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.
Narrator: 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.
Maureen Schuyl: Agency is about handing it back to the students. Our saying last year was, “Give the spoon back to the students”, we’ve been spoon feeding them for too long.
Student 1: I think that to make your own decisions rather than having everything spoon-fed to you is really good for your brain, it helps you learn how to think. Instead of just learning about Shakespeare, you’re learning about how to think about Shakespeare.
Student 2: I was just bored stupid by everything, but in year 12, the moment I got to choose my own text, the whole class were doing war poetry but I really didn’t want to do that and I didn’t find it that interesting so I chose The bell jar by Sylvia Plath for my written text and it changed my year. This sounds a little ridiculous but it really did, I was so passionate about this book that I wrote so many essays on it, and I linked it into my other learning, and of course I was motivated to write about it, whereas if I had been given the task about writing an essay on war poetry, I don’t think I would have been able to do it.
Student 3: Last year I did a picture book kind of, and it was like nothing I’d ever done before, always in English I’d had to do an essay, a speech, a static image probably, and it was the visual, verbal text for credits which was the same as the static image. I did this whole story book and it took me months and months to do and I got it printed, and it was like a total passion project and I would never have been able to do that under any other leadership.
Student 2: I have seen wonderful results, the effect for me and the difference for me, is that instead of having to go to my teacher and say, “How do I get excellence, how do I get merit, what should I be seeing in this movie, or how should I read this book? I don’t know how to write my essay or what to write in my essay”, now I can actually see it for myself.
Student 4: I definitely really struggled with managing my own internals last year, at the start of the year because it was so different to anything that we had ever done. The jump from year 11 to year 12 is big enough as it is without having a complete change in a classroom environment, and being told you have to run yourself and everything, it was really scary. Definitely this year, starting again, I know what I’m doing and I know when I want to do these things and how I’m going to manage my time, and not even just with English, like the skills I learnt last year with managing all my internals and juggling everything I had to do, are definitely really valuable this year with the year being as busy as it is.
Student 1: Agency and motivation are inextricably linked. So if you have agency over your work then you’re going to be more motivated to do it because, just simply, it’s something that you’re interested in. Definitely, having ownership over what you do gives you motivation to do it and to work hard on it and to make it the best that it can be, and when I’m doing a piece of work that I’m not interested in, I’m basically just trying to get a grade. I’m just kind of thinking, how can I make this work good enough that my teacher will like it, whereas when I’m doing something that I’m actually really interested in, I think, “How can I make this work interesting, how can I broaden knowledge on this particular topic? How can I contribute to the human pool of knowledge”, I’m really thinking in a way that you don’t often get in a high school.
Student 5: I think because she wants you to think about it, rather than her just sort of encourage you and lead you down a certain track, it really does challenge you to do your own work and your own thinking and because it’s your ideas that you’re using, you’re more invested in it and you’re more inspired to work harder, I find.
Student 6: We do get good results, we do fit in the assessment sheets and stuff what we have to do, we do get it done, we just do it in a different way that personally, I think a lot of us find more enjoyable and a lot more beneficial for us in preparation for tertiary education so hope it works.
Student 3: How can you enjoy learning if you don’t have ownership over your own learning?