Student Agency

What Does Student Agency Look Like in the Classroom?

Cycle of Cultivating Student Agency Image

The Look of Agency in the Classroom

Cycle of Cultivating Student Agency supports and fosters the development of student agency. It can be employed to comprehend the process of integrating students’ intentions and purpose, leading them to persist, negotiate, and communicate to achieve their vision and make progress.

Cycle of Cultivating Student Agency consists of the following process:

  • Envisioning
  • Devising and Revising
  • Reflecting
  • Acting and Enacting
  • Composing and Creating

Margaret Vaughn, authors of Student Agency in the Classroom, provides this information in her book.


Visioning plays a crucial role in teaching and fostering a mindset among educators to promote student agency. Teachers require comprehensive perspectives that prioritize the cultivation of self-directed pupils who can learn effectively. These visions should be connected to fair instructional methods to ensure that the disparity between their vision and actual classroom implementation is addressed. The subsequent illustrations of teacher vision statements are expected to foster a sense of agency in students.

My objective is to equip students with the skills and knowledge to succeed in their post-school endeavors, whether it be pursuing higher education or joining the professional world. This includes providing them with specialized skills in relevant areas and fostering their ability to think critically and problem-solve. (Female instructor specializing in secondary technology education)

In my perspective, it is vital for them to acquire knowledge and comprehend… Consider this idea: How does it relate to your personal experiences and circumstances? Can you provide information on the specific context in which you intend to utilize that in the future? (Male individual who teaches students in the sixth grade)

My aspiration is for all my children to become self-reliant, empathetic, and industrious contributors to society (Male special education teacher).

My objective is to cultivate individuals with a comprehensive skill set, enabling them to successfully accomplish tasks by using their experiences and expertise. to equip them with the skills necessary to apply them in any future endeavor. (Teacher of a class in the third grade, female)

This vision statement highlights the importance of cultivating dispositional abilities in students, such as being industrious, adept at problem-solving, and independent. It also emphasizes the goal of instilling in students a viewpoint that extends beyond their time in school, enabling them to effectively apply their knowledge to real-life situations.

Students require adequate physical and intellectual environments at schools to foster the development of their aspirations, in addition to the presence of teachers. Put simply, it is necessary to inquire about students’ perception of themselves as learners in an educational setting, as well as their objectives and aspirations for a certain subject, time frame, and beyond. Gathering student perspectives on their self-perception helps teachers comprehend their responsibilities and identities inside the classroom (refer to Figure 7.2). Teachers can use this knowledge to examine how they can organize activities to further develop these visions. Examine the subsequent vision statement provided by a student I have collaborated with.

Devising and Revising

Once students have formed a clear idea of what they want to achieve and how it aligns with their goals and intentions, the crucial next step is to develop and refine their plans to foster and nurture their ability to take action. To create agentic learning environments, teachers must not only plan their instructional activities, but also model and encourage students to plan specific tasks and goals that align with their vision. For instance, in the above vision statement, the instructor can subsequently initiate a dialogue with the student and devise a strategy to achieve the goal of “reading various genres of books.”


Engaging students in discussions on their perseverance in face of adversity and their problem-solving abilities fosters a collaborative environment that values and respects their opinions. For instance, reflection can take place in significant undertakings, such as the women’s suffrage movement. In this case, the teacher poses content-oriented inquiries to the students, such as “What are you learning about the topic?” Additionally, procedural questions like “How are you compiling the information?” and “What do you need to make your podcast?” are asked. Furthermore, questions regarding conceptual knowledge, such as “What about this process is aiding your self-perception as a learner?”, are also posed. What modifications would you consider in the future, and what would be the rationale for those changes? In addition, we can incorporate reflective questions into the daily assignments we design in many topic areas to help students understand the concept of persistence. For example, when engaging in reading activities, prompting students to explain their strategies for deciphering unfamiliar words or encouraging them to articulate their thought processes during a practical arithmetic lesson are effective methods for empowering students and allowing them to demonstrate their expertise and impact. Facilitating student cognition and introspection in this manner is crucial for comprehending students’ requirements and identities, especially in terms of fostering their autonomy. Take into account the subsequent conversation I had with students throughout my research:

Michael, a student in the third grade, appeared displeased during a post-lunch inspection. Ms. Milley, his teacher, inquired, “Michael, what is going through your mind?” Michael swiftly transitioned his facial expressions and openly expressed his disillusionment with the mistreatment he observed at school. Ms. Milley inquired, “Please provide further details.” Michael proposed implementing an anti-bullying initiative at the school. Ms. Milley attentively considered his ideas and responded, “What a significant concept.” What resources or requirements are necessary to initiate your idea?

