Are Your Students Engaged?

Are Your Students Engaged?

Are Your Students Engaged?

Willy A Renandya, 8 April 2022

It is a fact that optimal learning happens when students can exercise their agency in the learning process. Agency refers to the capacity students have in determining what to learn and how to learn it.

In the classroom, agency is often associated with the level of students’ interest, motivation and engagement in the lesson. Agency occurs when students have the choice and voice in deciding on the what and how of learning that happens in the classroom.

When students are given the choice and voice in the lesson, they participate more actively, they ask more and better questions and are more willing to put in more effort and energy to satisfy their thirst for new knowledge.

This however does not often happen in our classroom. Our students are usually less actively involved. They simply follow what is given to them. The learning materials are selected the teacher. How students learn and how they are assessed are also determined by the teacher.

Thus there is little room for students to make personally meaningful connections with the lesson, nor do they have opportunities to explore and extend what they learned beyond the classroom. We know from research that deeper learning happens when students can draw on their prior knowledge and experiences to make meaningful and relevant connections to what is being taught.

Is there anything we can do to increase student agency?

Yes, there are many ways of increasing student agency. Here is an example for a reading or listening lesson:

  1. Make available not one, but several reading/listening materials in a variety of modes (printed, audio, video etc) and text types (recounts, narratives, news reports). The materials focus on the same topic, but can vary in terms of the difficulty levels. Low progress students can choose easier materials while the high progress students can choose more challenging materials.
  2. Invite students to choose which texts they want to learn and for what purposes they want to comprehend the texts. They can also read/listen to the text in ways that match their learning preferences. They read/listen alone or with a partner. They can turn on/off the subtitles when viewing a video material.
  3. Allow students to demonstrate their comprehension of the text in multiple ways. They can for example do a short summary in writing or orally, they can write a poem or song lyric that reflect their understanding of the texts, they can use non-verbal means (e.g., infographics, posters, or drawings) to showcase their comprehension.
  4. Give students choices on how they would like to continue or extend their learning after the lesson is over. For example, they can find out more about the topic by interviewing experts, exploring credible sources from the Internet, talking to their parents, etc.

Yes the lesson may be a little messy and a little hard to control as students are doing different things in the classroom.

But if we believe that students learn differently, and each and every one of them is capable of taking greater responsibility of their own learning, then it makes sense to give students choices by adopting an approach called differentiated instruction.

Further reading

Motivation: A Teacher-Student Problem?

Student-Centred Learning: Are we practicing what we preach??

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