Student Agency – a Case Study of Primary School Aged Children
This research examines student agency in the context of children’s learning in Year 4-6 classrooms in a primary school. Mitra (2004) discusses the benefit of student agency as “student outcomes will improve and school reform will be more successful if students actively participate in shaping it” (p. 652). Specifically, the research critically examined the use of ‘student voice’ in classrooms as a vehicle for student agency, the benefits teachers and students ascribe to ‘voice’, and teachers’ and students’ perceptions of the influence of student voice on learning.
A qualitative case study approach was employed for this research in order to gather data about an under-researched aspect of primary school education in New Zealand. Interviews and focus groups were the main research tools used to gather data. The research was guided by three key questions: • How do teachers and leaders define ‘student agency’ and ‘student voice’? • What mechanisms/practices do they identify as important? • How do students define and describe ‘student agency’ and ‘student voice’ and what impact do they believe this has on their learning?
Data from both interviews and the focus group was gathered, collated and then analysed. One principal, one senior leader and two teachers participated in the interviews and 12 children formed two separate focus groups. The findings identified three key themes. These were: the meaning and scope of the terms ‘student voice’ and ‘student agency’ were not well understood by teachers and leaders; teachers, leaders and students do want students to have ‘more say’ in what and how they learn, but this is not ‘true’ student voice or student agency; and, there is a power imbalance between adults (albeit, unrealised by the adults) and students. Overall, the findings showed that teachers’ and leaders’ perceptions were marred by their misunderstanding of the terms and actioned at a basic level.