November 11, 2015
by Larry Ferlazzo
I believe helping students develop “agency,” which is often defined as the ability to be pro-active in responding to your circumstances, is an important part of classroom – and life – success. Unfortunately, few include an important second part of the definition – recognizing that there could be outside limitations on a student’s pro-activity, and that omission can lead to what I call the “Let Them Eat Character!” element of Social Emotional Learning (see my Washington Post piece, The manipulation of Social Emotional Learning).
Nevertheless, there are a number of actions we can take in the classroom to help students deal with both parts of that definition.
Unfortunately, I’m not convinced that a big new report on “student agency” is going to be that much of a help to teachers and students who want to implement those kinds of actions. It comes from something call The Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard, and it’s called The Influence of Teaching Beyond Standardized Test Scores: Engagement, Mindsets, and Agency. You can read more about it at Education Week and at the Boston Globe.
It’s based on 300,000 electronic student surveys and, though I’m a big advocate of teachers using personalized student surveys to inform instruction, I’m less convinced of their value on a broad scale. As we say in community organizing, a survey is only useful as a tool to initiate a personal conversation. Outside of an individual classroom context, I would be very hesitant to use them to generate conclusions about anything, no matter what the writers of this report or the people behind the flawed Gates MET Project say (see A Beginning List Of The Best Posts On Gates’ Final MET “Effective Teaching” Report). The report justifies the use of the student surveys by citing their use by Gates.
I’m very open to hearing that I’m unfairly criticizing the report, but it also doesn’t seem to me to provide any useful recommendations to teachers beyond vague ideas.
My next book (out in March) will have a section on student agency and how teachers can encourage its development. I suspect that this particular section will appears somewhere as an excerpt. However, to get started now, here are a few links to more practical strategies that teachers can apply in the classroom to help students gain agency:
Positive Self-Talk (“Control Your Destiny”: Positive Self-Talk, Students & Stephen Curry)
Goal-Setting (My Best Posts On Students Setting Goals)
Metacognition (My Best Posts On Metacognition)
Teaching Students About Their Brains (The Best Resources For Showing Students That They Make Their Brain Stronger By Learning)
Student Reflection (The Best Resources On Student & Teacher Reflection)
Students Teaching Others (The Best Posts On Helping Students Teach Their Classmates — Help Me Find More)
Encouraging Student Action on Justice Issues (The Best Teacher Resource Sites For Social Justice Issues)
Student Choice (The Best Posts & Articles About Providing Students With Choices)
Giving Appropriate Feedback (The Best Resources For Learning How To Best Give Feedback To Students)