Those of us who question the IB are actually being more 'IB' than those of us who just follow - so in that light .... here goes ....
What Is Agency?
1. INTENTION (e.g. a problem to solve, a question to answer or a task to achieve)
2. SELF EFFICACY (the belief you can achieve your intended goal)
3. FORETHOUGHT (e.g. goal setting, planning, predicting & anticipating possible challenges and adapting accordingly)
4. SELF REGULATION & REFLECTION (self checking, self managing, readjusting etc.)
There is also an extrinsic factor:
5. A SUPPORTIVE SOCIAL CONTEXT
The Pre-Schooler Example
So let's take a preschooler with agency. His desire is to button up his own cardigan (intention). He believes he can do it (self efficacy). He plans where he is going to put his fingers and thinks ahead anticipating how the button might move as he pushes (forethought). He self-regulates adjusting his stance as he tries and fails (self regulation & reflection). His dad (his social context) watches but doesn't intervene. Finally (pop) he pushes the button through his button hole. He has agency!
The Learner Driver Example
Let's take a learner driver. His intention is to pass that driving test (intention). He believes he can do it (self-efficacy). He plans when he will take the test and predicts how many lessons he needs with a driving instructor. He asks his friends where the test routes are and coaxes his dad to take him on additional driving lessons around those likely streets and lanes. He books an instructor and persuades his dad to buy him ten lessons: the same number his friend took to pass (forethought). His dad (his social context) is prepared to take him for additional lessons. He listens to feedback and self adjusts. He reads his 'Highway Code' each evening and self regulates his actions accordingly (self regulation & reflection). He is full of agency!
The Need to Measure Agency to Become an 'Agentive' School
Only once we can envision precisely what successful agency looks like, can we effectively predict obstacles in our way and become empowered to plan intentionally to reach our end goal (forethought). Clarity of success helps us to pinpoint exactly what it is about agency we personally don't yet understand or still need to achieve. This self-knowledge in turn allows us to self-regulate our actions; ask for specific advice, pose intentional questions (and so on). Our intention might be presented as exemplars, written success criteria, a specific question or even this blog post (assuming it makes sense to you), but whatever its form, tangible targets are necessary in order to measure and monitor our progress towards those goals. Furthermore they enable us to give ourselves effective, goal-referenced, feedback.
Clarity of vision and self-evaluation deepens our awareness of our own learning and progress. This may manifest as our ability to break down our goals into manageable, next steps for example, or to explain to a colleague what we currently do well and what we need to prioritize. This lucidity (including some a-ha moments) increases our self-efficacy! In short having tangible, attainable 'descriptors' of what a successful agentive school 'looks' like, increases our confidence. It gives us agency.
How Might We Measure Agency?
The good news is Grant Wiggins explained we can measure everything. Co-constructing success criteria is one, effective method of making your intention clear and progress calculable. IB could dutifully suggest "Schools you can come up with success criteria for agency by yourself!" Although I get the agentive logic, I think if IB used this approach many schools would drown in the confusion. Learning and school development would suffer.
Deconstruct Success Criteria
Another effective method of making an intention clear to everyone is to deconstruct the success criteria. By 'deconstruct' I mean discussing what a particular description of agency would look like in one's own classroom (for example). Perhaps the IB could create (optional), ready made agency success criteria and asks schools to discuss and deconstruct them collaboratively.
Schools which nurture a situation where the indicators of effective practice are clear, manageable, realistic, and accessible are promoting agency. Encouraging everyone to evaluate and self-assess their own progress is nurturing their agency. When the goal itself is agency, then it seems fitting to use an agentive method like this.
Looking to Learning
When deciding what to measure, perhaps student learning is the most sensible lens. Here are some examples of student agency success criteria to get the conversation going. Perhaps these and/or others could be set in a rubric / continuum / list. Perhaps there would be a different set for teachers?
- I can choose my own resources
- I can access my own resources
- I can explain the question I am investigating
- I can describe what my finished product or performance will look when it is a success
- I can explain what I do not understand about ‘......’ yet
- I can describe what I am investigating
- I can voice my opinion
Do we really need a rubric to have agency?
No. Our preschooler and novice driver both have agency - neither of them have a physical checklist. They are however both clear about what success looks like and are able to evaluate, measure and self-check their progress to get to their goal. In other words they do have a checklist of sorts (schema) - only it's in their minds. In schools where agency is still a new, somewhat lofty concept, perhaps there is a use for written success criteria?
Is it actually agency we are measuring or merely symptoms of it?
I think this depends on your perspective - the way you view agency. There seems to be different philosophical stances on this. I gauge my health by evaluating symptoms such as my sleep patterns, temperature, thirst, appetite, pain, itches and skin condition. My doctor does the same. The symptoms may not be my actual health, but there's a pretty reliable correlation. If like me this scientific view of agency makes sense to you, then maybe you too see merit in measuring agency by observing what's tangible; student learning.
The IB Mission Statement states 'people with their differences can also be right' - I love this! Agency can also be viewed as a mindset, a state of being or a human right. But what I hope to point out in this blog post, is that if we choose to view agency from a quantifiable stance, in doing so we clarify our intention and we create the opportunity to set goals, reflect, to self-regulate and boost our self efficacy. Practically-speaking a measurable view of agency cultivates agency!
One Last Plea
I updated this post on 9th April 2019, partly in response to the thought-provoking critiques and comments posted below. You got my cogs whirring and helped me rethink and adjust my stance and understanding -thank you!
Primary School Principal
Tokyo International School
Weibell, C. J. (2011). Principles of learning: 7 principles to guide personalized, student-centered learning in the technology-enhanced, blended learning environment. Retrieved July 4, 2011 from https://principlesoflearning.wordpress.com