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Learner Agency

Started by Heather Harper 07 Apr 2017 3:34pm () Replies (11)

What does learner agency look like? How do you know your students are taking more ownership of the choices they make in their learning?


  • Karla Lister (View all users posts) 11 Apr 2017 8:42am ()

    Hi Heather,


    For me student agency looks like a number of things.  How engaged learners are with their learning, how well they know what they are supposed to be learning, how well they know the path that they are going to take to reach their learning goals, how well they are displaying the key competencies - just to name a few.


    Schools in Upper Hutt work together, really well, on learner agency.  Currently working from the definition (an evolving definition) :

    "Learner agency is the power to act. Learners make positive and informed choices to experience success" (Learners are confident, engaged, motivated, know how they learn and where they are heading, make choices, are supported)


    So for me - that is what student agency looks like, at the moment. 


    As for your second question: How do you know your students are taking more ownership of the choices they make in their own learning?  This question is a bit harder - there is no fixed measure like there is for, say, literacy.  For my students it was about both engagement and knowledge.  Are they more engaged with their learning? It's hard to measure but my 'gut' says yes.  Are they more knowledgeable about what they are learning and how they are learning it - yes.  But how do I measure those  - no real way that I can think of at the moment!

  • Heather Harper (View all users posts) 12 Apr 2017 2:46pm ()

    Thanks Karla. Really appreciate the feedback. A great explanation

  • Tessa Gray (View all users posts) 12 Apr 2017 9:52am ()

    Loving this conversation Heather, great explanation too Karla, thank you.

    How to measure increased knowledge and understanding? I think video or voice recording (Seesaw is a practical and easy app for this) could be an awesome way to capture their learning. eg: In timed intervals where students can interview their buddies and ask:

    • What are you learning to do or what are you trying to improve?
    • What is your role, your teacher's role or buddie's role?
    • How will you know when you have achieved your goal?

    Or capture even simpler goal setting conversations like WALT We Are Learn to...and WILF What I'm Looking for...

    For more ideas you can't go past this amazing resource, Using digital technologies to support learner agency - with explanations, learning examples and resources. There are also some wonderful videos of student agency in Enabling e-Learning Media Gallery such as:

    Learner agency

  • Heather Harper (View all users posts) 12 Apr 2017 2:45pm ()

    Thanks Tessa. Always appreciate your support. I put this on as I am doing a Post Grad through Mindlab at the moment and this is research for a Literature Review and possibly teacher inquiry.

  • Tessa Gray (View all users posts) 12 Apr 2017 3:19pm ()

    That sounds cool Heather smiley Everyone I spoken to who's done this course comes out with a whole different way at looking at teaching and learning...how very cool!

    You might also be interested in this oldie but goodie too: Goal setting in the Inquiring Classroom.

    One question, do you have many ideas/templates/examples around personalised, student-driven learning goals and/or self-management systems in innovative classrooms?

  • Deidre (View all users posts) 15 Apr 2017 10:30pm ()

    Thanks Ladies for your wonderful discussions!  I too am on a Post Grad Mindlab course doing my research and Literature Review.  I am looking into Student agency and how we can encourage ALL student to become agentic learners.  What impact can digital technology have on this?  Can all students become agentic learners despite learning difficulties, decile etc? Why is student agency/regulation becoming more important in education and what part do teachers play in this?  So I am doing a bit of exploring.

    In my understanding, student agency is possible when children understand where they are in their learning journey and where they need to get to.  The other important thing is the HOW do I get there?

    I teach year7/8 in a collaborative hub with 1:1 iPads and have begun to really explore this with our students.  flipped learning is a useful means in helping to develop agency too.

    Any other thoughts?




  • Heather Harper (View all users posts) 29 Apr 2017 1:52pm ()

    Thanks Deirdre. I too am working on the Mindlab Lit Review. Thank goodness that's over now. I decided it was worse than childbirth in some ways.

    We were focusing on Rotational Blended learning model, but with 1:1 flipped learning would be good to try out.  might be good to trial in class first, then you can gauge those students that will stay focused and not get distracted on to other Internet temptations. Flipped learning is great as long as there is equity and equal access for all students. The idea of opening up classroom before and after school for those students that don't get to do it at home 

    So many variables, what are you going to flip? how long? what are students outside influences?, commitments, whanau expectations...

    Student agency is about taking action and heavily linked to the key competencies ???. 

    It's big ...


