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These 10 Simple Learner Agency Practices Will Positively Transform Your Classroom

Learner agency, the capacity for learners to take ownership of their education, is a concept that has gained significant attention in the field of education. Why? Well, just take a minute to imagine the transformative capacity of empowering learners to guide their own learning experiences.

What would this new classroom of yours look and feel like? How would everyone feel walking in every morning? Would you be excited, hopeful, and eager to begin the day’s learning?

How about your own role as a teacher? What would change? Can you imagine being the facilitator of these unique experiences, watching with pride as your learners take the helm and guide their own educational ventures, owning them every step of the way?

It’s not fantasy—it’s reality, and it’s absolutely within the reach of every educator. I know, because I’ve seen it happen, and I want it to happen for you too. But, where do I begin, you may ask?

I want to share ten simple teaching strategies that educators like you can employ to begin nurturing learner agency in the classroom. But before we delve into these strategies, let's explore the benefits of learners owning their learning, both for the learners themselves and the teachers facilitating their educational journey.

Benefits of Learner Agency

  1. Increased Motivation and Engagement: When students have agency in their learning, they become more motivated and engaged. A study entitled "Why Teachers Adopt a Controlling Motivating Style Toward Students and How They Can Become More Autonomy Supportive" (Reeve, 2009) found that autonomy-supportive teaching, which encourages student agency, leads to higher levels of motivation and academic achievement.

  2. Deeper Understanding: Learner agency promotes deeper understanding as students explore topics that genuinely interest them. The study "Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement" (Hattie, 2009) suggests that students who have more control over their learning experience demonstrate greater mastery of content.

  3. Improved Problem-Solving Skills: Allowing students to make choices and decisions in their learning process helps develop their problem-solving skills. The research conducted by Carol Dweck in Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (2013) emphasizes the importance of a growth mindset, which is closely linked to student agency and the ability to persevere in the face of challenges.

  4. Enhanced Responsibility and Accountability: Encouraging students to take charge of their learning teaches responsibility and accountability. According to the study "Becoming a Self-Regulated Learner: An Overview" (2002), self-regulated learners, who are more likely to emerge when agency is promoted, tend to perform better academically.

  5. Fostering Intrinsic Motivation: Learner agency nurtures intrinsic motivation, reducing the need for external rewards and punishments. The Self-Determination Theory (Deci, Vallerand, Pelletier, & Ryan, 1991) demonstrates the connection between autonomy, competence, and relatedness, with autonomy being a key component of student agency.

  6. Positive Teacher-Student Relationships: When teachers actively support and encourage learner agency, it fosters positive teacher-student relationships. This dynamic can improve classroom climate and create an environment where students feel safe to take risks in their learning.

  7. Tailored Learning Experiences: Student agency enables educators to differentiate instruction, allowing for personalized learning experiences. The book The Differentiated Classroom: Responding to the Needs of All Learners (Tomlinson, 2014) discusses the importance of differentiation and how it aligns with learner agency.

  8. Preparation for Lifelong Learning: Promoting agency equips students with the skills needed for lifelong learning. This is crucial in a world where adaptability and continuous learning are becoming increasingly important (UNESCO, 2015).

  9. Improved Classroom Management: Contrary to concerns that student agency might lead to chaos, it often results in more effective classroom management. Students who feel a sense of ownership are more likely to follow classroom rules and norms (Gardner, 2008).

  10. Empowerment and Confidence: Finally, promoting learner agency instills a sense of empowerment and confidence in students, which can have a profound impact on their overall well-being and future success (Bandura, 2006).

10 Easy and Effective Agency Strategies for All Teachers

It’s time for you to expand your ever-changing teacher’s toolbox. Now that we've established the numerous benefits of fostering learner agency, let's dive into ten simple teaching strategies that can be employed by educators to empower students to take ownership of their learning experiences.

Teaching Strategy 1: Choice in Learning Topics

Offering students the freedom to choose their learning topics can be a powerful way to foster learner agency. This strategy aligns with the principles of autonomy and intrinsic motivation, as students are more likely to be engaged when studying subjects they are genuinely interested in (Reeve, J., 2009).

