Thursday, December 9, 2021

Learner agency in the Early Years

For the past two years all over the world, young children have had a disrupted start to their school life as countries have plunged into lockdown and schools have closed for face to face teaching.  Over and over again I've heard that this has led to a delay in the social and communications skills in Early Years students, but at the same time I've also heard many teachers refer to an increase in learner agency during this period, which I have to admit has been rather a surprise to me.  However, even before they come to school, children develop a strong sense of identity through their interactions with others.  With children, development is not linear, and cognitive, physical, social and emotional development differ greatly from one child to the next.

The PYP refers to the work of Bandura when describing how action will only happen when people believe in their own capabilities - we all need self-efficacy to believe that we can make decisions and take steps to bring about change.  Play is an important way to encourage agency, self-efficacy and self-regulation.  Children begin to built their identities from birth as they interact with their family at home, and they bring their self-concept with them from home to school where they further interact with other adults and children, building their identities through play and interacting with others and the environment.  As agency develops children can start to become more self-directed in their learning and to set their own goals.

In a PYP Early Years setting students are valued as competent learners who actively engage in their learning and who can reflect on this.  Early Years teachers know that it's important to foster relationships and to consider the design of the environment and the curriculum.  This approach is also seen in the Reggio Emilia philosophy which refers to the three teachers - the parent, the teacher and the environment itself.  It is the child's relationship with the parent, teacher and environment that ignites learning.

Learning spaces, therefore, need to be inviting.  They should be flexible, so that they can be transformed in different ways to respond to the children's interests and to encourage them to be active in exploration and discovery.  Observing, monitoring and documenting the ideas, wonderings and theories that emerge can guide the planning of the units of inquiry and the creation or adaptation of learning goals.  Agency can be further fostered through giving access to different materials and encouraging students to make choices and to take risks, and timely feedback that encourages reflection can also play an important role in fostering learner agency in our Early Years students.

Photo Credit:  Prashant Sharma on Pixabay

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