What Learners Think About Agency

dr seuss quote

It’s hard to believe, but our six-part collaborative blog series with Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClaskey on Learner Agency is nearing an end! For this last post, we all felt it was crucial to get perspectives on learner agency from learners themselves. We asked some middle and high school students from our member districts to reflect on what learner agency means to them and answer a few questions on the topic. Below are some of their (as usual) insightful and thoughtful responses.

Q1: Why is agency important to you?

[Deadlines] were never set in stone, but worked around the class’ comprehension of topics. Personally, in class I appreciated the flexible due dates because I was often ahead of the class. All assignments for the unit would be posted at the beginning of it, so when I finished quickly I could move on. ~ High school student, Elmbrook School District

It lets me learn things my own way, and makes me understand it a little better. ~ Middle school student, Muskego-Norway School District

Because you get to work at your own pace, and chose to do things when you want to. You can get advanced in subjects because there are no limits. It really opens up a bunch of possibilities. ~ Middle school student, Muskego-Norway School District

We were given more choices on how we wanted to learn. If someone didn’t want to do the practice problems on canvas, then they could complete them on paper and get them checked in. If someone didn’t like using the remotes for the quizzes, then they could write the answer down on their whiteboard or desk. There was also a choice of taking a test or doing an alternative summative assessment. These choices made learning lean towards my preference while other classmates around me didn’t have to compromise their comforts. We could all learn in ways that were easier for us but still take in the same amount of material. Also, I am a horrible test-taker so having the alternative assessment was a better choice for me. I could use one of my strengths (writing) and use it to show what I learned in the unit. ~ High school student, Elmbrook School District

I have accelerated very much in the math department and feel like I am challenged, which isn’t a feeling that I have had in a long time. ~ Middle school student, Muskego-Norway School District

Q2: How are you able to demonstrate agency in your classroom?

[Our teacher] would frequently ask us how he could make learning better for everyone, and modified his teaching accordingly. One example of this is how he adjusted goal setting when some students said it was almost absent or not thought of in the daily routine. He modified it so that everyone is aware of their goals and notes their progress in them daily through a survey. This is hugely important; in this classroom everyone gets a say, and everyone is heard. ~ High school student, Elmbrook School District

[I]n algebra class, and we were learning about how to graph equations in slope-intercept form. I had already learned about this last year because I was in a high math class, and class began to become boring. I talked to my algebra teacher, and she allowed me to take the test for the unit before my peers, and I got every question right. My algebra teacher allowed me to continue to work ahead, letting me learn from online videos instead of regular classes. I accepted the challenge and continued to work faster than my peers. Currently, two months after I felt my voice really mattered, I am four units ahead of my classmates and continue to work at my own pace. I used my voice to reach my full potential as a learner, and continue to work harder everyday. ~ Middle school student, School District of Waukesha

I like how I can work at my own pace and pick how I wanna lay out my schedule. If in the morning one day I decide to read I can do that. Or if another day I chose to work on a project in the morning I can also do that. ~ Middle school student, Muskego-Norway School District

It’s independent and I can work at my own pace and talk with my friends while I work. I can learn about what I want to learn about not just what the standards say that I need to. ~ Middle school student, Muskego-Norway School District

I can work at my own pace and I can choose when I want to organize my schedule. ~ Middle school student, Muskego-Norway School District

You get to choose when you do a certain subject or project. ~ Middle school student, Muskego-Norway School District

Q3: How is it different now than what you’ve experienced in the past?

Project I is a classroom where you are not told to do things (it’s nothing like traditional class,) It is when you get to CHOOSE what you want to do. In Project I you are assigned work at a certain time but during that time you get to choose what you want to work on, which makes you feel less rushed and we do not get letter grades, we learn to learn, we get numbers instead, which makes you think ‘Oh, I gotta work on some of that more” And you move on. ~ Middle school student, Muskego-Norway School District

Project based learning has helped me because unlike a regular classroom I can work at my own pace and achieve much more than a regular classroom in a shorter amount of time. For example, last year I did 7th grade, 8th grade, and 9th grade math all in one year. In a regular classroom I would not be able to do all that. ~ Middle school student, Muskego-Norway School District

With flexible time and space, the students don’t have to have the material understood by a certain time. When we take quizzes, it’s alright for us not to know the material completely, since it will help us know what we have to work on. Even with assignments, we have a one to two day flexibility of due dates to match with our busy schedules. With this flexibility, we don’t have to worry about time but we can also focus more on the quality of the assignments that we turn in. ~ High school student, Elmbrook School District

It helps me manage my time and work on things I need to work on rather than being in a traditional class and having to relearn things that I already know or not understanding something and not being able to get help. ~ Middle school student, Muskego-Norway School District

By having the other students around it seems like doing your work is fun because you get to talk to your friends when you’re doing your work. When your work seems fun then it goes by like a breeze. ~ Middle school student, Muskego-Norway School District

From my personalized learning perspective, this unit was a vast improvement from the previous ones. The four elements that have helped me are: flexible time and pace, rapid cycle feedback, assessment of learning, and standards guided learning. ~ High school student, Elmbrook School District

Since I joined my project program my math scores have been raised highly. In 6th grade my math grade was a D+. Now, I am learning better than I ever could with a normal classroom. ~ Middle school student, Muskego-Norway School District

Q4: How will this help you in the future?

You have to manage your time to get your work done and the work can be challenging so it helps you learn better. ~ Middle school student, Muskego-Norway School District

It will help you with time management, responsibility, and so many life skills. If you want to learn independently, then Project i is the place for you!! ~ Middle school student, Muskego-Norway School District

One of the things I love about Project i is the time management. This program is preparing you for the real world, I know I’m going to do well in high school because I have learned how to manage my time. ~ Middle school student, Muskego-Norway School District

Project i has taught me how to be more independent and make better choices. Project i has also taught me how to work with others on things. ~ Middle school student, Muskego-Norway School District

I also can learn important life skills about getting work done and managing my time. ~ Middle school student, Muskego-Norway School District

I feel like it is going to prepare me for college because in college, I will have to sit through seminars and take notes. I will be on my own for projects and I’m also learning how to better manage my time. Time management is a life lesson that I think many kids just get struck with when they move to both college and high school, that is why there are so many drop outs. ~ Middle school student, Muskego-Norway School District

This brings our collaborative series on learner agency to a close. As we stated in the first blog post, Learner Agency: The Missing Link, “Learner agency often gets missed in conversations on transforming the educational system.” It is clear from the responses above that kids have a sense of ‘agency’ when they feel in control of things that happen around them. They want to feel like they can influence events, especially how and what they learn. They demonstrated in their answers that agency means that they understand…

  • when they need new learning and how to learn what they need
  • when they need to unlearn what will no longer serve them
  • when they need to relearn what they need to be successful

As agency is built and nurtured in learners, their capacity to be continuous, life-long, successful leaders of their learning will increase as well. When this happens, the educational experience will be transformed.

****************************************************************************************

Learner Agency Blog Series
#1: Learner Agency: The Missing Link
#2: Self-Efficacy: The Secret Sauce to Learning Success
#3: Discover the Learner in Every Child
#4: Learner Voice Demonstrates Commitment to Agency
#5: Ownership and Independence: The Keys to Learner Agency


Personalize Learning, LLC (@plearnchat) works with school districts and organizations to transform teaching and learning for all learners. Their model is based on transformation in three areas: changing teacher and learner roles, using Universal Design for Learning® as the lens to personalize learning, and developing a culture of learning based on a shared belief system. For more information, contact personalizelearn@gmail.com or connect with them via Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google+.

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