The Key to Learner Agency is Ownership.

One of the central themes rolling through my mind over the last few years has been the difference between learning and schooling.  The simple truth is that they AREN’T the same thing.  Learning, I think, depends on agency.  It happens when WE own the answers to the five questions that drive every experience:

Learning > Schooling

But here’s the hitch:  In schools, students RARELY own the answers to these questions.

Instead, teachers determine student groups and the curriculum determines the topics to be studied and the order in which those topics will be tackled.  There’s often no clear connection between student interest and required topics — and demonstrations of mastery are defined in advance, designed to do nothing more than make assessing and comparing student progress easier.

That’s schooling, y’all — and it is destroying the kids who sit in our classrooms.

When we strip away ownership over every learning experience and create highly scripted spaces where kids are never given the chance to set their own direction or examine their own interests or answer their own questions, we create passive students who are dependent on others for direction instead of active learners who are developing the skills and dispositions necessary to be the change agents that our world needs them to be.

Students have no real capacity to act when faced with unexpected situations because while they may know a ton, they’ve never been expected to take action independently.  Learners, on the other hand, are comfortable in uncomfortable situations because they have been setting their own direction over and over again.

Any of this make sense?  More importantly, what are YOU doing to introduce elements of ownership and agency into your day-to-day instruction?


Related Radical Reads:

What Kind of Students is Your School Producing?

Here’s What We Have to Stop Pretending

Where Have All the Beautiful Questions Gone?

What if Schools Created a Culture of DO instead of a Culture of KNOW?

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  • JocelynMolaro

    Inquiry for teachers too

    I agree with you: student-led inquiry allows students to take the ownership of their learning that is necessary for authentic learning (not schooling). I think this is true for teachers as well. Teachers need to have the space to go through the inquiry process too. They should be asking the questions that drive their inquiries, collecting their own meaningful data, and making their own professional judegments about potential solutions to their problems/ questions. There is even more potential for benefits to students if teachers are able to go through this process collaboratively and continuously. With each new inquiry, deeper problems are defined, and teachers gain a deeper understanding of their students and their students’ learning and well being.

  • tsilloway

    The key to anything is

    The key to anything is ownership! Treat it like it's YOURS, and things really change… I'm really excited to see this taking off in the form of Project Based Learning. I observed a 6th grade social studies classroom that, for a large part of the semester, was centered around individualized projects that they could apply to the real world. I was worried upon hearing how each day would look in the classroom. I imagined that students let off the leash would ultimately choose to chat with their friends, but that was only rarely an issue! When the task is authentic, they really WANT to work on their projects!