  • Mike Perry (View all users posts) 20 Apr 2017 4:55pm ()

    Thanks Heather for getting this really important discussion underway.

    Karla, it’s good to hear that this is a focus for teachers in Upper Hutt and that you’re working to develop some common understanding about learner agency. As time goes on it will be great to hear more about any common practice that develops from that understanding.

    Karla and Deidre, I agree with your suggestion that students’ reflective and metacognitive ability (see Thinking KC) are fundamental aspects of learner agency. (‘how well they know what they are supposed to be learning; how well they know the path that they are going to take to reach their learning goals’)

    The videos stories that you have added Tessa, quite rightly (I think) emphasise the importance of guiding students towards independence in their learning, and providing an environment that gives opportunities for students to increasingly exercise that independence. (see  Managing Self KC).

    Derek Wenmouth, (Learner Agency: 10 Trends 2014) supports the Upper Hutt definition of agency as ‘the power to act’, and to be ‘actively involved in decisions about the learning’, to make choices about their learning’.


    So what decisions, or choices can (should?) learners be making about their learning as they mature?

    • Decisions / choices about WHAT they learn (curriculum / learning goals)?

    • Decisions / choices about HOW they learn (plans / strategies / tools)?

    • Decisions / choices relating to WHY they are learning (relevance / interest / motivation / initiative)?


    Perhaps just as important is the learner’s developing ability to reflect on those decisions/choices, and evaluate how effective those decisions / choices have been for their learning.

    I think Derek Wenmouth introduces some other challenging ideas to the discussion. Rather than seeing agency in terms of learner independence, he suggests it should be more about learning interdependence. He says ‘It’s not just about a learner in isolation doing their own thing and what suits them. Learners must develop an awareness that there are consequences for the decisions they make and actions they take, and will take account of that in the way(s) they exercise their agency in learning.’ (see Relating to others KC).


    He also suggests that agency includes an awareness of the responsibility of ones own actions on the environment and on others. So there’s a social connectedness kind of dimension to that.’ (Is the Participating and contributing KC relevant here?)

    How do we measure a learner’s progress with regard to agency? Thanks Tessa for making some practical suggestions here. I have little to add except that I believe, learner self-assessment, the student’s growing ability to make judgements about how effective their own learning has been, must be seen as fundamental and intrinsic to learner agency. I think one of the big challenges for us here is to help learners make valid critical judgements about the effectiveness of their own learning.

  • Heather Harper (View all users posts) 29 Apr 2017 2:10pm ()

    Thanks Mike. So agree with your comments. Yes, Derek's quote ..."an awareness of the responsibility..." that you have mentioned , made me think of the holistic learner.

    The key competencies in NZC mention about being used to "...contribute as active members ..." There is the word active again. I think learner agency and KC have a very strong links.

    Teachers need to be able to make valid critical judgments about the effectiveness of their own learning and teaching,. so they can help their students. 

  • Tessa Gray (View all users posts) 27 Apr 2017 1:07pm ()

    Kia ora Mike, thanks for adding those rich concepts around student agency as interdependence as well as participating and contributing - touches on the important concept of āko and students to learning from each other as co-facilitators of learning.

    As an educator, I like to take 'bigger picture ideas' and then see how they can be applied to classroom practice - from the theory to the practice. 

    So the bigger picture/theory triggers for me ...remind me of the powerful diagram from Dr Kenn Fisher's work on Linking pedagogy and space. The thing I'd add to the following diagram is students as facilitators. For example, the practical aspects I'd apply to my teaching and learning would be - Who makes the decisions about the following - students? teachers? or both?

    More on scaffolding the inquiry process can be viewed in the image from Edutopia.

    Teachers as facilitators

    If the learning decisions are actually negotiated, then the next thinking I'd apply for myself is; how can different delivery methodologies be applied to best meet those approaches? For example:

    Pedagogy and learning spaces

    Some more fantastic ideas can be seen in Caves, campfires and watering holes (CORE Education PDF).

    The last questions to myself would be:

    • How am I going to group learners to best meet their needs?
    • Where am I sitting/standing during these moments? ie: Who is leading the learning? Am I team teaching with others?
    • What resources (people, digital tools, management systems) do I need if I am not leading, rather facilitating the learning? ie: tools for students to teach/support each other
    • And like Deidre touches on - is this all going to happen in the classroom? ie: can some learning happen before/after learning experiences?

    Lots to think about... what do you think?


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