they are told? Or is it something more? Are we looking to help students prepare themselves for anything? Encouraging agency... voice, choice and responsibility?In this video, A.J. Juliani takes a look at the difference between "chef-like behaviors" vs "cook-like behaviors" and ask the big question: What is the purpose of schooling? Definitely worth a watch.

Impactful Learner Agency

Run Time: 4:06 - Jan 21, 2015
Chicago based digital learning coordinator Jennie Magiera talks about meaningful change - not change for the sake of change but transformation that is focused on improving learning and experiences for students. Jennie emphasizes the need to reinstate curiosity, scaffold the release of responsibility to our students, show them how to follow their passion and the importance of resilience.

Promoting Learner Agency

Run Time: 37:38 - Jan 28, 2016
At the Teachers Matter Conference 2016, Karen started with the big picture of education and the changes coming. She then explores the underlying philosophies of the Modern Learning Environment and practical ways to develop student agency.

Connect Learner Agency to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

Our goal as agentic individuals should be to learn about the Goals, to teach them to others and to take action wherever you live. Click on the link below to learn more. Navigate to: Sustainable Goals (SDG)

A Future of the World's Children

Run Time: 15:56 - Apr 21, 2021
This is a must-see video that documents the reality that today’s children face an uncertain future. The climate emergency, conflict and migration, pervasive inequalities, and predatory commercial practices threaten the health and future of children everywhere. It is a CALL TO ACTION for promoting greater student agency and it connects to the UN Sustainable Development Goals
This film presents the key findings of the seminal WHO-UNICEF-Lancet report “A Future for the World’s Children?” to help governments, communities and industry make real change for the world’s children. Only by working together, with children at the center of our political, economic and social action, can we give them agency to make a world that’s worthy of and for them. 
Other Links

5th Grade Dance Party...

A Pathway to Curiosity and Engagement

An example of student agency during morning soft entry at Waukee School. Students are given agency to make choices of where to go and what to do each morning.

The students created their own school song. Take a look HERE.

Run Time: 2:10 - Dec 15, 2016

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