Pathway Progress:

Students who have agency take ownership and have voice and choice in their own learning.

Student Agency: Student agency in learning is the capacity and propensity of students to take purposeful action towards deep, authentic learning. In order for agency to be achieved students need to have access to educators who believe in the power of student voice. Further they need learning environments where they have meaningful choice and purposeful voice. If educators are making the decisions on which choices can be made (e.g., providing two options for an assignment) the students are still lacking choice. If educators are making decisions on when and how students can share input, opinions, ask questions, and add to the learning experience.  

Profile of a Student with Agency  

A student with agency… 

  • Understands their role in learning. 
  • Creates opportunities to dive deeper into content and communicates the value of those opportunities to others. 
  • Sees value in active, real-world learning where they make connections between the real-world and what they are learning. 
  • Uses context and clues to articulate new questions or “wonders.” 
  • Motivated by the process and the creation of the product (rather than by grades or finishing assignments). 

Background on Student Agency  

Student agency provides a foundation for developing self-direction, critical thinking, and problem solving. When student agency is continuously part of the learning environment students have opportunities for deep learning. When deep learning is the goal, students understand and apply what they are learning. One of the most important things for educators to remember is that agency should be a constant in learning environments.  

Keep in mind that student agency is considered a critical component of personalized learning. 

At times, student agency looks like students in classrooms where they are making decisions about when and how they learn. That means that not all students are doing the exact same work at the same time. Further, that means that educators are working as facilitators and coaches, guiding students to mastery through various projects, practices, and experiences. 

Keep in mind that classrooms where student agency thrives have master educators, who ensure that students are practicing, mastering, applying, questioning, and reflecting. Student agency does not live inside of classrooms where there is no structure or guidance, rather student agency lives in classrooms where there is organization, goal setting, and productive use of time and space. 

At other times, student agency may look like the very basic elements of differentiation. In fact, differentiation often calls for educators to ensure that student needs are met through variance in content, process, product, or learning environment. Differentiation would ask teachers to use data and evidence to design for students. Student agency calls for that data and evidence to design with students. Student agency expects students to be the primary decision makers in the “how” of their learning, where implementation of those decisions become collaboratively navigated between educators and students. The knowledge base of teachers in both content and pedagogy are key to achieving student agency. 

Student agency cannot happen unless teachers know their content, know how to differentiate, and understand how to facilitate student goal setting. 

ISTE- Metiri Group 2020

Research Findings 

Students who have agency in learning with seven varying elements are within their learning environments.

  1. Choice 
  2. Collaboration 
  3. Connection to outside experts and opportunities 
  4. Reflection and revision 
  5. Student-led goal setting 
  6. Access to master teachers

To increase student-agency educators can use the following research-based strategies. 

  1. Assessment and data review
  2. Modeling and coaching 
  3. Facilitate scaffolding 
  4. Provide positive reinforcement and awareness to areas of needed development 
  5. Organization and planning for personalized learning

To learn more about these research-based strategies and access classroom examples, see the section in this Master Class oninstructional strategies.

The figure below depicts the combination of strategies that can increase student agency, a cornerstone of self-direction. This, in turn, builds toward deep authentic learning and readiness for college, career and life in a complex, global and digital age.