Agency refers to the power to make choices. Students with agency are those who feel a high level of responsibility and ownership for their own learning: babies are perfect examples of this, learning to sit, crawl and walk, without waiting for anyone to "teach" them how, or control when or where this will occur. Within schools, student agency is often complicated to foster and nurture, as it requires a fairly high degree of individualization and programmatic adaptability. The industrial age approach to schooling is organized around the concept that students will learn the same material, at the same rate, and in the same way. Learning is, in effect, "done to students," rather than students actually doing learning. The move towards organizing around agency is a move towards shifting the locus of control for learning from the educators to the learners.
Related to the notion of agency is that of ownership: as students come to feel that their education is truly their own, the theory is that they will also feel enough agency to make their own decisions about the path they will take. Because mastery learning programs are built on the notion that students can and must make effective choices with regard to their path, pace, and place for learning. Many students arrive at school--particularly high school-with little sense of their own agency, often because of the lack of "choice and voice" that they have been able to exert in previous years. All too often, school designers assume that students will be eager and able to assume agency, but in our experience this is something will require practitioners in to organize their design process to include deep thinking about how they will foster, nurture and support student agency within their programs.
Tips for a Short Implementation Time-Line
Student Agency is a building block concept for effective mastery learning programs. To begin, it is generally helpful to ensure that students, staff members and parents have a common conception of the term, and that there are key programmatic elements in place that will provide students and faculty support as they work to foster student agency. Some examples: Student-Led Conferences and Exhibitions, Student Lead Morning Meetings, Student choice of modules, playlists and courses, and/or student presence on committee meetngs, hiring teams, and curriculum reviews.
Curated Resources: This collection of resources from the field includes models and exemplars, as well as “DIY” guidance to facilitate your exploration of this term.