Last week I addressed the ONE thing we need to build in our classrooms to pave the pathway to deeper, more meaningful project-based experiences in the Spring.


But building dialogue is only the first piece of a much bigger puzzle.

It’s a puzzle that when thoughtfully pieced together will create an environment of self-directed learners who act as Maria Montessori so aptly puts, ‘as if we weren’t even there.’

But that doesn’t happen overnight.

Building this kind of learner AGENCY takes time.

And contrary to popular belief, it isn’t about developing 25 independent learning pathways where learners act completely alone.

Rather it’s about creating the conditions, mindsets, behaviours, and dispositions that allow learners to take charge of their learning interdependently.

According to student-centered champion Alison Yang, there are 5 big myths that surround student agency/ learner-centred environments. They think agency…

  1. Is a lack of control and structure
  2. Is about creating less work for teachers
  3. Is about students working independently all of the time
  4. Is about extending units of study, or providing more time
  5. Only benefits the learner

If we want to build learner-centred environments, we actually have to be MORE intentional about the environment we create.

I witnessed this first-hand at the Montessori Elementary school I spent two years observing.

Every material, resource, and provocation was laid out in a way that invited learner curiosity and intrigue. Similarly, every lesson, great story or project was delivered in a way that incited learners to action.

Alison Yang contends we make 5 big moves to build more learner agency within our classrooms…

  1. Create a safe and inclusive environment that fosters interaction/collaboration, appreciates diverse interests, and makes thinking visible
  2. Provide a balanced and broad curriculum that diversifies topics, incorporates student interest, and allows for meaningful projects
  3. Develop students’ executive functioning through goal setting, progress monitoring, task prioritization, and problem solving
  4. Engage students with continual and actionable feedback
  5. Enhance student learning through critical reflection via prompts, protocols, and regular time built into the schedule

We don’t need to develop a multi- week cross-curricular project-based experience to unleash learner agency in our classroom. We can build it by doing one of the things listed above in our classrooms TOMORROW.

Which strategy might you try?  

As always, I’m here to support you.

P.S. If you want to read more about learner agency, here’s Alison’s full blog post. I strongly recommend you follow her work!