By Dr Jeni Wilson
Student voice and student agency are most certainly the buzz words and school priorities for 2020 and beyond. Defined differently by different people and sometimes used interchangeably they are intrinsically linked and undeniably pivotal to creating student centred classrooms and student directed learning.
So what does Student Voice and Student Agency mean?
Student voice and student agency are all about empowering students to be meaningfully engaged in decision making about student learning including processes related to learning.
And it’s about being listened to and being heard, where student opinions matter and have an impact.
Because all students can take responsibility for their own learning and be self-regulated and developing student voice and agency is equally applicable for all students.
Whilst you can’t teach student agency, there are tools that can assist. The Nüdel Kart was specifically designed for child led learning.
Student Voice is not:
- Students sitting in a circle where some speak up and others don’t
- Just giving students a couple of choices
- Students always getting their own way
- Noisy students having all the say
- Students just doing what they like
- Teachers losing their power
- A few students being on school committees
So, when students are empowered with the responsibility to voice their opinions, make decisions and solve problems for themselves, they develop a broad range of independent learning and leadership skills, develop confidence, and are more likely to be engaged. And this engagement ultimately leads to achievement. Because engaged, self-regulated learning is important for our children as learners, now and in the future.
“Making authentic decisions with teachers about what and how they learn and how they are assessed, leads to improved educational outcomes’ (Amplify, 2019)“
Leadbeater’s (2017) call for action reminds us that developing student voice and agency is not just another day at the office.
‘If education is to develop young people as capable agents, it can no longer rely on learning by routine. It needs to take people wider, deeper and further, to give them the experiences of what it is like to take action, to make things, to serve the community, to work with others and to take on the challenges that might once have daunted them‘
The following two examples from each end of primary education offer alternatives to traditional schooling enabling student voice and agency.
Example One – Moonee Ponds West (grade 1/2) Free Play with Nüdel Kart
Play was guided only by safety instructions.
“I was proud of what I did. I wanted to do something really big. It was really hard but it was fun.”
“You can make whatever you want. If you didn’t want to make something you didn’t have to. You can go deep, deep into your imagination.”
“I loved Nüdel Kart because I was really creative and you could experiment in lots of ways and you could develop your critical thing (sic) skills. I enjoy all of it!!!!!”
“The children took most of the initiative.”
“It’s taking us back to old school equipment, with just your imagination to lead you.”
This free play opportunity demonstrated that even young students can and do:
- Ask questions of others
- Give feedback to their peers
- Seek feedback from others to improve their own learning
- Challenge others’ ideas
- Feel confident
- Use their imagination
- Share ideas and materials
- Cooperate and collaborate with others
- Take responsibility for their own actions
- Use a range of thinking skills and dispositions
- Set their own goals
- Make their own decisions
- Take risks and show initiative
- Solve their own problems
- ….and so much more
Nüdel Kart is a deconstructable, mobile play kart that comes apart into many different pieces, and is filled with loose parts to encourage self-directed learning.
It contains researched backed specially selected materials to stimulate children’s development.
Nüdel Kart can be used in many settings, indoors and outdoors. It works across age groups from 3 yrs to 12 yrs and beyond, is not gender or culture specific and is highly supportive to people of all abilities.
Example Two – Watsonia North Primary (grade 5/6) – Developing their own study timetables
“I got way more work done.”
“I had to make an effort.”
“It was good to regulate my standard of work.”
“This is real life.”
“It was less stressful getting help without stopping others and you weren’t held up by others.”
“People were focussed, not mucking around.”
Victorian Department of Education and Training. (2019). Amplify. Empowering students through voice, agency and leadership.
Leadbeater, C. (2017). Student agency: Learning to make a difference. Seminar Series. 269, Centre for Strategic Education.
Murdoch, K. and Wilson, J. (2004) Learning Links. Curriculum Corporation, Carlton South.
Quaglia, R and Corso, M. Student Voice. 2014. The Instrument of Change. Corwin, California.
Wilson, J. (2013) Activate Inquiry. Education Services Australia, Carlton South