Learner Agency – Group Discussion

Our Thursday morning, Professional Learning has evolved to a unconference style approach. I proposed a session on learner agency with the provocative question: ‘what if students chose their own course?’

This comes from experimentation in the last few years where I’ve played around with optional standards and tried to accommodate student choice. This ranges from content to the actual design of the course. I’ve struggled with making this authentic and successful, finding that students are swayed by my bias or they are happy to opt-in to a perceived easy road. I would like to let my Year 13 students design their own course next year. I know some practice is going on in the school that is already along these lines and I wanted to learn from these ideas.

  • Year 13 Science – teacher plans a half-unit – they chose the context for the other half of the unit – and then has them do their own thing making choices around their learning. Lots of preparation is required on the teaching side of thing, but this is balanced with the benefits of heightened engagement. Flexibility key to the course. Ended up doing a external because they stopped enjoying researching and tried different modes of learning as it suited. There were some devices in the class.
  • Music – L2 has compulsory standards (16 credits) and then student choice. Some student end up with over 30 credits. The approaches they take are diverse and very individual in nature.
  • History – Year 11 they choose the topics. Standards are set – skills framework for the teaching and learning and they pick topics within that. Choosing the content is the main way that student choice is incorporated, but there isn’t so much flexibility in the standards.

What appeals to me is the authentic approach of involving students in the course making process. Sharing with them the decision making process and making them part of it opens the door to getting in-depth feedback from the students because they will be informed. It also encourages engagement through them making good choices, but the danger is letting my bias affect their decisions. This is a big shift in the way we are supporting our students. We need to be ready and be careful that we do have support for the students that are not successful with this approach. The fall back option needs to be available to pick up.

The World Challenge philosophy on a trip I took 10 students to Cambodia was to stand back when mistakes are being made. When they turned the wrong way at an airport, we were to follow them and wait for them to realise – only intervene if there was danger. How prepared might I be to let a student realise for themselves when it comes to designing their own course? How powerful would the learning be if they did end up coming to these realisations themselves?


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