My children tell me I’m a bit of a ‘control freak’. Personally, I don’t agree. Doesn’t everyone insist that towels be folded a certain way, or like to have a colour-coordinated Christmas tree? Ok, perhaps I do have some of those tendencies. I can safely admit this – they probably won’t read this blog.
Don’t we all like to have a degree of control over what is happening in our lives? And, the more critical the outcome of events is to our well-being, the more control we probably want to have. This capacity to act independently and to make our own choices is referred to as “agency”. Think about any aspect of your life: when you have agency, you feel more capable and self-fulfilled. The students we teach are no different. Even very young children exhibit a desire to make their own decisions and act independently, and display satisfaction at accomplishing their goals. Support for creating conditions for children’s agency is embedded in The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which states that children have a right to have their views “given due weight in all matters affecting them” in accordance with their age and maturity.
How does the concept of agency impact students and their engagement in learning?
Fostering a learning environment that supports student agency in the learning process results in many positive outcomes: greater achievement, increased motivation to learn, more persistence in overcoming learning challenges, to name a few (Jang, Reeve, Deci, 2010). In terms of assessment and instruction, learners of every age should be given age-appropriate ways to participate in matters relating to what and how they learn, and how to go about monitoring their learning and deciding, for themselves, where to focus their learning energies.
What is the connection between assessment and student agency?
“In the context of formative assessment, students’ agency refers to their making judgements about their own learning and deciding on their own, or in collaboration with the teacher and peers, the action they need to take to move learning forward…The development of students’ agency is a counterpart to the growth of their identities as confident and capable learners.” Heritage (2013)
This quotation from Margaret Heritage sets out what student agency looks like in the assessment process. It means that students are actively involved in the same actions that educators take: gathering information about what they know and can do, and what they don’t yet know and can’t yet do — and then having a say in deciding what to do next in their learning. Can you see the elements of the assessment loop reflected here? Of course! In order to have agency, learners need the same information that educators have. What are the learning goals? What does successful learning look like? How can I get feedback and monitor my own learning using the success criteria? What do I need to focus on next? What are my goals for continuing improvement?
One last thought…and a call to action!
We invite you to reflect on the teaching/learning process in your classes:
- What opportunities do you provide students to have agency in the learning process?
- What decisions do your students make for themselves?
- Do they have the tools, information and skills they need?
- Do they have your support to learn the necessary skills so that they can make appropriate learning decisions?
If you find upon reflection that learners have little decision-making power, how might you change? What are your concerns about changing? Please share with us in the comment box below.
Heritage, M. (2013). Formative Assessment in Practice: A Process of Inquiry and Action. Harvard Education Press: Cambridge, MA. p.26
Jang, H., Reeve, J., Deci, E. (2010). Engaging Students in Learning Activities: It is not autonomy support or structure but autonomy support and structure. Journal of Educational Psychology. 102(3). 588-600.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/crc.aspx