Claire Amos inspired the audience with her ‘Free Range Learning‘ talk at Learning 2 last year and I found her recent post on learner agency thought-provoking:
So what does Learner Agency actually mean. … In the context of a school this might involve students taking action, whether it be through reading, researching, discussing, debating, experimenting, making or tinkering and as a result, gain (through their own efforts) new understanding and new learnings. This being a shift from the notion of teachers, teaching at the student and fundamentally providing all of the knowledge and content which they then transfer to the empty vessel.
Of course this notion is not new, in fact, it’s positively ancient. I sometimes think Socrates must be turning in his grave.
So if this notion has been bandied about since the time of Socrates, why the hell are we considering it as cutting edge now? I’m guessing the honest answer is that education started off pretty sweet, then got a bit crap in the last 100 years or so.
Can we create a culture of agency, where decision-making, choice and voice, reflection and metacognition, exploration and inquiry, risk taking and resilience empower our students to live their learning, rather than ‘doing school‘? Below are some key questions that need to be considered in developing a culture of agency.
10 questions in pursuit of learner agency…
1. What is your ‘image of the child’? How do you view the learners in your class? Do you believe children are inherently intelligent, curious and creative? Do you recognise their rights and their capabilities? Do you trust them?
2. Do you know every learner’s story?
Are you tempted to refer to the class as ‘they
‘ or are you always conscious that each learner brings her own interests and abilities, strengths and challenges? Do you think about each individual’s personal history? Are you aware of the factors that influence each one’s learning?
4. Do your learners believe in themselves? Do you group your learners on perceived ability or do they have opportunities to learn with and from others with varying strengths, challenges and interests? Is a growth mindset fostered? Are learners motivated by learning itself, rather than extrinsic rewards that encourage winners and losers in the game of school?
5. Who holds the power? Is your token nod to agency allowing the learners a choice when you decide it’s the time? How much of what your students say and do has to be channeled through the teacher? Do you make most of the decisions? Or can the learners really lead the learning? Is initiative valued over compliance?
6. Who does the heavy lifting? How long do you spend making sure students know what they are supposed to do? Do you explain everything in detail several times in different ways? Or do the learners have a go at experimenting and tackling problems first and you step in at point of need? Are you able to release control so that the heavy lifting is done by the learners?
7. Who owns the curriculum? Do you have secret teacher business? Do you check the curriculum and decide what to cover and how to teach it? Or are students empowered to explore curriculum requirements in their own ways? Are there opportunities for engaging, relevant learning that addresses trans-disciplinary learning across curriculum areas?
8. How important is measurement of achievement? Do you teach to the test? How much weight is placed on grading? Do you think everything has to be formally assessed and what can’t be measured is less valuable? Or is the process of learning perceived as more significant than the outcome? Is process valued over product?
9. What is the language of your classroom? Do you talk about work and tasks or does everyone speak the language of learning? Is how we learn as much a part of the conversation as what we learn? Are students aware of who they are as learners? Are learning dispositions noticed and named? Are reflection and metacognition integral parts of learning?
10. Is there a safe space for risk- taking and failure? Does the culture encourage students to take risks and make mistakes? Is the exploratory aspect of learning stifled by expectations? Do learners seek and grapple with challenging problems and unanswerable questions? Is failure viewed as an opportunity to learn and grow?