Learner agency through Teacher Agency

Student agency has been a buzzword with educators for the last few years. As I look through definitions of the term I have found some commonalities:

  • giving students voice
  • giving students choice 
  • making learning relevant
  • students having an active role in learning
  • student have ownership

When I look at that last term of ownership, my focus shifts to learning. Therefore, I make a conscious effort to use the terms learner, not student and learning not student work.

Over the past two days I have had the amazing opportunity to learn about learner agency with Taryn BondClegg (@makingoodhumans), and have had many opportunities to reflect on my practice as an educator.  She structured our workshop learn about agency, by giving us agency. She has also ensured that she gives us the opportunity to unpick the why? how? and what? Taryn began by giving us time to connect and then self assess our understanding. We also generated our own success criteria for the session, because as long as we understood the why, the choice of how and what we learnt was ours.  As we were generating our success criteria for the two day, we were asked to share them as we were reminded that:

Learners should have accountability to themselves and their learning community.

After we developed our success criteria, we unpicked the why, how and what of documentation. Again, as long as we were clear on the purpose of documentation, the how and what we documented was our choice.

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Before we chose our learning for the day we were asked to consider the following questions:

What do you need to learn about?

How best do you learn?

How much time do you need?

When do you need to take breaks?

How can you learn from one another?

This process supported us to reflect upon ourselves as learners, so that we could control and direct our own learning using the CAR model – choose, act, and reflect. Taryn has blogged about this process and you can find this post here.

Over the two days, I was reminded what it was like to be a learner. This was not a PD session where the vibe was ‘do as I say, not as I model.’ I felt engaged and energized throughout the learning. There were some issues I grappled with, and the conclusions I came to were my own, not answers given to me. I had to push myself outside of my comfort zone and my new learning was earned. I will say that as energized as I was, it was also intense and was very grateful that we did not have homework at the end of the day!

So, what were my big takeaways from learning about learner agency through agency?

The first idea isn’t new, it was just a great reminder. We can support our learners by building positive relationships with our families within our learning community by keeping them informed!

Agency will look different in each circumstance. We need to do what works for us in our situation. Learner agency builds up over time, so be wary of transplanting what works at another school. By all means, learn from others, share ideas and adapt them to make them workable for you.

The foundation for learner agency is learners developing self awareness of who they are as learners. Therefore, taking time to connect each morning and reflect at the end of each day is vital to supporting learners to move from one place to the next on their continuum of learning.

We can give learners agency through a cycle of risk and reflect. We should continually ask ourselves what we can do to give our learners voice, choice and ownership of their learning.

And finally, it is okay to start small, and so I did.

The next day was International Day at our school. We were exploring the theme of peace  and our team had planned to have learners do the same learning activity. Our plans changed. We began by exploring why we need peace. Then we generated ideas of how we could be peaceful. Finally, we developed a list of ideas to show what we could do to show our understanding of peace.  Some learners chose to play with peaceful intentions, other chose to build collaboratively.

Some chose to paint.

Others chose to write.

And some chose to use the app Draw and Tell to explain their thinking.

Before I finish today, I would like to thank Taryn, our administration and all the experts who took their time to share with us.

Finally, I ask you, what will you do to honor your learners to give them voice, choice and ownership over their learning?

Author: Raana Hibbs

A mother, wife and educator. I am passionate about learning.

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