What is Student Agency?

student outcomes blue keyStudent Agency refers to students owning their learning. For our purposes this refers to the set of skills and dispositions that are required for career readiness in the modern workplace, where the key differentiator for success is the ability of employees to take ownership of their work, to act as interdependent agents.

Marie has two decades of experience in hiring and developing adults in the high-tech field to achieve agency and ownership.  Mike has experience developing the same skills with school-age children. These experiences serve as proof points that there are circumstances under which designing environments for self-direction, ownership, and agency lead to exceptional performance. This inquiry seeks to identify the circumstances under which this occurs. Still, more research will be required to refine the definition and measurement of agency as well as finding the boundaries of the environments in which it occurs.

In order to use Student Agency as a balancing outcome to Student Test Scores, we need a pragmatic, usable definition. There have been numerous approaches to identifying this set of skills, from Tony Wagner, to Angela Duckworth, to Paul Tough, to Philip Candy, all of which are useful. However, the Raikes Foundation has synthesized a list of skills and dispositions that covers many of the key elements.

According to their report, student agency refers to one of the following areas:

  1. Growth mindsets: “I can learn.”
  2. Self-efficacy: “I can do this.”
  3. Relevance and purpose: “This is important to me.”
  4. Social belonging: “I belong here.”
  5. Goal setting and management: “These are my goals, and I can reach them.”
  6. Metacognition: “I know myself and what I need to do.”
  7. Social capital: “I can get help when I need it.”

To this we add one more:

Motivation: “I want to do this.”

Note that these are outcomes of high-agency learning environments, not specific skills to be “taught” or “practiced” but rather to be fostered. We suggest that environments that employ student-centered pedagogies, approaches and strategies and support intrinsic motivation by offering the opportunities for autonomy, mastery, and relevance are high-agency environments that will foster these skills.

There is no question that these skills and dispositions are critical to success in the workplace. Using them to balance test scores as key student outcomes will prepare students both for college and career while they keep all the human and humane purposes of nurturing students front and center.