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Educator Development

How to Build Student Agency in the Classroom

To create powerful learning experiences that prepare students for the future, we must give them agency over their learning. Greater agency leads to more engaged, confident, and capable students who are ready to succeed in an ever-changing world. 

Given the learning expectations that educators need to fulfill each year, it can be hard to see how giving students more voice and freedom of choice is possible with so much content to teach. But there are ways to build student agency, starting small and expanding as both teachers and students get more comfortable with this approach to teaching and learning.

Below we give you some ideas and concepts to start building genuine agency in your school or classroom. When students become active participants in choosing their learning path, they will experience greater academic, personal, and social success, preparing them for adulthood.

Start with student interests, questions, and curiosities.

All kids are naturally curious as they explore the world around them. Tap into these curiosities and interests to give students more power over their learning. 

Leading with questions or wonderings students have allowed them to be co-creators in their learning experiences. This gives students a voice right from the beginning of a unit of study or a project. As students explore a topic that interests them, it gives them the confidence to find answers to problems and solve real-world challenges. 

One way to nurture student agency is to explore the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in your classroom. Invite students to connect their observations about their immediate surroundings to broader issues facing the world, such as food insecurity or poverty. Making these connections to global and local challenges empowers students to explore their questions and find solutions through their learning.

Give students choice in both demonstrating knowledge and assessment.

Allowing students to choose how they will demonstrate their knowledge or understanding is one important aspect of agency. Before offering students that choice, it is crucial to help them reflect on how they learn best. They need the background knowledge and information to make informed choices, especially if greater agency is something they don’t have much experience with.

Ask students to reflect on how they like to take in new information—do they like to read, listen to audio, watch videos, etc.? Helping them understand how they learn best can guide them in how to demonstrate their knowledge in the classroom. It could also be helpful for students to see examples of past work to spark their creativity and so they know what’s possible.

Giving students agency in how they will be assessed is another important way to build their confidence and help them understand their strengths. Giving students clear expectations and communicating how they will be assessed sets them up for success in both self-reflection and giving and receiving feedback.

Help students know their strengths and areas of growth.

Helping students develop greater self-awareness around their learning strengths and challenges is a crucial aspect of building agency. Students should have an accurate picture of where they are on their learning journey and what steps they need to take next. As an educator, you can help students reflect on how they learn best, what kind of learning environment they need, and so on. 

When students know their strengths and areas of growth, this gives them the power and confidence to direct their own learning. They have a clear idea of where they are and a vision for their future. Self-reflection is a skill that can be practiced, and one that students will use throughout their lives. 

Greater agency in the classroom is the starting point for helping students become independent, successful adults who actively work to make the world a better place. Students who take ownership of their learning develop the confidence, strength, and self-awareness to succeed in their future careers. 

How do you promote student agency in your classroom? We’d love to hear your thoughts and advice for other educators! Tag us on social media and use the hashtag #UnitingOurWorld.

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