Agency refers to the ability to identify valued goals and outcomes and to pursue them purposefully and effectively. The key components of agency include the ability to identify values and priorities, a sense of self-efficacy, and the capacity to intentionally direct one’s efforts towards identified goals. In educational contexts agency is understood to comprise both action and intention.
Agentic students act in thoughtful and purpose-driven ways. Student with a high sense of agency create rather than respond to educational opportunities and work intentionally to set and pursue valued goals. Students who develop a sense of agency are advocates for themselves and the issues they care about. Agency supports students to be successful in their learning and in their life beyond school.
The concept of agency is derived from the fields of sociology and psychology. It has been increasingly used in education in recent years, but, while there is no precise consensus as to its description and definition, it can be broadly thought of in terms of a student’s ability to direct and manage their own learning. Recent research on agency in education has focused on identifying the conditions and instructional strategies that support and promote student agency.
Teachers can support their students to become more agentic by building their self-efficacy and self-regulation and helping them to identify valued goals and the most effective way to pursue them. They can create learning environments focused on the use of clear formative assessment and just-in-time support that give students the information and input they need to manage their own learning. Teachers can also attend to students’ need for congruence between their social and academic identities by acknowledging and valuing students’ lives outside the classroom. Instructional approaches such as problem-based learning and student-designed units create opportunities for students to develop and demonstrate agency.
- Do I support my students to make connections between their learning and the things they value in life?
- Do I support my students’ self-efficacy and promote a growth mindset approach?
- Do I support my students to be self-regulating learners?
- Do I provide opportunities for students to direct their own learning in ways that encourage them to pursue valued academic goals and achieve success?
- Do I provide learning opportunities that challenge all my students academically and offer guidance through ongoing formative assessment?
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