Implementation Tips

  • Begin by allowing students to select from a range of pre-approved topics or themes.

  • Encourage them to express their preferences through surveys or class discussions.

  • Provide a structured framework for their chosen topics to ensure alignment with learning objectives.

Real-World Example: In a high school science class, students were given the opportunity to select a science-related issue they were passionate about. They conducted research, created presentations, and delivered them to the class. This approach not only increased their engagement but also improved their research and presentation skills.

Teaching Strategy 2: Self-Paced Learning

Allowing students to learn at their own pace is essential for promoting agency. This strategy aligns with the principles of differentiated instruction and self-regulation (Tomlinson, C. A., 2014; Zimmerman, B. J., 2002).

Implementation Tips

  • Use online learning platforms that offer self-paced modules.

  • Create a learning schedule where students can decide how quickly or slowly they progress through the material.

  • Offer optional enrichment activities for students who finish early.

Real-World Example: In a middle school math class, students had access to a digital platform with a range of math activities. They could choose activities based on their skill level and interests, allowing for a personalized learning experience.

Teaching Strategy 3: Student-Designed Projects

Encouraging students to design their projects empowers them to take control of their learning. This strategy fosters creativity, problem-solving, and critical thinking skills (Gardner, H., 2006).

Implementation Tips

  • Provide clear guidelines and rubrics to maintain learning objectives.

  • Offer opportunities for students to present project proposals and receive feedback.

  • Allow students to choose project topics or problems that align with curriculum standards.

Real-World Example: In an elementary social studies class, students were tasked with designing their historical research projects. They chose historical events, conducted research, and created multimedia presentations to share with the class.

Teaching Strategy 4: Student-Led Discussions

Giving students the chance to lead discussions can boost their sense of ownership in the learning process. It promotes communication and critical thinking skills (Brookfield, S. D., 2015).

Implementation Tips

  • Assign student discussion leaders on a rotating basis.

  • Offer guidelines for effective discussion facilitation.

  • Encourage students to select discussion topics related to the curriculum.

Real-World Example: In a high school English class, students took turns leading discussions about the assigned literature. They chose themes, prepared discussion questions, and ensured all classmates participated actively.

Teaching Strategy 5: Goal Setting and Self-Assessment

Involving students in setting their learning goals and assessing their own progress supports self-regulation and autonomy (Zimmerman, B. J., 2002).

Implementation Tips

  • Help students define specific, measurable, and achievable goals.

  • Encourage reflection and self-assessment through journals or self-evaluation forms.

  • Provide guidance on the process of goal setting and self-monitoring.

Real-World Example: In an elementary classroom, students set weekly learning goals based on their individual strengths and weaknesses. They tracked their progress and discussed their achievements with the teacher.

Teaching Strategy 6: Peer Teaching and Collaboration

Encouraging students to teach each other and collaborate not only promotes agency but also builds social and cognitive skills (Vygotsky, L. S., 1978).

Implementation Tips

  • Assign group projects or activities that require collaboration.

  • Encourage students to take turns teaching or explaining concepts to their peers.

  • Provide opportunities for peer feedback and reflection.

Real-World Example: In a middle school science class, students worked in groups to conduct experiments. They took turns explaining the scientific principles to their teammates, fostering a deeper understanding of the material.

Teaching Strategy 7: Reflective Journals and Portfolios

Having students maintain reflective journals or portfolios allows them to track their learning journey, set goals, and demonstrate their progress (Boud, D., 2001).

Implementation Tips

  • Encourage regular journal entries or portfolio updates.

  • Provide prompts for reflection on learning experiences.

  • Use conferences to discuss student reflections and set goals.

Real-World Example: In a high school art class, students kept portfolios of their work and wrote reflective entries explaining their artistic choices and growth over the semester.

Teaching Strategy 8: Flipped Classroom Approach

The flipped classroom approach shifts traditional instruction outside the classroom, giving students control over when and where they learn. This strategy supports self-regulated learning and allows class time for deeper exploration and discussion (Bergmann, J., & Sams, A., 2012).

