“Agency” can mean action or intervention. Learner agency becomes much easier to understand in this context as a student taking action to seek out and achieve learning more independently.
Don’t sigh and think, “How am I ever going to learn all of these new education theories?” Socrates defined education from a learner agency point of view long ago — “Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.” He was advising teachers not to teach by filling the student with all of the information and facts available, but to allow them to make the effort to learn and gain understanding by doing. Your teaching style may already reflect learner agency if you are creating a spark in your students to read, discuss, research, experiment, design, or create.
Teachers are expected to be in control and they are feeling the responsibility and accountability for their students’ learning, especially when standardized testing scores aren’t what they should be. But students go on to become adults who must have the ability to make decisions, support a valid opinion, and learn what they need to be successful. The time is now to start students on the path of becoming skilled learners for life. Try the following tips to develop learner agency in your classroom.
1. Get to Know Them
Knowing more about each student individually allows you to discover what motivates them. Tapping particular strengths, abilities, or interests of students allows learning to take hold and helps shift responsibility for learning from teacher to student. There might be something in your students’ personal or family lives that is a factor in the way they learn, so getting to know them will allow you to identify and overcome these obstacles.
Assist your students in setting goals for both themselves and for the class. Encourage them to choose different ways to learn and share their ideas with other students. Let them direct the path to take and develop learner agency. Even if they reach a dead-end, help turn them around, learn from the mistake, and change their course.
3. Value the Process
There is value in testing, but learner agency places more significance on the process of learning. Sometimes it is easy to overlook the steps students go through to achieve learning and concentrate only on their test score. Students must be evaluated on how they learn, the challenges they tackled, and their participation in controlling the learning process.
4. Use Technology
Computers are a valuable tool for accessing information and allowing students to work at their own pace. Learner agency is accomplished when students take the resources offered and make them their own. Chia-Jung Lee, in “Technology Integration and Emotional Learning,” advises that digital tools help students learn better through their emotional connection to a subject or other people. These same tools can also provide a private space for students to research issues that may be uncomfortable for them in public. This means that students who are embarrassed to raise their hand in class because everyone else seems to understand a concept can use technology to research the answer and enhance their own understanding.
5. Celebrate Learning
Encourage your students to showcase what they have learned in whatever way they want — a written report, a video recording, a game they have designed, or a website they have created. Give them an opportunity to share with the class or the school. An event such as a health or science fair can display learner agency and gain support within the community for education focused on creating skilled learners.
Teaching students to be learners and inspiring them to take the actions needed to shape and control their learning was Socrates’ advice. Rely on it to give students every opportunity to become lifelong learners.