Learner agency – be sure you’re asking the right questions


It’s the word right at the centre of the new enhanced PYP.


Like many schools, our teaching team is starting to reflect on what this means for how we plan learning engagements. A few weeks ago, I was sitting in a planning meeting focused on what the teachers would be doing to support learner agency and more inter-class collaboration.

Towards the end of the meeting,  a group of children wandered into my classroom and started setting up for to rehearse the play.

As the children set up, I realized the teacher contribution to this initiative was to provide some classroom space at lunchtime and show one of the children how to gain the attention of the group.

After spending 45 minutes talking with teachers about inter-class collaboration and learner agency, it hit me. Here were a group of children from different classes getting on with it!


Over the last few weeks, I spent some time talking with the students, none of whom were in my class, about what actions they had taken to organize themselves. I discovered that the children had:

  • Written the play on google docs after school.
  • Designed posters, printed them and put them up in the pod.
  • Emailed their peers to advertise rehearsals.
  • Organised to use my classroom space during lunchtimes.
  • Solved creative differences and resolved group conflict.

The children were there because they loved acting and writing (or had a friend who loved acting) and wanted to perform for a larger audience. They recognized they needed to practice and audition first before showing their work to a larger audience.




Agency is going be something PYP teachers spend a lot of time talking about in planning meetings over the coming months.

Yet how many adults really understand what learner agency means?

Would they be able to spot it?

Or would they be a bit like me and not recognize it even if it was happening right under their nose?

The lunchtime playgroup taught me an important lesson.

If I’m serious about learner agency, I need to spend less time thinking about what teachery stuff I need to be doing, the posters, the planning sheets, the activities in order for kids to exercise agency and more time really understanding my students. I need to look beyond what happens in class and watch the children, how they interact with each other and the learning environment especially when they think I’m not looking.

As agency becomes a more frequently used word in planning meetings, I know I need to really understand it.

I need to start wondering.

What is it I don’t know about the learners?

In what ways do children already exercising choice, voice, and ownership in school, in learning, in their lives?

What is it I need to be doing less of to create time and space for learners to make decisions, take action and voice their thinking?

What might I need to stop doing completely?

One thought on “Learner agency – be sure you’re asking the right questions

Add yours

  1. So true Stephanie, I like your thoughts. One thing Teachers are universally good at is over- complicating the learning pathway!

    On Thu, 5 Apr 2018 at 10:06 PM, Teaching the Teacher wrote:

    > Stephanie posted: “Agency. It’s the new buzz word right at the centre of > the new enhanced PYP. Like many schools, our teaching team is starting to > reflect on what this means for how we plan learning engagements. A few > weeks ago, I was sitting in a planning meeting focus” >


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