Tuesday, December 1, 2015

What Learners Think about Agency

Final post in series by the Institute for Personalized Learning
Collaborative Blog Series on Learner Agency with Personalize Learning, LLC

It’s hard to believe, but our six-part collaborative blog series with Jim Rickabaugh, Jean Garrity, and The Institute for Personalized Learning at CESA #1 on Learner Agency is nearing an end! For this last post, we all felt it was crucial to get perspectives on learner agency from learners themselves. The Institute for Personalized Learning asked some middle and high school students from their member districts to reflect on what learner agency means to them and to answer a few questions on the topic. Below are a few of their insightful and thoughtful responses below with links to the full responses on this page on Institute for Personalized Learning.

Q1: Why is agency important to you?

[Deadlines] were never set in stone, but worked around the class’ comprehension of topics. Personally, in class I appreciated the flexible due dates because I was often ahead of the class. All assignments for the unit would be posted at the beginning of it, so when I finished quickly I could move on. ~ High School Learner, Elmbrook School District

We were given more choices on how we wanted to learn. If someone didn't want to do the practice problems on canvas, then they could complete them on paper and get them checked in. If someone didn't like using the remotes for the quizzes, then they could write the answer down on their whiteboard or desk. There was also a choice of taking a test or doing an alternative summative assessment. These choices made learning lean towards my preference while other classmates around me didn't have to compromise their comforts. We could all learn in ways that were easier for us but still take in the same amount of material. Also, I am a horrible test-taker so having the alternative assessment was a better choice for me. I could use one of my strengths (writing) and use it to show what I learned in the unit. ~ High School Learner, Elmbrook School District

I have accelerated very much in the math department and feel like I am challenged, which isn't a feeling that I have had in a long time. ~ Middle School Learner, Muskego-Norway School District

Q2: How are you able to demonstrate agency in your classroom?

[Our teacher] would frequently ask us how he could make learning better for everyone, and modified his teaching accordingly. One example of this is how he adjusted goal setting when some students said it was almost absent or not thought of in the daily routine. He modified it so that everyone is aware of their goals and notes their progress in them daily through a survey. This is hugely important; in this classroom everyone gets a say, and everyone is heard. ~ High School Learner, Elmbrook School District

[I]n algebra class, and we were learning about how to graph equations in slope-intercept form. I had already learned about this last year because I was in a high math class, and class began to become boring. I talked to my algebra teacher, and she allowed me to take the test for the unit before my peers, and I got every question right. My algebra teacher allowed me to continue to work ahead, letting me learn from online videos instead of regular classes. I accepted the challenge and continued to work faster than my peers. Currently, two months after I felt my voice really mattered, I am four units ahead of my classmates and continue to work at my own pace. I used my voice to reach my full potential as a learner, and continue to work harder everyday. ~ Middle School Learner, School District of Waukesha

I like how I can work at my own pace and pick how I wanna lay out my schedule. If in the morning one day I decide to read I can do that. Or if another day I chose to work on a project in the morning I can also do that. ~ Middle School Learner, Muskego-Norway School District

Q3: How is it different now than what you’ve experienced in the past?

Project I is a classroom where you are not told to do things (it’s nothing like traditional class,) It is when you get to CHOOSE what you want to do. In Project I you are assigned work at a certain time but during that time you get to choose what you want to work on, which makes you feel less rushed and we do not get letter grades, we learn to learn, we get numbers instead, which makes you think 'Oh, I gotta work on some of that more" And you move on. ~ Middle School Learner, Muskego-Norway School District

Project based learning has helped me because unlike a regular classroom I can work at my own pace and achieve much more than a regular classroom in a shorter amount of time. For example, last year I did 7th grade, 8th grade, and 9th grade math all in one year. In a regular classroom I would not be able to do all that. ~ Middle School Learner, Muskego-Norway School District

With flexible time and space, the students don't have to have the material understood by a certain time. When we take quizzes, it's alright for us not to know the material completely, since it will help us know what we have to work on. Even with assignments, we have a one to two day flexibility of due dates to match with our busy schedules. With this flexibility, we don't have to worry about time but we can also focus more on the quality of the assignments that we turn in. ~ High School Learner, Elmbrook School District

It helps me manage my time and work on things I need to work on rather than being in a traditional class and having to relearn things that I already know or not understanding something and not being able to get help. ~ Middle School Learner, Muskego-Norway School District

Q4: How will this help you in the future?

You have to manage your time to get your work done and the work can be challenging so it helps you learn better. ~ Middle School Learner, Muskego-Norway School District

It will help you with time management, responsibility, and so many life skills. If you want to learn independently, then Project i is the place for you!! ~ Middle School Learner, Muskego-Norway School District

One of the things I love about Project i is the time management. This program is preparing you for the real world, I know I'm going to do well in high school because I have learned how to manage my time. ~ Middle School Learner, Muskego-Norway School District


Read all of the responses on this post at the Institute for Personalized Learning.


This brings our collaborative series on learner agency to a close. As we stated in the first blog post, Learner Agency: The Missing Link, “Learner agency often gets missed in conversations on transforming the educational system.” It is clear from the responses above that kids have a sense of ‘agency’ when they feel in control of things that happen around them. They want to feel like they can influence events, especially how and what they learn. They demonstrated in their answers that agency means that they understand...

  • when they need new learning and how to learn what they need
  • when they need to unlearn what will no longer serve them
  • when they need to relearn what they need to be successful
As agency is built and nurtured in learners, their capacity to be continuous, life-long, successful leaders of their learning will increase as well. When this happens, the educational experience will be transformed.

Collaborative Blog Series Learner Agency

Collaborative Blog Series Learner Agency
Post #1 Learner Agency: The Missing Link
Post #2 Self-Efficacy: Secret Sauce to Learning
Post #3 Discover the Learner in Every Child
Post #4 Learner Voice Demonstrates Commitment to Agency
Post #5 Ownership and Independence: The Key to Agency


The Institute for Personalized Learning (@Institute4PL) works with school districts through a unique action network approach to create an educational ecosystem that is student-centered and personalized for each learner. Their model is based on change in three areas: learning and teaching; relationships and roles and; structures and policies. For more information contact theinstitute@cesa1.k12.wi.us, or connect with them via Facebook or Pinterest.