Implementation Tips

  • Provide pre-recorded lectures or resources for students to review at their own pace.

  • Use class time for discussions, problem-solving, and hands-on activities.

  • Encourage students to ask questions and seek clarification.

Real-World Example: In a high school physics class, students watched video lectures at home and came to class prepared for hands-on experiments and collaborative problem-solving.

Teaching Strategy 9: Student-Led Assessment and Feedback

Empowering students to assess their own work and provide feedback to peers aligns with the principles of self-regulation and accountability (Nicol, D. J., & Macfarlane-Dick, D., 2006).

Implementation Tips

  • Encourage students to evaluate their own work using rubrics or guidelines.

  • Include peer assessment in group projects and assignments.

  • Discuss the importance of constructive feedback and how it contributes to learning.

Real-World Example: In a high school history class, students assessed their own research papers using a detailed rubric and then exchanged papers for peer feedback.

Teaching Strategy 10: Encouraging Questions and Curiosity

Promoting a culture of curiosity and inquiry encourages students to take initiative in their learning. It aligns with fostering intrinsic motivation and critical thinking (Deci, Vallerand, Pelletier, & Ryan, 1991).

Implementation Tips

  • Welcome and celebrate questions and curiosity in the classroom.

  • Encourage students to explore topics that pique their interest.

  • Allow time for independent research and investigations.

Real-World Example: In an elementary science class, students were encouraged to bring in questions about the natural world, and the class collectively investigated these questions, fostering a sense of ownership over their learning.

Learner Greatness Awaits

Incorporating these strategies into your teaching practices can empower students to take ownership of their learning journey. Each strategy promotes autonomy, self-regulation, and critical thinking, ultimately leading to more engaged and motivated learners. By giving students the opportunity to make choices, set goals, and reflect on their progress, teachers can create an environment where learner agency thrives, benefiting both students and educators alike.

In conclusion, nurturing student agency in schools has far-reaching benefits for both learners and teachers. It leads to increased motivation, deeper understanding, and the development of essential life skills. These 10 simple teaching strategies, which we have discussed, serve as a valuable starting point for educators looking to empower students and foster learner agency in their classrooms. By embracing these strategies, teachers can create environments where students truly own their learning, resulting in more enriched educational experiences and brighter futures.


Reeve, J. (2009). Why teachers adopt a controlling motivating style toward students and how they can become more autonomy supportive. Educational psychologist, 44(3), 159-175.

Hattie, J. (2008). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. routledge.

Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. Random House.

Zimmerman, B. J. (2002). Becoming a self-regulated learner: An overview. Theory into practice, 41(2), 64-70.

Deci, E.L., Vallerand, R.J., Pelletier, L.G. and Ryan, R.M. (1991) Motivation and Education: The Self-Determination Perspective. The Educational Psychologist, 26, 325-346. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00461520.1991.9653137

Tomlinson, C. A. (2014). The differentiated classroom: Responding to the needs of all learners. Ascd.

Elfert, M. (2015). UNESCO, the Faure report, the Delors report, and the political utopia of lifelong learning. European Journal of Education, 50(1), 88-100.

Gardner, H. E. (2008). Multiple intelligences: New horizons in theory and practice. Basic books.

Bandura, A. (2006). Toward a psychology of human agency. Perspectives on psychological science, 1(2), 164-180.

Brookfield, S. D. (2015). The skillful teacher: On technique, trust, and responsiveness in the classroom. John Wiley & Sons.

Vygotsky, L. S., & Cole, M. (1978). Mind in society: Development of higher psychological processes. Harvard university press.

Boud, D. (2001). Using journal writing to enhance reflective practice. New directions for adult and continuing education, 2001(90), 9-18.

Bergmann, J., & Sams, A. (2012). Flip your classroom: Reach every student in every class every day. International society for technology in education.

Nicol, D. J., & Macfarlane‐Dick, D. (2006). Formative assessment and self‐regulated learning: A model and seven principles of good feedback practice. Studies in higher education, 31(2), 199-218.