Research Summary: Student Agency

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A typical middle school classroom includes young adolescents with a range of skills, interests, abilities, and personalities. One student may relate any topic of study to a favorite sport or video game. Another stretches her digital skills with each assignment and spends time outside of school learning how to code. Yet another emerges as a leader in any collaborative setting within school. While different, each of these students demonstrates agency in a unique way. The notion of student agency aligns with many tenets of teaching and learning at the middle level. Young adolescents are increasingly capable of exercising agency through such means as selecting a subtopic to study, choosing a book to read, determining how to execute a project in class, engaging with peers, or harnessing their personal interests to elements of the curriculum. Indeed, providing space for students to recognize and cultivate their own agency is consistent with a developmentally responsive teaching and learning environment as advocated by works like This We Believe: Keys to Educating Young Adolescents (National Middle School Association, 2010) and Turning Points 2000 (Jackson & Davis, 2000). While there is no uniform definition of student agency, various theoretical frameworks and studies of agency provide connections to elements of middle level education and ideas for teachers to support student agency.


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