For learning environments to be truly student-centered, students must be the agents of their own learning. Educators can support this development by getting to know their students in order to choose the most relevant and engaging content and, whenever possible, giving students control over what they study and how they demonstrate mastery. Creating an engaging and safe culture of learning in which students feel comfortable making their voices heard supports students to ask questions, share and connect their own stories to relevant content, and advocate for issues important to them.
Teachers can support students in exercising student agency by explicitly teaching the skills and mindsets students will need to regulate their own learning. At a systems level, school and district leaders can create opportunities to solicit student voice and institutionalize student leadership opportunities.
The following resources can help any educator build student agency. The articles, videos, podcasts, and other tools are divided into four categories:
- Self Regulation
- Student Voice
Engaging students in projects and topics that matter in their lives is the heart of student-centered learning. A variety of strategies can increase student engagement such as building relationships with adults and peers, making learning activities meaningful and relevant to students’ lives, and stimulating creativity and curiosity. Motivation is also increased when students feel they can control their learning outcomes through continued effort. Thus teaching students about neuroplasticity, fostering a growth mindset in the classroom, and helping students build resilience and perseverance are crucial strategies.
The resources below include background readings, tips, and tools to help any educator build engagement and motivation in their classroom:
Motivation, Engagement, and Student Voice
This report by Students at the Center (SATC) synthesizes research on achievement motivation, school engagement, and student voice. The authors conclude that the more educators use student-centered approaches to reinforce student agency, the more motivation and engagement are likely to rise.
SATC Engagement Professional Development Module
This professional development module from SATC can help teachers increase student engagement. It includes all the materials a facilitator will need to lead a school team through four 60- to 90-minute-long activities. Participants will review research-supported strategies, learn to evaluate engagement, and plan adjustments to classroom practice.
SATC Motivation Professional Development Module
In this professional development module, participants will explore how teacher behaviors can affect student motivation. It includes all the materials a facilitator will need to lead four 60- to 80-minute-long activities. Participants will learn the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and explore best practices for motivating students.
Student-Centered Learning: Building Agency and Engagement
This video from Edutopia showcases student-centered learning approaches at work at Maloney High School in Meriden Public Schools in Connecticut. Collaborative group work, inquiry-based learning, authentic tasks, and student choice all foster student engagement.
Pioneering the New Way of Learning: Learner Agency and Opportunity
This article discusses a framework that explores learner agency and student motivation written by two students. It also introduces the student-led organization, GripTape, which advocates to put youth in charge of their learning.
How Youth Learn: Ned’s GR8 8 Video
This fun video presents eight powerful conditions of learning based on neuroscience research from the point of view of a student. This is a great introduction to the science of learning for teachers and students alike.
How to Integrate Growth Mindset Messages into Every Part of Math Class
This article discusses the importance of belief in brain plasticity for students studying math. The author includes tips for creating a classroom culture that emphasizes growth mindset.
Growth Mindset Assessment
Designed by researchers from UChicago Consortium on School Research and Stanford University, this survey can be used identify students’ academic mindset, a contributing factor in motivation and academic success.
How Kids Learn Resilience
In this article, the author asserts that non-cognitive traits or skills like grit, self regulation, optimism, and resilience cannot be “taught” but rather, built through student-centered environments that nurture a sense of belonging as well as academic challenge.
Teaching Perseverance and Resilience “Resource Bundle”
This entry bundles five resources together to help teachers learn the importance of grit and other key character traits that support learning, as well as how schools can develop and assess them. The entry includes suggestions for using these five resources for professional development in a group or on one’s own.
Self-regulation refers to the planning, goal-setting, organizing, self-monitoring, and self-evaluating all learners do in the process of building new knowledge. Educators can use a variety of strategies to help students develop these skills. These include explaining and continually modeling the learning process; explicitly teaching learning strategies like identifying the problem, focusing on the task, managing anxiety, and self-assessment; and empowering students to direct their own learning through techniques such as gradual release of responsibility and peer-to peer instruction.
The resources below can help any educator get started:
SATC Self-regulation Professional Development Module
In this professional development module from SATC, participants will learn to identify and support students who struggle with self-regulation. It includes all the materials a facilitator needs to lead three sessions that are just over one hour each.
Looking Under the Hood of Competency-Based Education
This study by the American Institutes for Research examines the relationship between competency-based education and changes in student learning capacities, specifically academic mindsets and dispositions, self-regulation, and academic behaviors.
Visible Thinking Resources
This entry includes an article on how to teach students about metacognition as well as the Visable Thinking website. The website includes routines/protocols and activities that can be used to build students’ metacognitive skills in any classroom, with any lesson.
This self-paced online course was designed to help high school students understand and advocate for their own learning needs. Students will learn to better understand learning differences, develop and apply strategies to strengthen their own learning, and learn to partner with educators and parents to ensure they get needed supports.
Learning Strategies as Metacognitive Factors: A Critical Review
This report provides an introduction to learning strategies including metacognitive learning strategies, self-regulatory strategies, and task-oriented techniques. It discusses how to develop these in the classroom.
