What is Student Agency?

Student agency is a term that describes the learning process that includes the implementation of a variety of activities that are considered both meaningful and important to learners. This instructional practice is primarily driven by student interest and student choice. Student agency implies that students take on the role of the agents of their own learning while teachers serve as the facilitators. In student agency, the students have voice and choice in their learning, and it is primarily self-directed.

Student agency is often referred to by educators as inquiry-based learning or project-based learning. Student agency in the classroom celebrates critical thinking and problem-solving skills. In fact, educators have shared that during these unprecedented times, the students who have had previous experiences with student agency are performing much better in a remote or virtual learning setting than students who have not. Student agency can be used at any grade level in any subject to teach any content or subject matter. When student agency is executed, student engagement is evident.

What are the Benefits of Student Agency?

There are many benefits of student agency that are easily observed in the classroom. Student agency significantly increases student engagement throughout the teaching and learning process. When students are engaged, student motivation increases. This also causes the student comprehension of content to increase. Thus, learning becomes fun and relevant.

Student agency not only promotes student engagement, but it also promotes creativity and inquiry. These two components are most beneficial in the process of student learning and student success. When students are encouraged to pose questions, make connections, and share experiences, their understanding of content increases thus increasing their knowledge base of material. The effort put into work by students through the student agency model is clearly evident. Like problem-based or project-based learning, student agency focuses on goal setting, reflection, and growth. This instructional concept truly gives students ownership and autonomy of their own individual learning process.

Another benefit of student agency is that students gain their independence. When students feel like they are being heard and valued in the classroom, they feel empowered. All of these benefits promoted and celebrated by student agency are skills that will help students throughout their educational journey, in their career, and, most importantly, in life. Isn’t that a primary role of K-12 education, to prepare students for the future? Student agency is a contributing factor in achieving this purposeful goal.

Student Agency Strategies to Promote Engagement

What are some specific student agency strategies used to promote engagement for students in any grade level at any age in any subject? A key point to remember is that students only get better at student agency when it becomes a routine or regularly practiced part of instruction. For students who are more used to a traditional form of instruction where teachers teach and students respond, this style of teaching and learning takes practice. Student agency requires a shift in mindset by both the teacher and the student. It uses a student-centered approach to direct instruction, and teachers have to feel comfortable giving up control. Student agency must become a common instructional practice, not sporadic, in order to fully promote student engagement and see positive results in the learning process.

The initial step or strategy to making this happen is to focus on creating a classroom climate that celebrates inquiry, creativity, communication, citizenship, critical thinking, and collaboration. The five Cs should be a staple in the 21st-century classroom, and student agency ensures that the elements are present. Teachers should be able to explicitly create learning targets so that students understand their own personal learning goals in order to consider the steps they must implement to appropriately accomplish reaching specific goals.

Continuous feedback and facilitation from the teacher to the student is also essential. In fact, this is a most effective strategy to promote full engagement from students working as individuals, as partners, or in a group setting. Incorporating discussions and texts that are both relevant and culturally representative greatly help to promote student interest and engagement. The publishing, sharing, and reflection of student work are also important in promoting engagement. These essential components emphasize the value of student autonomy and empowerment.

Implementing a variety of these student agency strategies on a daily basis not only promotes engagement, but it also allows students to make connections, which broadens their perspective and deepens their knowledge of content. Virtual and remote learning has exemplified for all educators how strategies can be applied through technology to promote and increase student engagement. This does not include simply putting students on a screen or assigning applications. It involves the strategic planning of implementing tools that will enhance participation, engagement, motivation, and comprehension throughout a lesson or unit of study.

We need to recognize and understand what knowledge our students are acquiring and how best to support their academic growth. Student agency is a researched educational practice that is proving time and time again to help achieve all of these goals. When we focus on our students’ interests, engagement increases. That is the sole purpose behind student agency.