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Increasing student agency for students with special education needs.

"Spoon feeding in the long run teaches us nothing but the shape of the spoon."

E.M. Forster (1908)

What is student agency?

Student agency is when learning involves the activity and the initiative of the learner, more than the inputs that are transmitted to the learner from the teacher, from the curriculum, the resources and so forth. Learner Agency is about shifting the ownership of learning from teachers to students, enabling students to have the understanding, ability, and opportunity to be part of the learning design and to take action to intervene in the learning process, to affect outcomes (Core Education, 2017).

Student agency can be simple or complicated as there are many aspects to it. Student agency allows individual students to own their learning and direct their own path through it. When we have a sense of ‘agency’ we feel in control of things that happen around us and  we feel that we can influence events.

John Spencer (2017) in his blog talks about what it means to move from compliance to engagement. That it’s the idea of creating an environment where students want to learn rather than have to learn but if you want students to be self-directed learners you need to move them to empowerment through ownership.

Student Agency - what does this mean for the students I work with?

For the students I work with all of whom have special education needs it can be as complicated as students being able to determine their own learning program, to making the subject accessible enough that students feel that they can take charge or as simple as students being able to self-start on their own learning.

Things I wonder about -

  • Would giving choices be a small step towards student agency?

  • How will the students know what they want to learn when some don’t know what they will love until a teacher introduces it to them.

  • Can I create something that lets the students see how it assists them to work interdependently.



Core Education, Ten Trends 2017

Spencer John, (2017). Making the shift from students engagement to student empowerment.  https://goo.gl/D0M2m3

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Comment by Hazel Owen on September 7, 2017 at 15:44

Thank you for sharing, Lorraine. A thought-provoking post ... especially the questions you ask, over which I have been mulling for the last few days. If it's OK I'd like to share some of the ideas that have developed in the process :D

  • Would giving choices be a small step towards student agency?

Really good question. My feeling is that it depends on the intent. If the choice is given with a sense that the teacher has some specific things in mind as to what or what may not be an appropriate choice (for instance, space monsters as a being to study as part of a biology project), then I would question if this is authentic choice. On the other hand, if the teacher approaches choice with curiosity about what their learners may choose, and willing to listen and ask questions to find out what the learner wants to find out, then that feels like a step toward fostering student agency through choice :)

  • How will the students know what they want to learn when some don’t know what they will love until a teacher introduces it to them?

I hear you - it's the, how do you know what you don't know. Around this question though, my thoughts were around...why would it be the teacher that introduces the things that they might want to learn...could it also be inspiration from other students, whanau, or the community? Or things that they see, read or visit?

  • Can I create something that lets the students see how it assists them to work interdependently.

I had a wee look around and found a couple of resources that may be an inspiration if you did decide to create something for your students to support them in their understanding of why agency will help them to work interdependently: a diagram (9 Characteristics Of 21st Century Learning)Ideas of things for students to discuss; and a TED Talk: From Independence To Interdependence.

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