By Drew Pouniu



I’m sure you’re wondering what is the Anti-Agentic Learner. In order to know what the antonym is, we must begin with what an Agentic Learner is.

Learner Agency

By many names is a student coined, and as such the ‘good’ learner has just as many colours and shades. The phenomena known as Learner Agency is as profound as the OHP machine of the 1970s and 1980s, except today in the 21st century arguably the most sought after type of learner is an agentic one. Rather than a teaching tool like a TV, instead we are making learners the teaching tools, the agentic learner is the most intangible and in some ways immeasurable type of learner.

According to [2]Core education’s website, Learner Agency is when a learner has “the power to act” on their own initiative to engage in learning, which in turn has a degree of personalisation. It is more evident when a learner has greater control of the learning process as a whole. In some cases teachers give learners choice, these options to complete must dos and can dos at their choosing is a starting point. But there is so much more to Learner Agency than just the mere choosing of when to complete a set must do task.

[3]Te Kotahitanga - John’s story outlines ‘Agentic Positioning’ as being owned by teachers, the teacher’s role is to encourage Maori learners to be more than their perceived stereotypes. This model seems at odds with Learner Agency because it is, which is my point entirely. How are we as educators prepared to support learners to be Agentic, if we haven’t got a shared and accepted idea of what that means or infact looks like? I will speak of my context as a lead teacher of a Y4 & 5 FLE, and the prevalence of learner agency in Poutama at Riverdale School. As [4]Charteris & Trafford (2010) state:

Student agency is a key element

of the New Zealand Curriculum vision – for young people to be actively involved, connected, confident, lifelong learners.

Essentially, learner agency is child-centric, a model of learning where the learner is involved in the decision making process of the curriculum, one they are connected to. This is revolutionary 21st century thinking, not just the exciting integration of 21st century digital technology and BYOD. We are decentralising the power of a teacher, and sharing this power with learners (learners must be actively involved in their learning), it is a move away from a teacher-centric curriculum, when one would expect content coverage and curriculum alignment to be the teacher’s job. Student voice must also be nurtured and be evident in curriculum design.

Student Agency in Poutama

An agentic learner has voice and choice.

  1. Voice

Long ago, we decided as a class that all of our voices were important, and not just the teacher’s voice. We consider problems in the class and approach them with an open mind, our lense is widened by allowing learners to decide on ways to solve the nuts-and-bolts issues within our FLE. We also survey our learners to learn more about what they enjoy or dislike about their learning. This is in a bid to re-develop the programme to meet demand.

  1. Choice

An early incarnation of learner Agency in Poutama, looked like choice through SDA (student directed activities), we teachers believed agentic learning to be, teacher-directed learning tasks completed by learners when and where they learned / completed, said tasks. We quickly fell off that cloud 9 of self-inflated hog-wash and decided to focus on broadening the learning tasks to make them SDL (student directed learning). It was believed that by making the tasks more UDL[5]-esque we were therefore moving towards a more conducive Learner Agentic FLE.

More recently, through much debate, my collaborative-teachers and I have begun to think about the shift from giving tasks but allowing choice of tasks. Our current model of choice is not perfect. In many ways, our learners are agentic. They choose their daily timetable, by working out when they don’t have a workshop, and then manage their time by choosing when and where to complete all of their must do tasks. Our combined next step would be to allow our learners to design more of their curriculum.

Curriculum design and Agentic Learning

ZIP maths is our independent mathematics knowledge programme, the learners have a self assessment sheet that highlights gaps in their learning. It is therefore up to them to choose from the folders, the tasks that will encourage them to practice knowledge activities to improve basic facts. This loose but effective model of learning places the child in the centre of the curriculum design. They choose what learning they need in order to progress, they personalise the learning and in doing so have designed the curriculum. Our next step is to do this across all areas of learning.


Simply put, the anti-agentic learner is more than the mis-diagnosed behavioural concern in the classroom, or the reluctant writer, or the passive aggressive non-compliant learner that says ‘ok’ and ‘yes, I’ve got it’, when really deep down we teachers know “ they don’t got it”.

 An anti-agentic learner is by its very name, a learner that doesn’t have VOICE, doesn’t have CHOICE, doesn’t have a stake in CURRICULUM DESIGN, doesn’t have the option to PERSONALISE their learning.

But then again it’s more than what we perceive as being the naughty kid that never has a sick day, even on days when we can’t bare to cope with yet another behaviour management system change.

The anti-agentic learner is that kid or those kids we tell what to do, the ones we put sheets in front of and say, do this, the kids we give a template to on Google Classroom with all our task cards and exemplars so that they’ll “get it”.

Is the Anti-Agentic Learner even a WHO?! Or are they a WHAT?!

The WHAT being the idealised ‘good learner’ because they do as they’re told, the type of learner we saw in the 19th and 20th Centuries. The type of learner that has no place in the 21st Century.

[1] <http://orig15.deviantart.net/5183/f/2014/120/d/8/computers_of_2000__wales_x_reader_by_hetaliachan1267-d7gmr6v.jpg>

[2] "Trend 1: Learner Agency | CORE Education." 2014. 24 May. 2016 <http://www.core-ed.org/thought-leadership/ten-trends/ten-trends-2014/learning-agency>

[3] "John's story - Agentic positioning / Teacher stories / Videos / Te ..." 24 May. 2016 <http://tekotahitanga.tki.org.nz/Videos/Teacher-stories/John-s-story-Agentic-positioning>

[4] Charteris, Jennifer, and Rebecca Trafford. "Speaking Plainly: Student Led Reporting in Relation to the New Zealand Curriculum Standards." New Zealand Journal of Teachers’ Work 7.1 (2010): 38-46.

[5] "CAST: About Universal Design for Learning." 2015. 24 May. 2016 <http://www.cast.org/our-work/about-udl.html>