By actively engaging with Michael’s ideas and incorporating his suggestions, Ms. Miley effectively fostered the growth of student agency. She actively participated in thoughtful conversation and alternated between planning and using introspective questioning to understand exactly what Michael envisioned and to support his ideas. In this manner, educators can use dialogue to help students cultivate their agency, by posing inquiries and attentively listening. Encourage kids to contemplate and express their ideas and opinions regarding their creations can be an influential method to foster their autonomy.

Acting and Enacting

By envisioning, devising, and reflecting on their purpose, intents, and vision, students embody the persona of someone capable of pursuing and negotiating their ideas. They execute their intentions and strive to achieve their objectives. Given that students are frequently placed in intricate social contexts and often cast as passive recipients of knowledge, this element plays a crucial role in the iterative process of fostering student agency in educational settings. Teachers should adopt an adaptable approach, fully embracing methods to collaboratively create learning goals and the instructional process with students. In the absence of instructors and schools providing support for this aspect of the process, student agency may be suppressed.

Composing and Creating

During this process, students engage in reflection, brainstorming, and iterative reevaluation to explore multiple potential strategies for achieving their objectives. They initiate and participate in a process of composing and creating. Occasionally, this can be observed in a concrete form, such as an object or manufactured item. Alternatively, it may manifest through verbal communication or by means of their behavior and involvement. During this phase of the cycle, students exercise their agency by selecting and making decisions on their vision, purpose, and intentions. These educational techniques can uphold this loop.


Engaging in activities that allow students to express their opinions and perspectives is crucial for fostering student empowerment. One of the activities involves giving students the opportunity to lead the activity called “Bless This Book” (Marinak & Gambrell, 2016). In this exercise, professors often choose a book and, essentially, endorse the book, motivating pupils to read it. An effective method to modify this technique to actively include students and offer them a more participatory experience is to encourage students to lead the Bless This Book activities in class and share their recommendations with their peers (Fisher & Frey, 2018). Students can select a book and motivate others to read it by providing their endorsement. Thus, students assume a distinct role in the process, transitioning from passive spectators to active leaders, as they express their individual interests in books.

The advantages of literature circles have been extensively recorded in the literature as a means to enhance student engagement and foster discussions around students’ personal connections and interests in books (Daniels, 2002; Raphael et al., 2001). Dialogical situations, such as the one described, foster an environment where students are motivated to question their own views, inquire about different viewpoints, and cultivate the skill of effectively expressing their own thoughts.

Project-Based Learning

Project-based learning (PBL) is an educational approach in which students participate in challenging, practical assignments that culminate in the creation of a tangible outcome (Barron & Darling-Hammond, 2008). These inquiry projects focus on a specific product and provide students with practical experiences to collaborate with others, manipulate materials, and showcase their work. Projects are motivated by student inquiries and curiosity, and students are provided with assistance in their own studies, formulate responses, and express their viewpoints during the learning process (Merritt et al., 2017; Tal et al., 2006). The students themselves initiate these learning opportunities, and teachers support and encourage the students’ interests.

Ms. Jaye conducted a project-based learning unit in a 4th-grade classroom in the Pacific Northwest, focusing on the local steelhead trout and fishery. This was done in response to the students’ curiosity about the topic and aimed to educate them on various environmental concerns related to trout. Students frequently recounted their journeys to the adjacent river with their families for trout fishing. Every year, the class went on a trip to the nearby dam, which housed a hatchery. The newspaper featured numerous letters to the editor discussing whether the local dam should help the hatchery or let the salmon thrive independently. According to Ms. Jaye, this topic sparked intense discussions in many houses. She mentioned that a significant portion of her students, around fifty percent, either engaged in fishing activities in the river or had family members employed in the hatchery.

The students were engaged in developing an informative brochure for the community that presents contrasting viewpoints and perspectives. Throughout this course, Ms. Jaye guided conversations and posed numerous inquiries to prompt students’ views and recall the specific information they acquired. Frequently, when I observed during this course, I would hear Ms. Jaye utter the phrase, “I am uncertain; let us discover the answer!” The citation is from Vaughn and Parsons (2013).


Vaughn believes student agency is a complex process involving careful thought and reflection about the types of structures and supports in schools. Vaughn suggests to reflect on the following questions:

  • What is your vision for yourself as a teacher? Why?
  • What is your vision for students? Why?
  • What is your vision for school/community? Why?
  • What instructional practices are most meaningful to you? Why?
  • What are additional strategies and supports you can structure to cultivate student agency in your classroom and school community?
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