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The so what? Increasing learner agency based on student voice data published in Tall Poppies Magazine November 2017

By Brooke Trenwith

In our July issue, my article on Running Focus Groups finished with:

“Student Voice is the intentional collection and use of students’ thinking and feedback on their learning and using these voices to inform and improve teaching, learning and school-wide decision-making.” Whakatupuhia te reo, whakatupuhia te tamaiti (Enhancing Student Voice to influence school-wide decision-making and accelerate student progress)

These focus groups are only worthwhile if we act on the information given to us. To collect the voice and not use it means that the students will be less likely to give us their opinion in the future. You cannot make any promises about the impact of the focus groups but you can release the findings to the wider school community and encourage your school to act on the voice given

In this article we look at the So what? What do we do with this information now that we have it? Ideally, we want the student voice to lead to an increase in learner agency – in individual classes and across the school. Effective student voice can be a ‘change agent’ (that is incite a change in school culture or teacher practice) for gifted students gaining agency because it challenges:

  • deficit beliefs and low expectations of twice exceptional learners
  • what high expectations are
  • beliefs on how to best meet a gifted student’s learning, social and emotional needs
  • how students engage in their learning.

In the first article of this series, we used this quote to define student agency: “Student agency refers to the level of control, autonomy, and power that a student experiences in an educational situation. Student agency can be manifested in the choice of learning environment, subject matter, approach, and/or pace.”

Many educators will focus in on the word “choice” in this quote. Choice, of course, can be a great motivator for not only students but also adults. Giving two choices (both of which you want them to do) can give a sense of power sharing to a child (or adult) but does not give agency. I often use the example “Do you want to put your gum in the bin at the front for the room or the bin at the back of the room?”. The child has the ability to make a decision about which bin and this makes them feel they have a choice rather than feeling empowered because it is following the instructions of the teacher. This is a valid option and in this situation, where it is about following school rules, it is perfectly acceptable.

Giving students choices is an excellent start towards meaningful student agency and this small change can begin to improve the quality of teaching for gifted students. Giving choices is a necessary step in building learner agency as it can become overwhelming for both teacher and student if we jump from full teacher control straight into full learner agency. Think of it like birds trapped in an aviary for several months. When you first open the doors, they look at you blankly and are too scared to leave the ‘safety’ of the cage. Students need to be scaffolded into learner agency rather than just ‘thrown in the deep end’.

The next step for student voice to increase student agency, is recognising that learner choice is teacher directed whilst learner agency is student directed.

Another way to look at it is through the Maker Model (1985), this time using a gifted dyslexic student (2E/twice-exceptional):

How do we use the student voice data? Let’s look at a data snippet from an example student focus group:

In order to turn this data into a change agent for learner agency, we do not tell the teachers how to “fix this”. Instead we give them the student voice (like the examples above) and ask them how they could instill more agency based on these comments. It could be in a graphic organiser form, like the example shown or can be as simple as a table or post it notes. You can give all the options and see what will work best with your teachers.

Learner agency is not only required for our gifted students, it is a key aspect of the education of every child. In the ERO School Evaluation Indicators (Domain 4), it states “Students are given explicit instruction in learning strategies (such as goal setting, self-monitoring and deliberate practice) that enable them to take control of their learning, develop meta-cognitive skills, self-regulate, and develop self-efficacy and agency.” . By increasing the learner agency for all students we are providing the opportunities for students to show us what they are truly capable of, one of the easiest ways to increase learner agency is to state:

“This is what I would like you to do. If you want to do it differently, come and see me.”
Created By
Brooke Trenwith
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