Agency is having the power or capacity to act and make choices.
In a learner-centred environment, learners have agency over their learning and classroom systems serve the needs and interests of the learner.
Claire Amos talks about fostering learner agency at Hobsonville Point Secondary School. She describes how a sense of ownership and taking responsibility for learning is incorporated into the culture of the school and into the programmes they offer.
In the 21st century, citizens need to be able to apply knowledge to solve complex problems, often in cross-disciplinary and collaborative settings. Citizens will need to be able to create new knowledge. Specialised knowledge and higher-order thinking skills will continue to be essential.
"As agentic learners, students use and strengthen key competencies."
"The more educators give students choice, control, challenge, and collaborative opportunities, the more motivation and engagement are likely to rise."
Students take ownership of their learning: When learners link content to their passions and interests, they have a greater stake in what they are doing. When they set personal goals, the learning becomes theirs. This sense of ownership leads to increased motivation.
Self-regulating skills develop: When learners can make decisions on how to organise and reflect on their learning, they develop the ability to self-monitor. These self-management skills create lifelong learners.
Student voice emerges: When learners are able to make authentic contributions to their school, environment, or community through their learning, their voice finds expression leading to greater empowerment.
Susan Lee, teacher at Te Kura o Kutarere shares how using Storybird, a free digital story writing tool, has enabled students to become more self-motivated and proud of their work.
Digital pedagogy is based on three key concepts: ubiquity, agency, and connectedness.
- Ubiquity refers to the pervasiveness of digital technologies.
- Agency refers to the power or capacity to act and make choices.
- Connectedness is about having a sense of being part of something that is bigger than one’s self.
Hampden Street School staff and students explain how they have been working towards their goal of building learner agency and using digital technologies to support that. Student, Lucy talks about her genius hour project and what she has learnt from it.
Digital technologies change the way students learn, the way teachers teach, and where and when learning takes place. Increasingly, mobile devices equip students to take charge of their own learning in a context where learning occurs anywhere, anytime, and with access to a wealth of content and interactive tools.
- Review policies where the institution is the focus for resourcing and so on, and change the policies to reflect a learner-centred approach.
Implications for schools/centres
- Review all structures based on institution-centred decision making, such as; age-based classes, access to resources and timetables that restrict access to subjects of choice.
- Make greater provision for including and responding to student voices in all aspects of school operation.
Implications for teachers
- Move from being the deliverer of curriculum to being the co-constructor and experienced learner.
- Model all appropriate values and attitudes as a digitally-literate learner.
Build learner agency by creating a truly learner-centred environment, which is supported by applying Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles and utilising digital technologies.
Implications for teachers
- Move from being the deliverer of curriculum to being the co-constructor and experienced learner.
- Model all appropriate values and attitudes as a digitally-literate learner.
Understand how digital technologies can be used to:
- support engagement, learning, and assessment
- provide students with options to organise their own timetables
- provide students with choices on how they engage with information, present information, and collaborate
- support student equity and access to information.
Customising learning requires consideration of these things:
- the individual pattern of abilities of the student
- the specific goals and demands of the learning task
- how to use digital technologies to support student access to information and ownership of their learning
"No single tool or method will be optimal for every student. By providing well-chosen options we can create learning environments that are student-centred for all students."
To build learner agency in a student-centred classroom, focus on:
Providing access to information is essential to learning, but it is not enough for success. Successful learning requires the means for learning – the pedagogical goals, methods, materials, and assessments of instruction – to be accessible. UDL is a framework which ensures that the means for learning, and their results, are equally accessible to all students.
Designing a lesson or programme that is student-centred depends upon recognising the important variations among students that might make a lesson less accessible or less informative for some students.
Effective customisation requires paying attention to aspects of the tasks that are construct relevant for learning and assessment.
You might assign an essay asking students to convince their audience that exercise is beneficial to health.
In this case, developing persuasive writing skills is construct relevant. Customising the assignment by allowing students to make a poster, create a skit, etc. on this same topic would interfere with a student’s opportunity to develop persuasive writing skills. Instead, offer customisable supports that remove barriers to writing and enable all students to achieve the learning goals. You might offer students the options of:
With these scaffolds in place, you can customise the assignment for different students, providing options that would allow both student and teacher to focus better on the construct relevant goal: developing the higher-level strategies of persuasive writing.
Support students to learn through authentic, relevant, real-world contexts, where their interests, skills, and the issues and opportunities within their own communities can form the basis for learning.
Involve students in the key aspects of decision making so they can fully experience the messiness of a real-world project, complete with the unexpected changes in direction, opportunities, and challenges that can arise.
