ISKL’s Middle School (MS) Student Agency initiative is designed to empower students to experience more voice and choice in how they learn which, in turn, supports the development of “future-ready” skills. The initiative empowers students to develop and practice important life skills such as initiative, calculated risk-taking, and belief in oneself in a supportive environment. The annual program challenges students (with the support of faculty and parents) to take responsibility for their learning and equips them with the skills to engage in the process. Students learn and practice the skills of self-directedness, resilience, and collaboration and are given opportunities to demonstrate these within the curricular subjects as well as agency specific designated time outside the curriculum.
The program involves a multidisciplinary “deep dive” into an area in which individual students or groups of students have a personal interest. Students are nurtured and guided to identify their passion and work on projects that are meaningful to them. We give students the skills to explore their own interests by teaching them to use the Question Formulation Technique to sharpen their focus on an area of interest. We then hold an IDEA Fair where students can share their ideas for an Agency Project, as well as learn more about their peers’ interests. They are free to abandon their own idea and join another group or alter their idea based on what they see at the Fair. We allow students to work in groups, alone or loosely with others.
Then, using a “design-thinking” model (preparation, questioning, research, creation, reflection) students pursue an inquiry project that will take them on their own personal learning journey. It is a completely student-led initiative, which empowers them to create, develop and execute an entire project based on their interests. Although students own the project they are required to discuss and “tease out” their ideas with their Home Group Mentor (faculty member) and share their learning with an authentic audience at the conclusion of the Agency.
Last year’s Agency projects saw 360 students engaged in 150 agency projects which encompassed everything from making, marketing and selling natural homeopathic cosmetics and creating apps from scratch, to fundraising to provide life-saving operations for our local refugee community. This year we have 442 students with 175 proposals!
Responsibility for the project cycle requires students to think laterally about all aspects of the project from idea initiation and execution through to lessons learned. They are challenged by this process because they are required to take on ownership of all facets of their work. It is one thing to say you want to help the less fortunate, or power a cell from the electricity generated from plants, but it is quite another to source equipment, contact local organizations for support, purchase materials, seek advice and take accountability for every facet of the project. Much of the learning comes from the process needed to engage in the project.
Some projects result in spectacular end products, others are less successful. Some groups take risks with bold ideas while others try out safe or smaller-scale projects. Regardless of the end outcome, the real learning is in the critical thinking, questioning and reasoning skills that we see our students develop. Ultimately, we find students are becoming more courageous and confident learners with a greater propensity to take initiative in the classroom.
Research shows students with agency seek learning opportunities driven by their interests and relevance to life experiences. We wanted to foster this as part of our Student Agency program with students experiencing the process of blending their skills and motivation to meet a specific need in their life or the lives of others. The magic arises when a student finds the perfect symmetry between their passion and filling a real need in the community. Our aim is to encourage students to strive for this every day. Ultimately, by expecting students to become greater agents of their own learning they will leave school future-ready with the agency to affect change at a local and global level.