Student Agency

  • 2022
  • Middle School
  • Teachers
Jenny Stroud, Middle School Literacy Teacher & G4-G8 Literacy Coordinator


Project Zero, housed at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, is an intellectual wellspring, working toward more enlightened educational processes and systems that support learners, individually and in community, to thrive in, reflect on, contribute to, and change the world in which they will live.*

This is the final year of my involvement with Project Zero and it has been a challenging journey thus far.  My focus question for my project was moving my teaching on more community based issues - having reading units based on issues that were relevant and impacted on students and writing about issues within our community or the broader community we engage in.  Trying to make the instruction culturally relevant and sustaining.

This focus in instruction that connects students to their community comes under the larger concept of student agency.  Student agency gives students freedom, choice, and ownership of their learning.  By encouraging children to have more control over their learning, educators hope students will leave our classrooms and schools with a range of skills that will support them in being lifelong learners, engaged humanitarians and empathetic people.** 

There are many ways that we as a school already excel at this.  We already modify the standards to meet student needs, provide flexible working groups to allow for small group instruction, and we provide high levels of differentiation.

Students playing a board game as an alternative summative assessment for historical fiction.

What I am focussing on this year is assessment.  I want my students to have choice and agency over how they demonstrate their learning in the Literacy classroom.  To do this I want to focus on three areas:

Students having a genuine voice in the assessment of their learning, showing and explaining their thinking in different ways and deciding how they want to show their learning.

Will I be able to do this for all units - realistically I hope I can.  So how am I going to start this process?  

The first of my objectives will be focussing on the rubrics.  For the units of study modules, the final assessment rubrics are up to four pages long.  Realistically this makes feedback inaccessible for many students - so I plan on having students modify the rubrics to be personalised to their learning needs.  By hanging students involved in the creation of the rubrics, they are then far more able to self assess their learning.  I did trial this for a Grade 8 class and the results were very encouraging, students felt more responsible for demonstrating skills when they identified the need for those skills.

The second objective is explaining their thinking in different ways, and the third objective is how they want to show their learning.  In my mind these are very much linked.  Not everyone thinks in a five paragraph essay format, and yes writing an essay is a skill that cannot always be avoided, there are alternatives for students.

Performance based assessment

When demonstrating application of skills in the day to day classroom students should have a choice of how this is done.  Personally I think and work through my understanding best with flow charts, other students work best verbally, other students loathe the idea of having an audience; my mission here is to introduce regular variety to day to day classes.  The second is extending the same choice to assessments.  VC@T and hybrid teaching makes it all too easy to assign an essay - it is time to return to what we have always known - choice is vital for assessment.  While I can provide a choice of three to four ways to demonstrate learning I feel the time has come to introduce a fifth.  Student suggestions.  What ideas do the students have to demonstrate their understanding of a unit?  Applying student agency to a rubric worked so well that I feel I need to take the next logical step and apply this same agency to assessment.

Another step in the direction of making students more engaged in their own learning journey.  

Thank you for taking the time to read my plans for my own teaching journey.




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