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What is Learner Agency?

Updated: Sep 25, 2023

Learner agency is at the centre of all the enhancement in the PYP programme and, therefore, requires a clear understanding of what it means and what it entails in any given inquiry-based classroom. This blog post aims to share some of my successes with learner agency.


Learner Agency

Learner agency in any classroom is defined as students having a voice, choice and responsibility for learning. Bandura describes agency as "the power to originate action" ( 2001, p. 3). Simply put, it means agentic students - actively engaged in their learning and able to independently make choices that help them monitor and adjust their learning in given learning conditions. Learners have the will and power to work through obstacles and create a course of action to reach their goals. If learners need support, they can ask for help. Such learners thrive on giving and receiving feedback to improve their learning.

Learner agency cannot work alone on its own. It relies on students' self-efficacy- the self-belief that they can succeed. Self-efficacy beliefs influence how people feel, think, behave and motivate themselves ( Bandura, 1993). Students with higher self-efficacy demonstrate more agency. As teachers, we must ensure we are helping students with low self-efficacy.

What have you done to create opportunities to build self-efficacy and agency in your classroom? Remember, the agency does not mean allowing learners to “go off on their own”. Teachers work alongside students as co-researchers and coaches in an authentic agentic classroom. The agency also implies having a carefully crafted learning culture that invites students to have a choice, voice and ownership in the learning process.

Mastery Experiences: Bandura (2008) argues that the most effective way to build self-efficacy is through mastery experiences. In maths, I always begin the new concept with low threshold high ceiling tasks to help students believe everyone can do maths to the highest level. Once students sink their teeth into the concept, I aim to provide mastery experiences with lots of practice. All students have access to differentiated tasks labelled mild, spicy, and hot and are motivated to work on the next challenge level once they have achieved mastery at their level. We wish our students who lack self-efficacy to value effort and perseverance. If a child can accomplish a difficult task that they have not been able to do in the past, it helps to bolster the belief that they can do the learning task with increasing complexity.

Interventions: Providing sharp, short intervention boosters is another way to help students achieve mastery. Catch the students with low self-efficacy in the morning during soft start or after lunch. Go through the task and confer with the students. Try to clear the misconceptions; this way students will feel more confident in grappling with the same concept during class learning and make progress by leaps and bounds.

Asking for students' voice in a classroom setup, class routines, transition ideas and signals: I always provide my students with some research before asking them to help set up the classroom. Students' designs are not meant to be just tokenistic but need to work on every level. Here is one of the resources I gave to my Y4 learners before asking them to redesign the classroom. The result was phenomenal, as the new setup removed my teacher's control.

Now, with the agency in the centre of our learning space, students decide two important things for themselves:

1. Where to sit

2. Who to learn with

Do I need my teacher's help, or should I work alone? Students, not me, now make all these decisions!

I believe that the agency is not just adding Itime or free choice time on your timetable; it is about building students' resilience and perseverance to tackle challenges, thus giving students more control over their learning. It is also about giving feedback at the right time so students know what needs to be done, thus creating a conducive environment for students to make choices. It is also about listening to students' stories and perspectives, giving the learners a say or voice in everyday learning.

Good luck!


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