What should we promise our learners as they walk through the schoolhouse door each day? What can you promise them this year and every year? The answer is simply “Learner Agency”! If your vision and beliefs as an educator is to assure that every child becomes an independent, self-directed learner so that they have choices in college, career, and life, then how do you plan to fulfill the promise of learner agency? Let’s take a look at some ideas that could get you to that promise, but before we do, let’s dive deeper into what it is, what it looks like and why it should be our promise!
What is Learner Agency?
In the most simple terms, Learner Agency is “the power to act”. It is about empowering each learner to take ownership to their learning, to have a voice and choice in their learning with the understanding and ability to take action around their learning. Learner agency flourishes in learning-centered environments where the classroom culture is build on trust, respect, and mindfulness and where learners are co-designers of learning alongside their teacher. As you are creating a culture of agency, the most important thing to remember is there is a process to create a classroom culture where the learner is at the center, empowered to take action of their learning. It is most important for you to understand what this process looks like from the perspective of the learner. Discover this and more in the Crosswalk of Learner Agency Across the Stages (see below).
What Learner Agency Looks Like
In 2016, How to Personalize Learning was published where we decided to include an entire chapter on learner agency. In Chapter 3 we included the 7 Elements of Learner Agency along with a set of illustrated continuums and descriptions for each of the elements: Voice, Choice, Engagement, Motivation, Ownership, Purpose and Self-efficacy. The infographic below was created from the “Crosswalk of Learner Agency Across the Stages” chart in How to Personalize Learning. It is designed to provide insight of what the learner is doing in each of the 7 elements of learner agency across the Stages of Personalized Learning Environments (PLE), v. 5.
In whatever stage that you are in, consider using this chart as a way to self-assess what is happening with your learners and to appreciate that each learner is unique in the way that they learn and at the pace in which they are developing agency in their learning. But where do we begin to understand the uniqueness of each learner? The first step is for learners to create their Learner Profile using the UDL Lens of Access, Engage and Express™ so that they can articulate who they are, how they learn and what they aspire to be. In the Learner Profile, each learner can now share their strengths and challenges in how they Access and process information, how they Engage with content and concepts and how they Express what they know and understand. With this information, learners can discuss with their teachers how they can build a Personal Learning Backpack™ of tools and skills to support their learning and then set learning goals in a Personal Learning Plan™ designed to enhance a strength or support a challenge so they can become more independent and develop agency.
Why Learner Agency Should be our Promise
When learners experience agency, they can realize their hopes and dreams and make informed choices for college, career, and life. With agency, a child has the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn in a world where jobs have yet to be imagined. Remember that learner agency also provides a reason to commit, take risks, and persist in the face of challenges and setbacks. The UDL Lens of Access, Engage and Express™ and personalized learning can be the centerpieces to fulfill the promise of agency for every learner. Always remember…”A Learner with Agency is a Learner who is Future Ready!”
The UDL Lens of Access, Engage and Express, Personal Learning Backpack and Personal Learning Plan are trademarks of Kathleen McClaskey.