7 Tips to begin Increasing Learner Agency

Kate Friedwald  |  Jan 2022

So you want to provide more agency for your learners this year? A great idea.  Increasing agency develops self-managing learners, increases engagement, and gives you more time to teach.

The information in this blog post was originally put together for teachers enrolled in my Ditch the Tumble online digital course however I understand it could be useful for those not quite ready to take the leap into the course just yet.

Whether it is the start of the year or part way through, the below 7 tips will have you making a positive start to increasing agency in your classroom in no time.  Several of the tips are based on resources available as part of the course mentioned above and others you can action immediately.  Of course, if you know you already want the support of my online digital course then click here and get yourself enrolled.

Check your mindset

Increasing agency really is all about YOUR mindset. Four main ideas to think about.
Classroom control – You NEED to share this as much as possible.
Key Competencies – You NEED to see these as important learning areas that require explicit teaching/learning. Managing Self is agency in a nutshell.
Curriculum Learning – You NEED to see the importance of not only explicitly teaching curriculum areas but also integrating these to allow for the more realistic application of learning.
Evidence of Learning – You NEED to ensure you place value on the learning process over the learning product. Having 26 identical products for the wall does not necessarily equal high learning or high agency.

Setup your class for agency

This is all about walking the talk. Do you know why passion projects or genius hours don’t work for some teachers? It is because they are ONLY giving agency at these times. The majority of a learners’ week they are directed by the teacher then all of a sudden for this “time” expected to self manage and show agency. To achieve success you need your class to be set up to live and breathe agency.

Think about your setup and organisation. Are you setting up your new year procedures and routine with a focus on agency? Take a moment to really look around. Start with the points in this image but certainly don’t stop there.

Start on Day One

Don’t wait. If it is the start of the year don’t confuse your bright-eyed new learners by waiting to “start” when you don’t need to. If it’s the middle of a term or year then that’s all good but start NOW, don’t wait. As long as you have the right mindset there really is no reason not to get started straight away.

Day one – set say 3 tasks and a timeframe to do all three. Give time checks to help and make tasks easy so learners focus on self-management, not the learning itself. At the start of a year these might be tasks such as a getting to know you survey, creating a label for their tote tray, and reading from the class library.

Start Small

Remember many of your learners might be new to this. They, and you, might have had several years in a predominantly teacher directed environment. You all need to start at Phase One (Ditch the Tumble course lingo). Don’t try and jump ahead until they have got Phase 1 sorted as this will make your life harder down the track. Just focus on the core elements at Phase One.

Learning Needs – Identify what they are learning or practicing in EVERY task. This could be as simple as “This task will help my reading”
Self Management – Only focus on managing time. The “when”. When will each task be done? What order? How will you get each one finished?
Setup – Keep the tasks simple and explicit. Only expect them to manage their time over single sessions. This may be three tasks in 45min-1hr. As the week goes on see if you can reduce the time checks for any learners before you progress to more tasks over more time.

Set Expectations

Use the self-management progressions (available as a Ditch the Tumble resource) and set these as expectations with your learners from early on. I suggest just focusing on Level 1 (Phase 1) and don’t even go over the other progressions to start with. In the course files, you have access to both the display and the google sheet version. I like to just start with the display and I pull off a piece to discuss and go over with the class before and after each session. You could also print individual copies of the google sheet and highlight progress or use them digitally to do the same. Learners need to be showing they are doing these things independently and consistently every day.

Use the Question Banks

Another resource available as part of the course is the question banks. These are really there to remind and prompt you to ask rather than tell. Telling your learners what they are learning, what to do, and how to do it is not going to help them think for themselves. Print these question banks and have them on hand as you walk around the room having discussions with learners. Use them prior, during, and after your sessions. It can be harder than you think to change the way YOU prompt learners but is so worth it.

Teach Less Guide More

I know it is tempting to want to get stuck into taking groups and workshops. BUT DON’T. One of the huge benefits of having an increased level of agency in the classroom is more learning rather than busy work or off-task behaviors. To develop this however your learners NEED you!

You don’t need to get all the way through to Phase 3 without teaching. My suggestion is to dedicate 3-5 weeks to JUST supporting learners as they develop. You are “teaching” key competencies. You are “teaching” problem-solving. You are “teaching” time management. Just because you aren’t “teaching” curriculum content doesn’t mean they aren’t learning.

So, What are you waiting for?

This roadmap gives you an idea of the bigger picture beyond the getting started phase. If you would like more support then Ditch the Tumble is for YOU. This kick arse digital course supports you each step of the way as you increase agency in your classroom. Course videos, templates, progressions and activity resources are all available immediately upon enrolment. A course Facebook group and regular zoom sessions are included and is where your personalised support will come from.

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