Student Agency

One of the most important outcomes for academy students is self-­agency. In concrete terms, agency means that students have the belief that they can positively affect their lives and possess the skills to do so. Student agency should be addressed in a comprehensive fashion starting with developing a shared vision at the school level. An academy should operate from a shared vision that highlights student agency.

This page will provide examples of two components of Student Agency: Voice and Choice.


Academy teachers can and should provide students with opportunities to become essential members of the learning environment. This can be accomplished in part by providing students with opportunities give feedback on both academic and cultural aspects of the classroom. Such opportunities give students voice.

For example, academic issues frequently relate to class content and instruction. Students can provide feedback on various ideas including assessment, teacher instruction style, assignment types, unit organization, and learning topics. Teachers can demonstrate the importance of student voice by keeping track of student feedback over time (a quarter or semester). With this record, students and teachers can review feedback and note significant changes.

Cultural issues relate to student behavior and environment. Specifically, the classroom culture often reflects the values of the students and the teachers. In turn, this affects the students’ and teachers’ treatment of one another as well as the class’s overall approaches to achievement. Student feedback on how they perceive a classroom culture is important. For example, when asked what they believe the class does well and what the class can improve on, opportunities arise for students to contemplate which of their behaviors reflect the desired culture of learning and which behaviors can be improved. This group effort helps create a culture that is safe and productive for all.

There are a number of tools that provide voice, including the following:

  • Affinity diagram: The purpose of this diagram is to help students collect ideas and group them into categories. Once this is accomplished, students can prioritize and vote to narrow the list.
  • Digital platforms: There are a variety of digital platforms (Padlet, Edmodo, and so on) available for teachers and students to gather and share input from different members.
  • Parking lot: The parking lot (Langford, 2015) is typically divided into four categories that help teachers address both general issues and issues with a focused purpose. The categories are: (1) things that are going well ( symbolized by a +), (2) opportunities for improvement (delta or triangle symbol), (3) questions (?), and (4) ideas (use a lightbulb or lightning bolt).
  • Plus or delta: This tool is a simplified version of the parking lot. Students focus only on plusses (what is going well) and deltas (what needs improvement) regarding a current activity.
  • Exit slips: Offered in a variety of formats, exit slips or tickets are a chance to get individual feedback from all students on any topic. They can be used as a quick formative assessment of learning, a way to get input about the culture of the classroom, or a self-­reflection on the day. Exit slips can be used to gather important data as unique issues arise.
  • Interactive notebooks: Interactive notebooks are primarily used as communication tools. They can promote a dialogue between students and teachers or parents and teachers.
  • Brainstorming: Brainstorming is a great tool to gather input. Generally, input is a gathered from a group (either verbally or in writing) in order to get as many ideas on a subject or topic as possible. However, teachers should always be sure to provide safe spaces for each student to contribute.
  • Class meetings: This structure can involve a formal approach as outlined by SOPs or it can be an informal affair. In either case, meetings are a chance for groups to gather and discuss problems, successes, needs, and solutions on a regular basis.



Voice and choice are often connected; however, there are important distinctions. While voice is focused on creating opportunities for input into cultural and academic issues, choice is focused on providing opportunities to select provided opportunities within the social, environmental, and learning domains.

The social domain is any situation where there is interaction with other people. On a small scale, this means students can be allowed to group themselves according to their goals or interests. On a larger scale, students group themselves based on common interests and design projects that take place in or outside the classroom. In the digital age, there are many opportunities for social interaction with people all over the world.

The environmental domain is any space where students are situated for learning. Physical spaces may be the classroom or any area within or around the school, but they may also be other physical environments that are involved during the learning process such as homes, offices or retail spaces, museums, or performance spaces. Virtual spaces are areas accessed through the use of technology. Spaces such as social media platforms or virtual worlds allow for information or ideas to be shared. Contrived environments may involve either physical or virtual aspects but are created for specific learning purposes, usually on a temporary basis. For example, if a mock trial is being conducted in class, the arrangement of the classroom might change or a digital space might be created that mimics necessary aspects of the lesson during a social studies unit. Teachers can incorporate choice by allowing students to vote or give input on the arrangement of the physical space of the classroom. Teachers may also allow students to choose the environments which will best support their individual projects.

The learning domain is any situation in which students may access, practice, or prove mastery of any knowledge or skill within the curriculum. Learning domains may be physical or virtual. For example, students may access information through their teacher or their peers either physically or virtually. They may also access physical or digital support materials and resources. They may practice and eventually prove mastery through any number of physical or virtual acts that serve as forms of assessment. One way that a teacher could incorporate choice into the learning domain is by allowing students to select which topic in a unit they would like to study first.

As with voice, there are a number of tools that teachers can use to provide choice:

  • Power voting: This tool can be used in a variety of circumstances and with a variety of formats, but the idea is to ask students to prioritize their vote by offering multiple votes to be used in the interest of the student’s beliefs or preferences. For example, in a tool called Spend a Dollar, students are given four votes, each worth $0.25. They might choose to spend their four votes all on one item of particular importance or spread their votes out amongst several items.
  • Choice boards: Choice boards are any game-­style board that visualizes choice. Students can pick from a variety of choices offered. Choices can be based on preferences or on content. Boards can be customized to meet a variety of needs, such as homework options, covering standards or learning goals, and so on.
  • Choice menus: Choice menus are also designed to engage students in choice. For example, “appetizers” might be choices regarding introductory content or vocabulary words. “Main course” offerings might be choices relevant to proficiency-­level content while “dessert” items can offer extra activities or extensions to help students extend learning in order to achieve a 4.0 scale score.
  • Preference surveys: Information about student interests and preferences for how they like to learn can be gathered easily through use of in class or take-­home surveys. Group feedback or feedback on content can also be gathered using surveys.
  • Interactive activity charts: Students make choices by interacting with a physical or virtual chart that offers multiple options.
  • Digital platforms: Students utilize platforms such as TeacherTube, Safari Montage, or Khan Academy to access instruction or activities aligned with their target of study. In this manner students are able to choose which format and program works best for them.
  • Must-­do and may-­do lists: Students are given a set of choices, all of which appear on one of two lists. A must-­do list covers the expectations all students must meet; the may-­do list offers a variety of choices for after the must-­do list has been accomplished.
  • Task cards: A task card lists a task or learning activity for students to complete that is associated with a score 2.0, 3.0, or 4.0 learning target from a specific proficiency scale. A task card can simply provide short questions that help students with practice or recall of simpler tasks, or it can provide directions for a more in-­depth task. A teacher can provide a set of task cards for proficiency scales that students are currently working on, and when students finish early or when they have independent working time, students can select a card that will assist them in review for an upcoming assessment. Task cards
    may be self-­contained activities, or they may act as players in a larger assignment. Teachers can use task cards to guide students to outside or online resources as well. Additionally, cards can be used individually, within small groups, or within large groups. Finally, task cards can be labelled as challenge cards, for students who want ideas and activities to push themselves to achieve score 4.0 targets.