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Aurora Institute

Agency by Design

Education Domain Blog

Author(s): Derek Wenmoth, Marsha Jones, Joseph DiMartino

Issue(s): How to Get Started, Lead Change and Innovation, Rethink Instruction, Learn Lessons from the Field, Activate Student Agency

“Learner agency is about having the power, combined with choices, to take meaningful action and see the result of those decisions. It can be thought of as a catalyst for change or transformation. Learner agency is about students having the understanding, ability and opportunity to be part of the learning design and taking action to intervene in the learning process to become effective lifelong learners.” –Derek Wenmoth

In our response to the myriad challenges the global COVID-19 pandemic has posed, addressing the need for greater student agency and student engagement must now be a key focus of school leaders and educators. 

In a new Aurora Institute report, Agency by Design: Making Learning Engaging, authors Derek Wenmoth, Marsha Jones and Joseph DiMartino describe why learner agency is important.

Drawing on their experience as researchers, administrators and from classroom practice, they provide clarity around the definition and meaning of learner agency, identify the implications for leadership and classroom practice, and provide practical advice on steps to take.

The central theme of the paper is about being intentional about creating the space and opportunity for learners to experience agency in their learning.

We must rethink learning designs that support students anytime, anyplace, and at any pace. 

We must re-imagine what agency and engagement can look like in contemporary practices.

For more information, visit Agency by Design: Making Learning Engaging

About the Authors:

Derek Wenmoth is acknowledged as one of NZ education’s foremost future focused thinkers. He is regularly asked to consult with schools and government agencies regarding the future directions of educational policy and practice in New Zealand and internationally. Derek is driven by a deep personal belief in the public good of education, regarding education as the pathway to self-improvement, and a fundamental right of every human being. 

Marsha Jones is an experienced educator with over 50 years of service. During Marsha’s tenure with the Springdale School District, exponential growth brought a tremendous increase in diversity and shifts in overall socio-economic status. It became readily apparent in order to realize the goal of “learning for all”, a fundamental shift in educational practices would be required, based on the concepts of personalizing learning, building on student assets and strengths, and developing student agency. Upon retiring, she is an avid author and continues to teach. She was the Associate Superintendent with the Springdale School District, Springdale, Arkansas. Currently, she is an adjunct professor at the University of Arkansas, teaching in the Arkansas Impact Fellows Program for aspiring administrators, funded by the Walton Family Foundation. 

Joseph DiMartino has three decades of experience assisting schools, districts, and state departments of educations to implement programs and policies that put students at the center of their learning. He is the retired founder and president of the Center for Secondary School Redesign (CSSR), which built on work started at Brown University where he served as Director of Secondary School Redesign. He has been a leading advocate for moving away from seat time toward competency based measures for progress and for earning course credit.