Student Agency

This blog post is written by the Student Agency group: Karla, Cassie, Catherine, Haydee and Ed

student agencyWhat is Student Agency?

That is the question we have been investigating over the last 5 months.  We started out alongside every other school in the cluster asking the same question.
We have made significant progress since, and come up with a few definitions of our own.

The three options we have come up with so far are:

  1. Student agency is about students taking ownership and responsibility for their learning.Students are:
  • Making choices in their learning
  • Undertaking some degree of self directed learning
  • Empowered
  • Responsible
  • Reflective
  • Learning about themselves as learners, what works for them and what doesn’t
  • Self managing
  • Undertaking purposeful learning
  1. Students are empowered to assume responsibility for their own learning through:
  • Goal setting and reflection
  • Active involvement in decisions about learning and assessment.
  • Making connections between learning and real life experiences.
  1. Students are empowered to take responsibility for their own learning – choice and voice.

We will share these with the cluster, and contribute to the overall definition for Upper Hutt Schools.  We are hopeful that there will be a joint definition soon.

How do we help students become agents of their own learning?

This is looking different everywhere.  Primarily though, what it meant for us was going back to the unit plans – checking the learning intentions were clear, then finding out from the students how they wanted to learn (and in what context).  This has brought challenges of its own, as we discovered that, largely, students didn’t know how they learn to begin with. Some students have been forced into situations they don’t perceive as ‘learning’ situations, and have had to come to terms with the idea that, even though it looks and feels different, they can still learn in that environment – some of them are learning more, and deeper, than they ever have!

Following this we have had to take a step backward, and actively seek ways to find different methods of learning and expose the students to those different ways.  As a result we are running a number of trials.

A summary of our trials

9E English

These students are working on developing their writing skills. They are all following the same pathway, but at their own speed.  Students have individual workbooks with learning intentions that they need to meet to progress to the next step.  There is whole class instruction at the start of lessons, where a particular topic has been requested by the students.

Bio 101

Students at Level 1 have been working through the external examination topic of Genetics.  Students have chosen their favourite animal as their avatar and moved them through the learning outcomes of the topic (placed on the windows of classroom) as they progress.  Students work at their own pace but know they need to have the unit finished in time for the assessment week after Queen’s Birthday weekend. Students have access to notes, workshops and practice questions or activities for each learning outcome.  Once they feel confident, they complete a ‘prove it’ which is a small test or activity to prove they understand the content.  Students overall seem to have enjoyed this way of teaching.  They can choose whether they work independently or with others, feel they can get help from me more often and love seeing their progress through the unit with the avatar and tick off sheet.  It has allowed me to see each students progress and what their strengths and weaknesses are individually.  Students have realised they cannot slack off as it becomes apparent by their avatar placing.  A few tweaks needed but with a lot of work done this year, it will be a lot easier to do next year.

Drama 101

The students are learning about dramatic conventions that will need to be included for their devised performance assessment. The integration of agency allows the students to choose the convention they would like to focus on, what pace they would like to work at and gives them an opportunity to ask the necessary questions in a workshop they independently sign up for. As this process progresses other students will have the opportunity to aid other students in their learning through collaboration and group work.

9H & 10 E Maths

These students are working through a Measurement unit.  There are excellent examples of students teaching each other, and little teacher dependence.  Students have a range of learning intentions to work through at their own pace, and a range of activities to choose from in order to meet their learning intentions.  Once students believe they have grasped the learning intention, they may ‘prove it’. If they pass the prove it, they can move on to the next learning intention.  

Music and Physics
The senior Music class and Year 13 Physics students shared some lessons together. They learnt how the instruments made their respective sounds and why different instruments have different sounds. The concept of harmonics is particularly relevant to Music students and the Physics students learnt how their theoretical understanding applies in ‘real life’. The feedback from both classes was generally positive. Jill and Catherine have plans to run it again next year, nearer the beginning of the year. We have plenty to tweak for next time.

Please feel free to ask us more details about any of the above trials.  Or, better yet – come and see one in action!

These trials have challenged us all to work collaboratively (none of us own our subjects any more…we share them!), and has made us really re-evaluate the pedagogy we use.

From the research we have done, and the forums we have participated in – we strongly believe this is education of the future.  We are utilising our Innovative Learning Environments – and we are excited about challenging ourselves even further.  We are all incredibly thankful to be working on such exciting change, and we look forward to sharing so much more with you as our initial trials come to an end and we can reflect on our successes and struggles.  Because we have had plenty of both!

What have we learnt?
  • Collaboration is key.
  • Engagement of students has increased dramatically.
  • Very few student management issues.
  • The teacher is still in charge of the classroom, despite our initial fears of chaos!

When to come and visit

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
9H & 10 E Maths E7.
(KL and HS)
Drama 101 C5 (EB)
9H & 10 E Maths E7.
(KL and HS)
9E Eng E7 (KL) 9E Eng E7 (KL) Drama 101 C5 (EB)
9H & 10 E Maths E7.
(KL and HS)
Drama 101 C5 (EB)
Drama 101 C5 (EB) 9H & 10 E Maths E7.
(KL and HS)

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