Student Agency: Voice, Choice, Ownership

Student Agency: Voice, Choice, Ownership

by Jay Brownrigg, ES Physical Education Teacher

As a Physical Education (PE) teacher, I am often asked by students, “Which sport can we play?” or “Why are we doing this?” or “I want to learn how to do this”. These types of questions lead me to think more about having the students take charge of their learning during PE classes. The International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program (PYP) uses the term student agency, and states “students with agency use their own initiative and will, and take responsibility and ownership of their learning. They direct their learning with a strong sense of identity and self-belief, and in conjunction with others, thereby building a sense of community and awareness of the opinions, values and needs of others." To simplify this, PYP schools speak about giving students ‘voice, choice and ownership’ over their learning. After attending a Professional Learning workshop on student agency last December, I decided to apply the concept more in my PE classes here at YIS, especially in Grade 5.

As we started the final unit of the year, I decided to listen to the Grade 5 students' "voice" about what they exactly thought Net Games, the name of our unit, meant. The students decided that Volleyball, Badminton, Table Tennis and Short Tennis fit under the umbrella of Net Games. ‘Voice’ is a part of Student Agency that doesn’t just happen at the beginning of a unit; it can occur at any time. A perfect example of this is how one Grade 5 class decided to remove Volleyball from the unit as they felt they didn’t have enough time to learn about it. 

When looking at "choice", the students from each class had the choice of which of the Net Games they wanted to learn more about. Their choice was open but they did have to keep in mind their time management - would they be able to learn about three different sports in the small amount of time they had? Many students decided to change their choices and reduced their focus to just one net game.

The students then created their own questions to guide their inquiry and documented this by posting to Seesaw during each PE session, thereby taking "ownership" of their unit. The idea of having them document their own learning and keep track of their progress as they find answers to their questions is crucial to providing a sense of ownership. To get answers to their questions, students could use each other as resources if there were experts on the games among them; they could do some research online, or they could ask me for help. Their questions ranged from “How do you score in table tennis?” to “What are the different ways to serve in all net games?”. 

The process above instilled confidence and knowledge in the students, which led to agency.  Now, when they enter the gym for our unit they set up the tables and nets, get straight into their learning and they are focused on their task; they do not wait for a teacher to tell them what to do. It is a very powerful dynamic to observe as it demonstrates learning and maturity. The unit is still ongoing and we all look forward to seeing where the students learning journey takes them.


International Baccalaureate (2018, p.1) Primary Years Program - The Learner