Learner Agency #2

Having thought about the last blog – the question came to mind ‘SO WHAT?” Really what difference does it make if students have ‘voice’ or not.

Clearly there is a lot of will towards saying that students have voice. A recent idea from the Victorian Department of Education was to make it mandatory for students to be on school councils / governing boards with voting rights.

At face value this would be a simple way of giving students power to make rules and allocate resources. I think that there is more to it than that especially at the primary level.


Learner Agency 2017

Amazingly, learner agency has become all the rage! Who would have thought that Dr Rod Fawns would have picked it all those years ago! My aim with this post is to try and distill the concept.

Firstly – and ever as usual, it is about the definitions. This is an age of everyone trying to jump on the same page and share a common language about what ever it is we are talking about.  The concepts of ‘learner’ and ‘agency’ are so broad that they are at risk of being sucked into the vacuous space that is ‘eduspeak’.

So I’m going to jump straight in.

Agency is the power to make rules and allocate resources. Learner agency is the enactment of personal agency which affords learning.

Schools exist to afford learner agency. Schools are social / ecological sites with embedded affordances. An affordance may only become a vehicle for the expression of agency once that agent identifies the potential in the artefact to act as an affordance. Conversely an agent will only recognize the potential of an affordance through interaction with it in her or his learning ecology.

Thus, learners need to be ‘positioned’ in their learning ecology such that they experience various artefacts affording them a co constructive development of their agentive status.

Therefore in looking at Learner Agency, we need to discuss ‘Structures’ ‘Agents’ and ‘Artifacts’. In the process – we need to explore the other forms of agency that exist in schools and how they conspire to enable or inhibit learner agency.

So after all that babble – the working theory for me is this: What power to make rules and allocate resources do our learners have? What are the structures in place to allow this to happen and what physical things do we use as the vehicle for expressing learning agency.

Learner Agency

There is not much out there in the modern world of research into learner agency. This is mind – boggling since it lays the foundation upon which all other lifeworthy learning happens. Rather than complicate things by insisting that learner agency is the power to make rules and allocate resources, Johnston comes from the idea that that agency is a belief that ones actions are causal. Agency is an enacted theory of action.

Whilst reading Ritchharts book on cultures of thinking I came across a paper he cited. Here it is:


Well – I’m back. It has been far too long since I’ve posted. Now there are many great podcasts out there relating to Australian education.

My aim here is to look at various issues through the lens of Learner Agency in a bid to develop a meaningful sense of what it is.

I was recently listening to a Learning Capacity podcast about the difference between student centered learning and teacher centered learning. Teacher centered was characterised as being along the lines of  a Direct Instruction pedagogy and student centered a inquiry or constructionist approach.

This struck me as a typical dichotomy. How would this be viewed through the lens of Learner Agency practice?

Let’s start from the beginning – schools exist to afford learner agency. That is, they exist to give learners the power to inform the trajectory of their lives – to shape their world.

This means schools are structured so that learners can make rules and allocate resources.

So then, is LA teacher or student centered? I would say neither and both and somewhere in between. Learners require prerequisite skills in order to position themselves and navigate the structures they are in, as well as influence its design. Increased agency is a shift in the locus of control from the structure to the agent. It is the transition from being positioned by the structure to positioning oneself and others.

Albert Bandura

Schools Afford Learner Agency


I describe agency as having the power to act. By power I mean the ability to assign rules and resources. I’m not sure why I’ve developed this view. I’m sure I’ve just picked it up from somewhere.

Bandura describes an agent as someone who intentionally influences one’s functioning and life circumstances; “In this view, people are self organizing, proactive, self-regulating, and self reflecting. They are contributors to their life circumstances not just products of them” (Bandura, 2005, p. 1).


The term ‘affordance‘ refers to the opportunities for action provided by a particular object or environment.

High Rise School

What is community? Where is community?

We have been toying with the idea of setting up a community based inner urban high-rise / shopping centre school in Melbourne. The idea has been around for some time:


ABC article here


Leader Article here


The Herald here.