Sustaining community-linked real-world learning opportunities often requires time for new partnerships and relationships to form between schools and people/groups, and teachers and learners need to become comfortable in new roles in order to support learners to have more agency and ownership of the direction and outcomes of their learning work
The networked campground – Supporting learner agency at secondary school
This metaphor represents a more personalised approach to learning in which it is possible to get somewhere by a variety of different routes, at a speed that suits the individual.
The central goal is to develop certain competencies in everyone, to use – and build on – people’s strengths and interests, while also ensuring that everyone has the basics, via a system that allows people to follow personalised learning pathways.
The centre of the campground picture is the place where students and their teacher/mentors plan their learning personal programmes. The camping ground could have several different “loop tracks” that lead to a variety of different learning experiences. These could involve:
- designing, setting up, and carrying out research projects that investigate and recommend solutions to a real local issue or problem
- traditional work experience programmes.
The purpose of these experiences is to provide contexts which will develop students’ overall capacity:
- to learn
- to use knowledge
- to be curious and questioning
- to think and learn independently
- to evaluate – and improve – their own thinking and learning.
Senior secondary students reflect on how their learning has changed at Fraser High School through curriculum integration and the use of authentic contexts as they produced the first issue of Passionfruit magazine. This project utilised many digital technologies, which enabled collaboration and anytime anywhere learning opportunities. The process enabled students to develop values, knowledge, and capabilities for life beyond school.
Miranda Makin, Deputy Principal Albany Senior High School, describes how technologies have enabled students engaged in the Impact Project to take their learning beyond the school and engage with experts to find information and share their learning. She explains, "The purpose of e-learning for us was not to adopt tools per se but to look at the opportunities that these tools afforded to collaborate online and to get feedback."
The increasing use of digital technologies inside and outside school allows tailoring of learning experiences to individual learners, to respond to learner-driven choices about where, what and how learning occurs. They allow learners to manage the evidence to support and to demonstrate their achievement as learners.
Technology must be effectively woven into instruction to support student learning.
Personalising learning can involve shaping students’ learning pathways in ways that support their needs and interests and provide them with agency to make choices about their own learning.
Students from Halswell School explain about how they take control of their learning in an innovative learning environment. Students can choose to work independently or collaboratively, while also having access to the variety of skills that each teacher can offer. Student, Ruby says, "I like it because we have lots of freedom of what we would like to choose."
Daniel has ADHD. He and his teacher, Kate Friedwald, talk about how having a must-do/can-do list and an ipad enable him to have ownership and control over his learning.
Ashburton College students, Olivia and Vlad share their perspectives on using NetNZ online learning courses to access the subjects they wish to learn within a timetable they can manage. They describe the flexibility and the independence that it offers.
Use digital technologies to setup systems that enable shared planning and monitoring of student learning to ensure you are successfully supporting students to have control over their learning.
Wairakei School teacher, Kate Friewald describes how she uses Google Docs to support differentiated learning in her classroom. She uses Google spreadsheets to create her weekly plan, maths plans, and literacy plans. She shares these with students based on a "must do/can do" process. Students are split into cooperative work groups, not necessarily structured on reading or maths ability. Each group member has a number of "must dos", to complete within the morning block, and some blank time to structure their own learning focused on their learning needs.
Very few skills can be developed without timely and relevant feedback.
The level and kind of feedback which can be provided through digital media (such as Google docs) is just one of the ways in which they assist in providing multiple means of engagement. The UDL guidelines recommend teachers use options that develop students’ self-assessment and reflection skills as a way to promote self-regulation.
Digital learning environments can support teachers with collecting valuable data for measuring student growth as well as making necessary adjustments to instruction. These technologies do not replace teachers in monitoring the progress of students; rather, they provide valuable, timely, and student-centred sources of information. With that information available, teachers can teach more effectively, making strategic, knowledgeable, and motivating decisions that facilitate all students taking ownership of their learning.
The student-centred classroom utilises the flexibility of digital technologies to provide a diverse range of students with multiple means of representation, expression, and engagement enabling all students to take ownership of their learning.
By utilising a rich set of tools and resources to elevate and differentiate teaching, teachers can be a content provider and the classroom’s most experienced and savvy teacher/learner, a model of the kind of expert learner students can emulate.
Provide options that make learning more equitably accessible. Because students learn and process information differently, providing the same information in a variety of ways and using a variety of mediums allows students to select the approach that works best for them.
This means that information in a visual diagram may be presented in an alternative way – like a verbal description or a tactile graphic – so that there is an alternative for students with poor vision.
