Written by: Joseph A. Pearson, Professional Development Officer
As educators, we know that maintaining student engagement and tapping into students’ interests in the classroom are crucial for academic success. However, it's not always easy to keep students interested and invested in their learning, especially when we rely on traditional teacher-centered instruction. It is challenging to determine students’ interests and design personalized learning experiences for deep engagement in the diversity of students in our classrooms.
What if we shift our approach to foster a classroom culture characterized by student ownership of learning and investment in their own success? This is where student agency comes in.
Defining student agency
Student agency is the learner's ability to make actionable choices throughout the learning process. It includes students' actions and interactions based on students’ own volition, with an internalized perception that they have the power to achieve their desired outcomes. In other words, students have power and choice in learning. When students have agency in the classroom, they become leaders and co-creators of knowledge. They collaborate with their peers and educators to create a culture of learning that is generative and co-constructed. Students take ownership of their learning.
Research has shown that promoting student agency in the classroom has a positive correlation with student learning outcomes. But what are the core activity-design and instructional elements that promote student agency?
First, it's important to understand that student agency is an ongoing developmental process that ebbs and flows throughout students' education. Margaret Vaughn (2020) describes student agency in three dimensions: dispositional, motivational, and positional.
Dispositional agency requires that students have a sense of purpose and intention in their actions.
Motivational agency requires a willingness to act based on their motivations and persevere in the face of obstacles.
And positional agency involves the co-creation of identities and ongoing negotiations that students must make as members of learning communities.
Combined, these dimensions demonstrate that student agency is an active and ongoing developmental process. Student agency is not a one-size-fits-all approach, but rather a dynamic and continually constructed aspect of learning.
Promoting student agency
To promote student agency, we can incorporate agentic pedagogical strategies that empower students with choice in various stages of the learning process. For example, we can offer opportunities for student-led learning experiences and provide choices in how students learn.
Empowering students with choice and agency in their academic journey disrupts traditional systems of power and teacher-centered instruction. Choice, and the power to implement that choice in the classroom, gives students the freedom to create their own understanding, develop critical-thinking and creative problem-solving skills, and co-create the culture of learning alongside peers and educators.
So, how can we bring student agency into the classroom? Here are 12 practical examples that come directly from relevant research on student agency:
Provide students with choice in what they learn and read.
Allow students to select a comfortable location to learn and read in the classroom.
Encourage students to set a personally appropriate pace for their work and reading.
Foster non-threatening learning environments for students.
Guide students in designing processes and structures for scientific understanding and experimentation.
Encourage students to share and justify their thinking publicly.
Encourage students to form their own opinions, pursue their thoughts and ideas, and show support for their peers' thinking.
Formulate discussion questions that invite student opinion, perspective, and voice.
Identify opportunities within teaching and learning wherein students share in decision-making responsibility.
Encourage reflective and critical thinking in digital activities.
Foster self-reliance through trial-and-error problem solving with digital technologies.
Encourage students to express themselves creatively with digital tools.
With these strategies, we can create classroom environments that enable student agency, engagement, and academic success. Promoting student agency in the classroom is a crucial aspect of equipping students with the 21st Century Skills they need for success in college and their career, as well. How will you empower your students to become leaders in the classroom and beyond?
Joseph A. Pearson, M.S.Ed.
Professional Development Officer
Moreland University offers programs to help educators advance their careers with collaborative, asynchronous online programs that provide flexible, affordable, and accelerated pathways to certification and master’s degrees. Moreland University has served over 6,300 graduates from 165+ countries since it was founded in 2012 and is accredited by DEAC, CAEP, NC SARA, and HELC. We know you want to change the world. We’ll help change yours. Learn more at www.moreland.edu.