5 Shifts for Fostering Student Agency

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The other day I came across this quote by basketball player Steph Curry, “You can expect me to keep getting better.” I was drawn to it immediately and began to think of the drive and mindset that he has that continues to push and motivate him to do better. After all, isn’t that what we want for all of our students; to cultivate this type of self-agency?

Student agency is the inner capacity a student has to never stop learning and growing. This is something that comes from within an individual, and is not something that can be given or forced. However, it is something that can developed. How do we do this exactly? I am still learning but I do know that we must allow students to take the control. Through our instructional design, we want our students feel that sense of empowerment that will develop this type of agency.

Give Students The Freedom to Think
Students are hesitant to truly think for themselves because traditionally in school they have been told exactly what to do. The work that they have done was often not to please themselves, but rather to meet the needs of what the teacher wanted from them. If we want learners who are self-motivated to think, question, design, and create, then we need to give them the control to do so.

Promote Their Passions
Urge your students to discover what motivates them; what they are passionate about. We know that students are more likely to learn if it is something they are motivated by or emotionally connected to. Have students engage in learning that they are passionate about. Genius Hour is one way to give your students the opportunity to explore their passions and motivate them to take control. You can also boost passion in your classroom by giving students the opportunity to CREATE; in any way that ignites their spark and drive to learn. Some examples can be through design challenges, Makerspaces, or technology. Don’t be afraid to share your own passion! Passions and excitement for learning are contagious and can be inspiring for your students.

Create a Collaborative Culture
Developing a culture that values and thrives on collaboration is one where each individual learner feels important. When a student feels like they are a part of something; whether it be a physical group of people, or a community of global learners, they feel a sense of worth, that their contributions matter. It is important to not only nourish face-to-face collaboration but teach students to also be a connected learner that leverages technology to eliminate physical boundaries in order to engage in global collaborations.

Provide feedback on the HOW
Feedback is an essential part of supporting students in their learning. Feedback on the end product is valuable. However, providing feedback on the HOW (as well as the WHAT) is what will support the learner, and not just the end result. Meaningful feedback on essential components of self-directed learning like the students’ work habits, thinking, structure and time management skills will help improve agency in their learning process.

Encourage Reflection and Let Them Fail
The only way you get better is through reflection. Reflecting on where you came from, where you want to be, and all of the steps along the way. We want to be encouraging students to be transparent and to constantly be reflecting on themselves as learners. This will allow them to be metacognitive in the actions that they are taking to accomplish their goals. Blogging is a great way for students to document and reflect on their learning that can be shared with the world. Secondly, (and this is crucial), LET THEM FAIL! This is what real learners do! We fail! Learning is messy. We try things; things that sometimes don’t work! Students need to fall down in order to find a way to get themselves back up. We want our students to be resilient and to embrace those failures and refine their actions to try something else. Failure is a part of learning.

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