Tamaki College maths teacher, Noelene Dunn has set up a Google site for her students to support a flexible and inclusive approach to learning. She and her students explain how they use it. Students value having "a lot of different activities to choose from, everyone can do what they like to do”.
The flexibility of digital media means it can be used for representing information, and constructing or gathering information.
Students can use digital technologies to:
Encourage students to express themselves using a variety of different media. A curriculum is not student-centred when all students must express or demonstrate what they have learned in exactly the same way.
Digital technologies can be used to provide a greater range of differentiated support and scaffolding. Identify and provide scaffolds and supports, which can be adjusted, to meet the the changes in skill and development students develop as they move toward independence.
Kate Friedwald explains how she uses a Universal Design for Learning (UDL) approach in her classroom at Wairakei School. Teaching is based on students' specific needs and learning activities are differentiated and personalised for each learner. Activities and resources are produced in a variety of mediums to meet learner needs.
Utilise learning approaches that drive agentic learning.
Within these approaches, use digital technologies to remove barriers to learning, support student engagement, provide authentic hands-on activities, and support collaboration.
“It is difficult to feel responsible when you have no agency. To have a voice in how an activity is carried out or in how the meaning specific to that activity is constructed can greatly enhance students’ motivation to engage precisely because they are allowed to invent their environment as they simultaneously invent themselves.”
Convert your classroom into a makerspace and support your students through their creative endeavours
The maker movement is about putting the making back into learning. Students construct new knowledge when they are engaged in constructing personally meaningful products. They can pull things apart, discover how they work, trial new ideas, and make meaningful products. Important to the process is the presentation of those products to an interested, authentic audience.
Students involved in maker culture can gain agency by driving their own STEAM learning (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Maths).
Kim Baars describes the learning taking place in Maker classes at Taupaki School. Kim talks about teachers and students working collaboratively to problem-solve, and the powerful differentiation taking place in the makerspace. It is learning by doing in a way that is controlled by the students.
Making an app provides a chance for students to go deeper into their learning, as well as developing coding skills. This project can be applied to learning in any content area.
Students identify a need/purpose for an app, which they design, build, and test with their peers.
The app can include:
The app can be shared with friends or made available for download from an appstore.
Beginning learning by asking questions can be a productive way of fostering learner agency. In inquiry-based learning, teachers guide students through the various stages of inquiry by helping them:
Hillcrest School teacher, Miel MacLean and students share how learning experiences, in a student-led inquiry into Māori kites, were enriched through using technologies and publishing via a collaborative wiki.
Project-based learning is an effective way of fostering learner agency among students. A project has the potential to reshape a learner's environment, connect them to communities beyond the classroom, and develop student voice.
Sam Cunnane, head of the arts faculty at Fraser High School, talks about Passionfruit Magazine, which is completely written, designed, produced, by students.
Year 13 student Daniel Cowpertwait describes his Portal Unity Project – a "mod" for the online game Portal he has developed along with three other students as part of the Impact Project at Albany Senior High School.
Using the seven principles of learning, identify how distinct components of learner experience influence the development and expression of agency.
Plan to use appropriate digital technologies that provide access for all students and support learner agency.
Self-directed, lifelong learning
"The capacity to continuously learn and apply/integrate new knowledge and skills has never been more essential. Students should become self-directed, lifelong learners, especially as they are preparing for jobs that do not yet exist, to use technologies that have not yet been invented, and to solve problems that are not yet even recognised as problems."
Create a learning environment that encourages active engagement to help students develop an understanding of their own activity as learners. When learners have the power to act in the learning process, they become agents of their own learning.
Students from Breens Intermediate share how they set literacy goals and conduct reflections using Google docs.
Caroline Marris, year 7 and 8 team leader at Woodend School, discusses how students contributed to the design of their innovative learning environment.
Plan activities that:
Identify specific technologies to support all students fully engage such as:
When learners co-construct work with their peers, their learning has the power to reshape their social context, giving their work more meaning. The social dimension to learning is critical to developing agency.
Nigel Mitchell, HOD English at Tawa College, and students in his class talk about the benefits of using Prezi to collaborate and take control of their own learning.
When space is opened for agency in the classroom, a unique window into what the student thinks and feels about their learning also opens. Teachers are provided with invaluable insights into how students are making sense of their learning, and how comfortably their identities sit within their learning context.
Senior secondary students at Fraser High School reflect on how their sense of themselves as learners changed during a student-driven project. The project encouraged them to self-monitor their learning, leading to increased confidence and self-management skills.
