In the MIS definition of learning, one of the principles focusses on being Learner Centric – “Students learn better when they have agency in the learning process (MIS 2018)”. This is further supported by the Enhanced PYP “Agency is the power to take meaningful and intentional action, and acknowledges the rights and responsibilities of the individual, supporting voice, choice and ownership…”, IBO November 2017.
In the Early Years, the unit of inquiry is driven through play and play provides for agency naturally, making visible the capabilities of the learners, understanding their perspectives and gives them ‘voice and choice’, as they become participants in and take responsibility for their own learning.
This year as we started virtually, we thought of ways in which we can design our teaching and learning in order to make it more flexible and open to the interest of our young learners. Our first task was to build positive relationships and trust with our learners, which is essential in promoting agency. Learners need to feel comfortable, valued and trusted to interact, participate and communicate confidently and to be risk takers (experimenting and making mistakes) so that they can understand themselves better, as learners. During Google Meets and interacting through Seesaw posts and comments, the teachers and learners had meaningful conversations. Observations were made as they expressed and shared their experiences, ideas, thoughts, concerns and talked about their interests. Taking into account our observations of the learners and their requests, we planned the learning engagements making them relevant and meaningful.
Next, the learners were encouraged to create their learning spaces at home that best support them as learners. They were encouraged to personalise them with the things that are familiar and comfortable, so that they feel ownership over the space and motivated to use it responsibly.
During our unit on How we express ourselves, we explored the different ways stories are expressed, what they express and how stories can be created and told. Through the unit stories were read, often ones requested by the learners so that they felt connected and valued. Exercising their agency, they set challenges for their peers and shared their personal experiences which led to exchange of knowledge, research and inquiry. During Google Meets, opportunities were provided for them to lead games like Scavenger Hunts, Simon Says etc. and choose the songs they would like to sing. They were encouraged to choose the tools, materials and media while providing evidence of their learning, thus honouring the different ways each learner wants to be engaged to represent their theories and understanding.
The students recorded commentaries or reflections of how they had engaged with an activity, this gave us access to the whole learning process and not just the finished product.
They were invited to plan Google Meets and suggest what they would like to learn about linked to our units. Opportunities were provided for each child to communicate, both during group Google Meets and during our short one on one sessions with the learners, ensuring that each one’s voice was heard. Choices were offered in their learning experiences based on what they wanted to inquire into and sometimes their interests. Peer assessment experiences enabled them to have a voice in evaluating their peer’s stories, seeing each other as valuable contributors in their learning journey. This exercise helped them learn from one another, respect each other’s ideas and encouraged them to reflect on their work to develop their learning and recording of learning further.
The Three-way conferences were meaningful experiences where the learners were empowered to reflect on their own areas of growth, create their own goals purposefully and action plans taking responsibility of their own learning.
Nurturing children’s sense of agency involves being a part of the learner’s experiences, encouraging them to be independent, stepping in sensitively to support them when necessary, so that they learn to understand that agency is knowing when you need support.
Here are some reflections from our learners on being a part of the planning and making decisions about their learning:
“It was fun”. They said, they felt “happy”, “being our helpers” and “leaders”, felt “grown up” and “proud”.
MIS “Mahindra International School – Definition of Learning” (2018)
PYP: From Principles into Practice (IB2018) The Learner- Learner Agency
- Agency in the Early years – Anne Van Dam, October 2020
- Powerful Learning, Powerful Learners – Duane Smith, 26th September2020