7 Tips to Begin Increasing Learner Agency

So you  want to provide more agency for your learners? A great idea.  Increasing agency develops self-managing learners, increases engagement, and gives you more time to teach.

Whether it is the start of the year or part way through, the below 7 tips will have you making a positive start to increasing agency in your classroom in no time.

1.Check your mindset

Increasing agency really is all about YOUR mindset. Four main ideas to think about.
Classroom control – You NEED to share this as much as possible.
Key Competencies – You NEED to see these as important learning areas that require explicit teaching/learning. Managing Self is agency in a nutshell.
Curriculum Learning – You NEED to see the importance of not only explicitly teaching curriculum areas but also integrating these to allow for the more realistic application of learning.
Evidence of Learning – You NEED to ensure you place value on the learning process over the learning product. Having 26 identical products for the wall does not necessarily equal high learning or high agency.

2.Setup your class for agency

This is all about walking the talk. Do you know why passion projects or genius hours don’t work for some teachers? It is because they are ONLY giving agency at these times. The majority of a learners’ week they are directed by the teacher then all of a sudden for this “time” expected to self manage and show agency. To achieve success you need your class to be set up to live and breathe agency.

Think about your setup and organisation. Are you setting up your procedures and routine with a focus on agency? Take a moment to really look around.  Can learners access resources easily?  Can the go to the toilet when they ask?  Choose where to learn?

3.Start on day one

Don’t wait. If it is the start of the year don’t confuse your bright-eyed new learners by waiting to “start” when you don’t need to. If it’s the middle of a term or year then that’s all good but start NOW, don’t wait. As long as you have the right mindset there really is no reason not to get started straight away.

Day one – set say 3 tasks and a timeframe to do all three. Give time checks to help and make tasks easy so learners focus on self-management, not the learning itself. At the start of a year these might be tasks such as a getting to know you survey, creating a label for their tote tray, and reading from the class library.

4.Start small

Remember many of your learners might be new to this. They, and you, might have had several years in a predominantly teacher directed environment.  Start small giving agency over a couple of things at a time or a short block of time at once. Don’t try and jump ahead until they have got the basics sorted as this will make your life harder down the track.  The basics isn’t just the setup it is understanding what they are learning and managing their time effectively.

Keep in mind the “walk before you run” saying.

5.Set Expectations

Set expectations with your learners from early on.  Again make these expectations small so progress can be seen and success can be experienced. Once learners can show they are meeting expectations independently and consistently every day then you can increase the expectations along with the amount of agency.

Early expectations might include moving away from someone if you aren’t managing to stay focused, reading the clock or setting a timer and following the task instructions.

6.Question Question Question

You are trying to move away from doing everything for your learners so stop telling them how to improve, what to do or how to do it.  Question them.  Ask questions before, during and after a task to prompt their thinking about self management, and learning.

What do you think you will learn from doing this task?  How long do you think it will take you?   What resources will you need?  Who could help you?  What did you learn?  Where to next?

It can be harder than you think to change the way YOU prompt learners but is so worth it.

7.Teach Less, Guide More

I know it is tempting to want to get stuck into taking groups and workshops. BUT DON’T. One of the huge benefits of having an increased level of agency in the classroom is more learning rather than busy work or off-task behaviours. To develop this however your learners NEED you!

You don’t need to make it all the way to ninja level before teaching but you do need to spend a decent chunk of time dedicated JUST to supporting learners as they develop. You are “teaching” key competencies. You are “teaching” problem-solving. You are “teaching” time management. Just because you aren’t “teaching” curriculum content doesn’t mean they aren’t learning.

So, What are you waiting for?​

Go forth and enjoy.  Bring the fun and engagement back to learning and experience the awe as your learners start to take charge themselves.

Kate Friedwald is a classroom teacher at heart who has been successfully supporting teachers for many years to increase agency in the classroom, challenge educational norms and make education a better experience for learners and educators. She is an MoE accredited facilitator, speaker, workshop facilitator and director of freedom ed.

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Published on Friday, July 1st, 2022, under Learning, Modern learning environment, Teacher Effectiveness

Karen Tui Boyes is a champion for Life Long Learning across nations, industries and organisations. Winner of the NZ Educator of the Year 2017 and 2014 and the NZ Speaker of the Year award in 2013 & 2019, Karen is a sought after speaker who continually gets rave reviews from audiences around the world. Her dynamic style and highly informative content—which turns the latest educational research into easy-to-implement strategies and techniques — sets her apart from others in her field.

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