Teacher Susan Lee at Te Kura o Kutarere describes how the focus has moved away from classroom management to students taking responsibility for their own learning, developing confidence in themselves as learners, and wanting to share their writing with others.
Be attentive and sensitive to individual student needs, particularly those experiencing cognitive overload. Help students to be aware of and manage their emotions and stress.
Provide digital tools that make learning easier and more accessible, such as:
Knowing your learners is essential for planning and providing options that meet individual needs and preferences. Providing a range of tools and choice in learning supports students to identify what they need to learn and how they learn best.
Students from Pakuranga College, along with their deputy principal, Billy Merchant, share how using their digital devices to access online resources supports their learning styles.
Wairakei School teacher, Kate Friedwald explains how information and feedback presented visually and orally in her digital classroom are designed to meet the learning needs of Daniel, a student with ADHD.
Encourage students to think deeply about their learning; co-construct learning goals that require students to use reasoning and exercise agency in solving problems. Plan realistic challenges that support students to develop rigour and persistance. Be sensitive to individual differences.
Scaffolding challenges in which students can achieve personal and incremental successes according to their needs – and managing this process – are central to helping your students develop agency in their learning.
Wairakei School teacher, Kate Friewald describes how she uses Google Docs to support differentiated learning in her classroom.
Learners need to be able to access and understand assessment criteria, and use these for their own critical self-reflections in order to become agentic learners. Use assessment strategies that are consistent with expectations.
Russell Street School teacher, Jacqui Innes describes the process and benefits of using e-portolios as a tool for assessment.
Teacher, Vicki Pimenta shares her approach to using the literacy progressions and raising student achievement in reading. By including student voice and encouraging the students to know where they were and what their next step was going to be students own their learning. In the classroom she uses QR codes to help them with this. In this video you can see how the literacy coaches have supported her teacher inquiry in the classroom.
Support students to organise their knowledge building, recognise their prior experience, and build on that.
When learners can situate their learning within a wider learning community, or are able to view their learning as making meaningful contributions to their community, their learning becomes authentic. This leads to greater agency.
Mike Crawford, teacher at Woodend School, discusses how his students are using Twitter as a vehicle to raise awareness of local environmental issues.
French teacher Sarah Collett and two of her students, from Hillcrest High School, describe the how they used a wiki to make connections with students from New Caledonia and create authentic language learning experiences.
Teach students how to become safe, responsible digital citizens so they are aware of how to:
Consider the tools you and your students can use to collaborate and share their work and agree how these will be used. For example:
Learner agency – James Anderson, a year 12 student at Hobsonville Point Secondary School, shares what learner agency means to him in this NZC online blog post.
Teacher Shelley Blakey and e-learning facilitator Sandy Bornholdt describe the inquiry process they went through with the students to develop this successful conference run by students for students.
Hereora leaders share how their cluster wide future-focused inquiry is providing students with opportunities to have agency over decisions around learning.
Motu School teachers describe how an inclusive approach and incorporating te reo Māori across the school curriculum has impacted on student learning.
Team leader, Caroline Marris and year 7-8 students explain how they worked together to design their innovative learning environment.
Lead ICT teacher, Ben Britton and students at Wellington High School describe how 1:1 devices have enabled student agency.
Vimi Chandra explains her teacher inquiry aimed at raising the writing levels of targeted students.
e-Learning teacher at Ashburton College, Nicky Lewis, discusses online learning. She outlines the various tools they use online, in particular, Moodle. Nicky says, “accessibility is important”.
Students from Pakuranga College, along with their deputy principal, Billy Merchant, share how using their digital devices to access online resources supports their learning.
e-Learning leader Carla Joint talks about the benefits of technology in learning languages.
French teacher Sarah Collett and two of her students, describe the usefulness of using a wiki to create and enhance authentic language learning experiences.
Teacher Liz Dench and a student, from Hillcrest High School, discuss accessing how using technologies expands learning.
Scott McKenzie (senior syndicate leader) and Don McLean (principal) explain how they have been working towards their goal of building learner agency and using digital technologies to support that. Student, Lucy talks about her genius hour project and what she has learnt from it.
Eilish Moran, teacher at Halswell School, explains the importance of encouraging students to be self-directed learners. Establish good learning routines which allow for student choice.
Year 7-8 students, Ruby and Harriet explain how their innovative learning environment allows them to have control of their learning at Halswell School.
Anita Head, team leader at Halswell School, explains how drawing on the individual strengths of her team allows them to provide a more refined programme for their students.
Gabrielle Nuthall, teacher at Halswell School, talks about the preparation that took place before they transitioned into their ILE.
