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Perspectives on learner agency

Last year I spent plenty of time thinking and reflecting about my own practice as a classroom teacher - I developed a need to question everything I was doing - you could attribute this to the action research process, but also the necessity to understand why I was even in a classroom with other humans trying to teach them - whatever that entails, I was challenging myself with questions around what learning, knowledge or even teaching was - and why were we spending so much time doing whatever we were doing for around 8000 hours?

I had started thinking about this again as I watched an EdTalk that had just been released that was filmed during the whirlwind which was ULearn 2014.  The talk was about the learner agency work I had been focussed on, this again rekindled my ideas around the term and questioned my understanding of agency, and how I was supporting the concept in my teaching.  I feel I need to revisit this again after watching myself talk so enthusiastically about it - you can witness the excitement through my right eyebrow alone (there will be a prize for the person who can count the number of gesticulation's that it produces during the 6:30 minute clip!)

From a teacher's perspective I believe that learner agency is about listening, listening to the students but also enabling them all to have a voice - to be effective this must be supported by Universal Design for Learning, meaning that there must be multiple means for people to communicate across a variety of settings.  When you listen to the learners you can then support their individual needs and adapt to where they would like to go in regards to their learning journey.  Completing a google form about what the students would like to explore for the year may be a small part of gaining this voice but it alone is not effectively embracing learner agency - the methods must be responsive and dynamic, accessible and even asynchronous to enable all learners to have a voice and the ability to direct the design of learning.

From the learner’s perspective I think a large element of agency is knowing that you are being listened to, your voice is valued and supported - and in doing that the learner understands that they have the power to make decisions and fulfil actions that will make a difference, a positive outcome is required from the actions of an agentic learner.  Through embracing agency effectively we can support empathy, communication and motivation of the individual to make a difference to the collective.

From a whanau perspective agency can be a term that can perhaps be seen as edu-jargon (see this generator to completely alienate any parent!), but when emphasised that agency is allowing students to drive their learning it makes more sense.  Moving away from jumping on the bus where the teacher is the driver and they take them to the NCEA WOF station, and towards allowing the learner to have their own vehicle so that they can go the wildest road trip of their dreams! The teacher will have to give them some fundamental instructions or maps so that they don't get lost, and keep track of where they are going, as well as encourage them to drive in a way that considers the environment around them, and perhaps even pick up a few hitch-hikers on the way.  Maybe I am getting a bit carried away here with the driving metaphor but a holistic view of where the learner is going, where they are in relation to others, as well as who is with them on the journey is needed to make agency work, and enable learners to be self-directed and motivated to define their own success.

For anyone who is interested I am still looking for ways to have both of the things I mentioned at the end of the video, it doesn't need to be one or the other.


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