Student agency is an important element for schools and teachers looking to accelerate student learning. The American Institute for Research paper Maximizing Student Agency states that students’ ability to manage their learning and take an active role in seeking and internalizing new knowledge can have a significant effect on academic achievement. Also, the skills and behaviors associated with student agency positively relate to college and career outcomes.
The study identified practices to support student agency in three categories: student opportunities, student-teacher collaboration, and teacher-led approaches. Certainly, these areas overlap and student-teacher partnerships support and increase the value of each. As I review the practices below, I’ll comment on how instructional coaches, coaching colleagues, and coaching administrators might observe for and ask about the practices, reinforce teachers’ practices and extend teacher reflection.
Choice – in content, method, skills to learn, and level of participation
Consider Kathleen McClaskey’s choice continuum to engage teachers in a dialogue about degrees of choice: from the teacher offering options to students designing and driving the process.
- Group Work and Student-Led Instruction provide opportunities for student agency to be experienced, critical skills to be developed, and the empowerment of agency to be internalized. Asking teachers about their experiences in these areas should naturally fit into coaching conversations. “How would you describe your students’ current abilities in collaborative skills?” “How effective do you think students learning from and teaching each other can be?”
- Revisions and Self-Reflection – The opportunity to revise work and re-submit helps communicate a growth mindset. Learning from mistakes and feedback, even learning to seek feedback builds agency. How might you engage teachers you are coaching in exploring the ways that your coaching is built upon reflection and feedback— actually, feedforward? All of our work is about positively impacting “what comes next.”
- Development of Relationships/ Individual Conferences – Teachers invest in knowing students’ strengths, needs, and motivators. (See blog on Developmental Relationships) The coaching entry point here is asking teachers questions about what they “know” about their students and if needed how they might find out more. (Video clip on 4Cs interview 8:54)
- Goal Setting and Feedback – Teachers work with students to set goals and identify challenges and plans for addressing them. Teachers provide feedback and scaffold students to seek feedback on their own. This is a great opportunity to discuss teachers coaching students and its similarity to the teacher being coached. Teachers sharing with their students that the person in the classroom is there to coach the teacher is a great model for students. Coaching supports agency.
- Student Voice – Teachers solicit feedback from their students and make changes based on the feedback they receive. Teachers can ask a coach in dialogues with students to assist in gathering that input.
Here teachers purposefully plan for the assessment, instruction, and coaching of the skills students need to build agency. This can be in isolated learning activities around these skills or simultaneously connecting agency skills to core content learning activities.
- Direct instruction to the whole class, small groups, and individuals. Modeling and scaffolding to build agency. Teachers support the development of student agency by providing a balance of supportive scaffolding with autonomy. The key is being “just in time” with the support that causes continued engagement in learning and pulling away soon enough for student confidence in their agency to increase. “Just in time” is a great area for teacher coaching. Sharing your observations of a teacher’s time with an individual student or small group can set the stage for reflection on “How much help did I provide?” and “Why?”
- Verbal clues and positive reinforcement – Often students’ practice of agency skills is unconscious. Celebrating student effort and willingness to learn from mistakes extends agency.
- Assessing student agency provides important information for teacher planning and student goal setting. The Education Hub website provides some questions you can explore for students’ self-assessment. Here are just a few examples:
- When you are working independently, how often do you stay focused? (Almost never/Sometimes/Fairly often/Almost always)
- When you get stuck while learning something new, how likely are you to try a different strategy? (Not at all likely/Quite likely/Likely/Very likely)
- How often do you seek help and feedback so that you can improve your work and reach your goals? (Almost never/Sometimes/Fairly often/Almost always)
- How confident do you feel to evaluate your progress towards achieving your goals at school and work out what else you need to learn or master? (Not at all confident/Quite confident/Confident/Very confident)
The resources that are linked in this blog can provide a starting point for conversations with staff around student agency. During the conversations, ask teachers what they are wondering about their students’ agency and their connected teaching practices. Those wonderings can set the stage for coaching observations and conferencing. Coaching for increasing student agency will likely increase teacher agency.