Eilish Moran, teacher at Halswell School, explains how their innovative learning environment collaborative operates and connections with parents.
Daniel, who has ADHD and his teacher talk about how having a must-do/can-do list and an ipad enable him to have ownership and control over his learning.
At St Hilda's Collegiate, every Year 9 student is mentored with someone from the local community and they work throughout the year on their Passion project
Senior secondary students reflect on how their learning has changed at Fraser High School through curriculum integration and the use of authentic contexts as they produced the first issue of Passionfruit magazine.
Year 13 student Daniel Cowpertwait describes a "mod" he has developed for an online game Portal.
Miranda Makin, DP Albany Senior High School, describes how technologies have enabled students engaged in the Impact Project to take their learning beyond the school and engage with experts to find information and share their learning.
Year 13 English students from Nelson College for Girls share their experiences of student agency in learning. The students talk about the impact of increased ownership on their engagement and motivation, how they transfer this experience to other subjects, and the positive impact on NCEA results.
Year 13 English students from Nelson College for Girls discuss the challenges of working in an agentic environment. Students share their experiences of increased learner agency, the role of the teacher, course planning, and the need to balance agency and expectations.
Year 5 and 6 students at Hampden Street School talk about the positive impact student agency is having on their learning, how it’s changing their interactions with teachers and classmates, and the resulting lift in their motivation, engagement, and achievement.
Dr David Parsons, Associate Professor Massey University, explains the need to teach higher level thinking skills and develop key competencies using technology to prepare students for the 21st century.
Staff at Te Kura o Kutarere talk about the change in students' attitude to learning that has occurred as a result of using Storybird in the writing process.
Teachers at Pakuranga College talk about how they have introduced VR into their school and the equipment they use.
Teachers at Pakuranga College explain their process for introducing virtual reality (VR) and how they are encouraging students to be comfortable with new technologies.
Students from Pakuranga College describe the VR game they created as a collaborative project, and the skills they developed through the process.
Treetops TV is Leamington School's television driven by the students. Technologically capable learners put the school's learner dispositions into action.
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This report from Associate Education Minister Nikki Kaye's 21st Century Learning Reference Group focuses on transforming teaching and learning, enabled by technologies that are widespread in our society. It suggests ten strategic priorities for 21st century skills and digital competencies.
Students at the Centre is a series of nine research publications exploring the role that student-centred approaches can play to deepen learning and prepare young people to meet the demands and engage the opportunities of the 21st century. This paper explores using digital technologies to support customisation for learning.
This instalment in the Students at the Centre series explores the links between increased motivation and student-centred approaches.
This paper, released jointly by Getting Smart and Buck Institute for Education (BIE), explores equity, economic realities, student engagement and instructional and school design in the preparation of all students for college, career and citizenship.
This review looks at a selection of the latest discourse and thinking emerging from the growth of makerspaces and their developing roles in education and communities.
In her PhD thesis, Lynne Bird explores how NZ teachers introduce and develop particular self-regulating learning strategies and tools in primary classrooms to improve students’ skills in self management of learning. She aimed to find out: how teachers integrated self-regulated learning strategies; how could self-regulated learning strategies be introduced during the learning cycle; and how different groups of students develop these learning strategies.
In this article from NZ Journal of Teachers Work author, Jennifer Charteris examines how learners take up agentic subject positions within and across differen learning areas through developing key competencies.
A summary of The Nature of Learning, which highlights the key messages and principles from the full report. It is intended as a practitioner guide. The seven principles outlined inform everyday experiences in current classrooms as well as educational programmes and systems.
Information from NZC Online to support teachers with gathering student voice.
A blog post explaining learner agency with links to useful videos and readings.
Search result showing all the EDtalks videos that describe and demonstrate learner agency in NZ schools.
Information, examples, and resources to support teachers introduce digital citizenship into their learning programme.
Information, examples, and resources to support teachers build digital fluency into their learning programme.
This online guide provides: ideas, resources, and stories illustrating how NZ secondary schools use digital technologies to extend and enhance learning in the NCEA years.
All Year 11-13 students at Albany Senior High School spend a whole day every week working on Impact Projects. They can explore topics or work areas they are particularly interested in, and link with local employers, tertiary providers or community groups. This 2015 case-study from Futureintech explains how it works.
Join these groups to participate in discussions with other teachers/educators about the content here, or that is relevant for you.
e-Learning: Professional Learning
e-Learning: Beyond the classroom
Using the e-Learning Planning Frameworks
Connected Learning Advisory
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