Creating Agentic Learners

Agentic is a funny word that my husband tells me makes little sense. Agentic = agency = bad place to have to go to, someone there telling you off, making you beg, judging your values...a social welfare institution looking over your shoulder. It is generally a negative connotation.

I find this a funny word, but what it is meant to mean here is being the agents of your own destiny, being in control of your own learning. It is something that our school documents talk about a lot, in creating resilient learners. Resilience being one of our core values, CARR values.

It is really easy to fall into a trap of doing too much for you learners. When you see them struggling to even get some containers organised for taking paint home (one student so far out of 25 year 11's); my first thought is to go down to the warehouse and get some for them. It's only a few dollars, some students may not have a few dollars, I feel like I am letting them down not doing this. But then, is this a case of priorities and/or lack of lateral thought on how to solve the problem themselves. Do I set it up so that thought doesn't go into how to get around the problem, next time something is needed? Sometimes I think yes, sometimes no. I think it all depends on the context. But I am not buying those containers for my senior students! I do think it is not encouraging agency to just buy them.

This is my "hunch"; that I can increase the levels of agency in my senior students by expecting them to make some important decisions about their work and expecting them to find solutions that I do not provide for gear.

This is how I have been doing this so far: Year 11 - nothing about their folios is pre-formatted. While they have an overarching theme of Propaganda and world war two, they are expected to develop their own approach to it. Normally I would encourage this, but also have significant scaffolding to fall back on for students who were likely to struggle. The problem being, that capable students would also fall back on the scaffolding, as it was easier. So they are not extending themselves. Their work falls a little bit flat sometimes. So I have reversed that. Students are expected to develop their own way forward, and if I recognise the struggle, which I should with all the checks and balances in place, I work on scaffolding the work to the individual. This is not necessarily easy to do with a large class, and it more like the approach I take at Year 12, with smaller numbers.

Progress with this class so far is interesting. There are students who are doing really cool stuff; Liberty, Theresa, Madison, Shane, Taryn, Olivia, Tailah, Jahaana, Shaiana all showing a sense of control over their own ideas, telling me what they think their next step is, and why, with good back up. There are nine students also struggling. One is due to skills not being in balance with ideas. Four are because they speak little English, and struggle with following what is going on. The remaining four sit with lower literacy levels than you would want in Year 11.

A breakdown statistically:

  • Students excelling - 9, 8 girls, 1 boy. 4 Maori students, 4 Pakeha
  • Students struggling: 9, 4 girls, 4 boys, 2 Maori, 2 Asian, 1 Middle Eastern, 1 Pasifika, 1 Pakeha.
  • In-between: 7, 6 girls, 1 boy, 1 Maori, 6 Pakeha.
What to do about ensuring full success: the next two weeks are about structuring and scaffolding work for those students who are in that bottom group. But, I feel like this has to be done in a way that allows for 'agency'. So that means framing up a direction that each student could take, but allowing for choice, and finality. e.g. 'Do two A3 paintings, that fit here, choose between these three themes, then design the top half of panel two based on what you think is the next step'. That, I have rattled off as an example of how I would potentially speak to one student in particular, who is in my head as a write.

Beyond that, I do not want to leave that top group alone, I want to push the extension required too. Critiques could be a way of doing this, which could encompass that in-between group, providing momentum and possible extension too.  Critiques in fact could be my inquiry focus for Year 11 in general. Critiques in groups, self-managed by the students, not me, as a means of extension and agency. My hunch again; that introducing critiques in small groups without teacher input, but with expert learners, could also encourage agency.


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