With 600% growth forecast for the area – and schools planned as long term projects – this becomes a real opportunity to establish a plan for developing a site that captures what it is is to ‘do’ community, through a school environment in a dense population.




Slow Learning Movement.

As usual Radio National have done it again and got my mind all-a-flutter. This time the idea was about the Slow Food movement from Italy in the 1980’s. In response to Fast Food – they made time for ‘slow food’. The connection between this and education is self evident. In fact a quick search of the RN website shows that even in 2007 they were talking about slow food in schools.

Have a look at this carl_honore_praises_slowness.html TED presentation.

What I love of course is the timing of all of this. If I were not in the middle of helping to set up what I now know might be known as a ‘Slow School’ programme, I wouldn’t have paid that much attention to it. At any rate, I’m going to pop in a few links here and jot down any salient points as they come to mind. I’m in no hurry though – even if this is an idea worthy of the times.

This makes for some interesting reading on the subject.


Learning for Sustainability

There is such a rich heritage in this area of education. It is also interesting to note (anecdotally) that a lot of the research on Student Voice is connected with activism in the area of sustainability issues.

I’m particularly interested at the moment in the idea of school design and the way artifacts (building, chairs, ways of moving from one space to another, landscape etc.) afford  student agency, student voice (especially in the planning phase) and even implicit learning. Actually, since having moved in to my new BER classroom, I’ve not stepped foot in the old ‘Mod5’ demountable classroom to retrieve my bits and bots. Apart from there being no time, I’m just not motivated to go back into that dank smelly excuse for a learning environment.

At any rate, the idea of a ‘wind solar pavilion’ is very tempting at the moment. The cookie cutter BER (Building Education Revolution) buildings sprouting up around the country could employ walk ways that are roofed with solar panels, with LED security lights powered by micro wind turbines and gutters plumbed into the BER water tanks. They would be semi circles and could even be mounted on huge treetrunks as the frame.

Here is an example of a stand alone wind solar pavilion.

Imagine the frame made from tree trunks!

I really like the idea of sticking the turbine on top of live tree.

Augmented Reality

Augmented reality, I’m thinking this could be a sense of ‘situated learning’ imbued with technology based learning tools.

Wikitude is a mob who are facilitating AR use on mobile platforms. My holiday project will be to make a ‘world’ and upload it to wkitude. Stay tuned!

The essential point here is that this represents a change in pedagogy. Teaching and learning is not about content / curriculum delivery. The notion of a ‘Maths Teacher’ or any other specialist is  bizzare to me. It presupposes that all students  (and the teacher) will drop whatever agenda they are pursuing as they enter the ‘maths’ room for their ‘maths’ lesson and adopt a ‘maths student’ persona is order to make it nice and easy for the adult (who has adopted a ‘maths teacher’ persona) to deliver the maths information which they shall somehow learn. This notion has more or less worked in a pragmatic sense ( perhaps ‘social contract theory‘ may account for this in some manner) but at the expense of student agency / student voice, and in conflict with the idea that learning happens in, through and with people. Schools are not sites for learning – students are.

AR then, is a means by which we can bring the person of the learner – their interests, their ideas, their existing skills and networks and direct them in meaningful learning that results in the student (and teacher) creating something new and rich. Something which tells what they have learned about the ‘content’ and a mirror or milestone in their transformation of self (transmogriphication). These artifacts become the intersects of life where students can see how they have changed and contrasted a perception of themselves before and after the learning event.

Before learning about AR I did not conceive of myself as being able to teach in a way that I would like to – getting kids into their lived environment to do learning (one small example). With the knowledge about AR and wikitude I can see the potential for becoming the person I expect of myself. Having achieved this, I will have a transformed idea of myself as someone who can now BE or Do what I had wanted to do. (Think Piercian Abduction in that I endup with ‘self with current perception’ and start with ‘self with other than current perception’ What have been the change agents? )