GTL February Edition, Secret Agents: Students as Self-Directed Learners

the first day

This last September, I received a text from my sister on the first day of school. It wasn’t unlike her to send a morning text, but this day was different. It was the day my nephew would begin Kindergarten. As his Auntie Em, I was feeling a mix of emotions that morning – nervousness for him to be away from his younger brother, nostalgia for the days that I remember walking with him in the front pack – but most of all, excitement. I was sure he would love his teacher and, like all kindergarteners, blissfully squeal at the first sight of the playground.

The phone buzzed and a notification appeared on the screen. I tapped to open it, revealing a sunny video of a school bus pulling up to the curb. The bus slowed and there was my nephew, backpack securely on his shoulders, lunch pail in hand. As the door opened, he looked up at the bus driver who invited him on. I couldn’t help but to get choked up as I watched him climb the steps. Reaching the top, he turned to smile at my sister and then made his way to his seat behind the driver.

what we hope for

My sister and I talk regularly and our conversations over these past few months often come back to my nephew’s experiences at school. At first, we spoke of things in an “I hope he…” way. “I hope he goes to the nurse if he doesn’t feel good.” “I hope he knows that he can buy milk in the cafeteria.” “I hope he tells his teacher if someone is bothering him”. When it came down to it, what we were really hoping for was that he realized he had the power to advocate for himself. He had the power to take charge of his learning environment. Using current jargon, we wanted him to have “agency”. Agency is similar to autonomy, but it goes one step further; it is the feeling of empowerment that one must have in order to take charge and make choices.

As an Auntie, there is not much I can do about ensuring my nephew’s agency in school. I can talk about with him and give him examples. I can even point it out when I see it in others, but once he walks through those doors, I can only cross my fingers. When in school, it becomes the responsibility of his teachers to provide him and his classmates with a sense of agency.

students as self-directed learners

During this edition of Google Teachers’ Lounge (GTL), participants explored ways in which they can provide their own students with a sense of agency. We worked together to find opportunities in learning for student autonomy: choice in resources, place, time, pace, content, or presentation. Then, with these in mind, participants took an in-depth look at a variety of instructional approaches which promoted student agency. The mentors from Educate and the NYC DOE provided guidance in how technology may be effectively integrated within each of these approaches. Breakout groups during this session included: Blended Station Rotation Learning, Flipped Classrooms, Student Self-Assessment, Executive Functioning Skills, and Back to the Basics (a group focused on the basics of utilizing the Google Suite). Sound intriguing? If you have 5 minutes, give this a try: How will you empower your students during your next lesson? One easy way to promote agency is by offering students a choice in how to present their learning. (i.e. Allow students to choose between summarizing their knowledge in a Google Doc or by creating a Google Drawing). 

Although each breakout group offered unique experiences and resources, each participant was able to walk away from the evening with an actionable step. Some shared these steps – things they were going to change tomorrow, next week, next month, etc. – in the Google Educator Group for NYC DOE (GEG NYC DOE). This public acknowledgement of their next steps allowed participants to offer each other support, both in “real time” and virtually. The enthusiastic camaraderie filled the room; I was even lucky enough to witness a last
minute exchange of contact information between two acquaintances.


creating a love of learning

It’s now almost April and my nephew has learned a variety of sight words, how to create number bonds, and has a 100th day celebration under his belt. His teacher has designated him as a classroom leader and he works hard at his job of making sure others are organized and their materials are kept  tidy. He loves to go to school and gets upset when not assigned homework.

How do we keep this love for learning alive? By creating an atmosphere where children feel empowered to make choices, where resources are abundant, and teachers walk alongside, rather than standing before their students.


Are you leaving room for agency in your classroom?

Check out the link below for resources from this edition of GTL!

Resources for Secret Agents: Students as Self-Directed Learners

Written by Emily Kirsch, @Ed_Tech_Em