Inspire Self-Directed Learning
This article includes tips and resources to nurture self-directed learning in the classroom, including clear steps to begin trying the gradual release of responsibility approach and peer-to-peer instruction models to build student autonomy.
This simple tool offers tips to help any teacher start student-led parent conferences. Student-led conferences can give students agency over their learning and assessment of growth.
To become student-centered schools must know what is important to students. Students must feel empowered to speak and teachers and leaders must listen to them. In the classroom students should have a voice in what they study and be engaged in real-world problem solving with authentic venues to showcase their learning. At schools students need opportunities to take on leadership roles. Educators can also work to show students the impact they can make beyond the classroom walls.
The following resources can help educators assess how much student voice is encouraged in their school currently, and learn the strategies needed to empower students to raise their voices in the classroom, school, and beyond:
Motivation, Engagement, and Student Voice
This SATC report synthesizes research on achievement motivation, school engagement, and student voice, concluding that the more educators use student-centered approaches to reinforce student agency, the more motivation and engagement are likely to rise.
Student Voice Professional Development Module
In this professional development module, a partnership between SATC and the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, participants will assess how much student voice is cultivated in their school or district, identify ways to support and encourage student voice within the class and school, and define potential barriers to student voice. It can be completed in three to four hours
What We Talk About When We Talk About Student Voice
This UP for Learning podcast features students talking about personalized learning and student voice.
Continuum of Voice: What it Means for the Learner
This infographic expands the SATC’s Spectrum of Voice chart, which defines student voice on a sliding scale, with examples and ideas that illustrate each level of implementation.
Student Voice Rubric
This graphic organizer/rubric can help schools assess their inclusion of student voices in six key areas such as school governance and classroom culture. It was created by students from the Student Voice Collaborative in New York City.
Student-Centered Learning: Building Agency and Engagement
In this video, powerful images and voices of students illustrate student-centered learning practices that build student voice such as collaboration, student choice, inquiry-based activities, and authentic assessment in 12th-grade science and ELA classrooms.
Student Voice in Practice: Burlington High School Help Desk
This resource includes a video featuring students who work at the Burlington High School (BHS) Help Desk. As part of a semester-long technology course, students assess and solve technology problems submitted by fellow students and teachers. This is a great example of a course that harnesses student voice.
Improving Teaching With Expert Feedback—From Students
This article is full of tips and tools to help any teacher begin using surveys to let students voice their opinions on how they learn best.
Student Voice: The Week in Review
Founded in 2012, Student Voice is a student-run nonprofit dedicated to strengthening the student movement for equitable schools. In this podcast, students discuss important topics and current events that impact them and their education.
Writing Commentaries: The Power of Youth Voice
This video shows a producer from Youth Radio in Oakland, California working with students to produce their own commentaries. It discusses why commentaries can be powerful tools to spark discussion and civic engagement. Teachers can use the ideas to create their own lessons.
Boston Student Advisory Council
Boston Student Advisory Council (BSAC) is a student-led organization to empower youth in Boston to have a voice in decision making. BSAC’s Facebook page highlights current initiatives and events and includes a link to an app designed to inform students of their rights.
Technology is a powerful tool that can be used to increase student engagement and control in the learning process. Technology can support deeper learning, build civic engagement, and create a more personalized learning experience; all contributing to increased student agency.
The following resources discuss the role of technology in student-centered learning, examining the positive impact as well as potential negative impact on students’ sense of agency. They also include technology tools to support student engagement and agency:
The Role of Digital Technologies in Deeper Learning
This paper from the Students at the Center Deeper Learning Research Series, explores how partnering deeper learning strategies with effective technology designs allows for greater educational success. It includes discussion of the use of technology to increase student engagement.
Can Students Click Their Way to a Better World?
This article discusses ways in which technology can increase students’ engagement in civics. It describes the initiatives at several organizations employing technology to teach students civics in innovative ways.
5 Ways to Build Agency in the Digital Age
This article features tips on how young people can develop their own sense of agency in the digital age. Developing agency can combat a potentially negative consequence from increased technology use: feeling that external social pressures control one’s life.
Student-Centered Learning: Functional Requirements for Integrated Systems to Optimize Learning
Learning management systems allow students to personalize learning and can increase engagement. This paper, which illustrates the technical requirements and functionalities needed, can help districts and schools determine what systems to use to support student-centered learning, as well as how systems integration aligns with their organizational vision, educational goals, and strategic plans.
Playing Games with Formative Assessment
A teacher provides tips for using games that harness technology to conduct formative assessment in this practical article. Using these assessment techniques can help to increase student engagement in learning.
Programming for Personalization: Using Computer Science Resources in Support of a Student-Centered Learning Environment
This guide features a set of resources and strategies to help educators empower students to build digital literacy and computational thinking competencies across disciplines. It includes an overview and discussion of how each technology resource can support student-centered strategies in the classroom.