Maximizing Student Agency- learners plan their own unit in my classroom

Many philosophers have propounded that learning comes naturally. A baby naturally imitates his environment, and we glean wisdom from each of our experiences. Upon reflection as an educator, I have concluded that every child certainly learns from the environment and by being taught, but the quality of knowledge absorbed can vary. Young one’s minds are pliable and ready to bounce with new ideas and yet there is a discrepancy in the way learners perform in a classroom.


I peg it on children being unacquainted with the ‘why’ of learning. In the inquiry method, we use ‘why’ to add fire to student questions and propel journeys of discovery. When I was planning a unit on migration, I was pondering about the learning engagements that would encourage the young ones to understand the process of how people move from one place to another. My coordinator wisely explained to me that the process of how they move, and the statistics of migration are not of paramount importance. The ‘why’ of migration- wars, economic distress, pandemics- and the aftereffect of migration are the crux of what we want them to know. The ever-lasting knowledge of how the world works is what sticks with young learners, and we must build in them the desire to want to discover it.

When I initially became familiarized with the inquiry pedagogy propounded by the International Baccalaureate, I found myself drowning in the creation of planners, differentiated sheets and guaranteeing each learning style was catered to. There seemed to be so much to keep in mind, and there were days that I struggled as a teacher. In hindsight, it took time for me to shed the skin of a traditional teacher and give control of the classroom to the students. 


It dawned on me that I did not need to be anxious about planners and executing a unit perfectly, the power of student agency enabled me to give control of designing unit on ‘Senses’ to the learners. I was apprehensive at first and gave the students their Central Idea and Lines of Inquiry with trepidation. 

The central idea and lines of inquiry for our unit on ‘Senses’

Learners entered breakout rooms to consider how to progress with the unit while keeping the lines of inquiry in mind. They also had to propose learning engagements that would assist them to comprehend the unit as well as plan assessments that would demonstrate their knowledge suitably. They jotted down their reflections on a Padlet wall so that we could push forward with the unit while keeping all pointers in mind. The results were astounding.
By essentially handing over command to the students, they had begun to grasp why they needed to dig deeper into the unit. They evaluated each line of inquiry and commenced bouncing questions off one another about what they needed to know, and why they required to know it. Instead of dragging their feet through teacher-planned activities, they came up with thoughts on how they would like to collect information. Every child was eager to give their suggestions on the Padlet link, and since they were suggesting activities that appealed to them, the responses catered to every learning style. The desired learning engagements ranged from research-driven tasks to experiments that would enhance their understanding of their senses and how they work in tandem.
The learners were also very clear on how they wanted to be assessed and exhibited a desire to present their knowledge through written, spoken, and artistic means. This played to individual strengths and would ensure that the students put their best foot forward as they elucidated their understanding confidently.

Padlet reflections
Padlet reflections

As a grade, we kept these Padlet walls as ready reckoners to guide us forward while going deeper into our unit. It turned out to be one of the most cherished units of the year as the learners felt a deep sense of connection and ownership with every task put before them. As an educator, it made me realise the significance of taking a step back and allowing the learners to feel a sense of maturity and pride in their decision-making skills.
Most children live their lives being told what to do and how to do it, and as adults, we acknowledge this as part of the way the world works. This one-sided supremacy stems from the home and trickles into school as it is how most of us teachers have been brought up too. As the next generation inherits a broken world, we need to give them back their autonomy so that they can be the decision-makers of tomorrow. This is a possibility if we educate them to question the why and how of everyday life at home, and then set their spirit of inquiry free within the four walls of a school. We are priming the leaders and innovators of the future, and we need to thrust them towards realizing their inner potential from a young age by encouraging them to exercise their power to make sound decisions-starting today.




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