Wesley College Melbourne Australia
Wesley College Melbourne

What is student agency?

Posted 8 August 2018 Student agency

What is student agency? When I first heard these words, I had visions of 20 students milling around the class devouring resources and total chaos. Yet as Kath Murdoch advocated in her book, The Power of Inquiry, student agency builds students’ understanding that they are the ones doing the learning as opposed to the learning being done to them.

This resonated strongly with me, so with a deep breath I trialled individual action plans based on the International Baccalaureate (IB) unit of inquiry, ‘Sharing the planet’. In order to make this successful, there had to be a process that students worked through.

We adopted the 5Cs of change framework, which allowed students to incorporate De Bono’s thinking hats, with which they were familiar. The 5Cs are: Connection to the project, Collection of information, Collaboration -  people who need to be part of this project, Creation, to be presented with audience in mind and Communication - how are you going to communicate the final product?

There was a change in the classroom energy from the very first session, where students realised they could choose both their project and what they wanted to create to express their ideas.

I admit, with 20 projects running simultaneously, at times it did feel like chaos. But, I realised that this was all part of the process. The overall effect totally outweighed the levels of frustration and challenges that students had to face in the lead up to presenting their final projects

Action projects require a lot of time, effort and planning in order for them to be successful. Reflecting on this process I wondered, ‘How sustainable is it to run action projects on a regular basis?’ The answer came to me in the most unexpected way.

Mid-term, Friday, with a long weekend ahead and with one tired teacher and 20 tired students, I had the idea of setting up a class supermarket which coincided with our current maths unit of inquiry. There were boxes and containers everywhere and the class represented a rubbish dump. I did not fancy spending several hours after school setting up this project and mentioned this to a colleague. ‘Get the students to do it themselves,’ he suggested. Student agency, what a great idea!

Friday afternoon was a hive of activity in Year 2. Students sorting and pricing products according to size and brand. How do we arrange these products on the shelving? A hot debate that required listening, speaking and resolving conflict skills. And best of all, by 3.20pm the students had not only completely created their supermarket, but created the name of their creation through a voting system. Priceless! Student agency I realised, can present in big and small ways too.

Next step, a class action project to raise money for the Richmond Food Centre. Visions of chaos … yes! Visions of students taking ownership of their own learning in a meaningful context … absolutely!

Shellene Hurle, Elsternwick Year 2 Homeroom teacher

Murdoch K; (2014). The Power of Inquiry. Seastar Education, Australia


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