Student Agency in Education

Peter Parker

Summer 2019

In reflecting on my involvement in the CPLC experience this past year, there are many aspects of the core pedagogies that I have employed and adapted in my teaching. In particular, I follow a constructivist approach in the classroom, as I find learning tends to occur best when students are actively involved in a process of meaning construction rather than passively receiving information. From this perspective, I try to design classes that are challenging, require active involvement, have clear goals, and build upon what students already know. In teaching the Tackling a Wicked Problem seminar, making the section topic (i.e., propaganda) personally relevant to each student can be a challenge, as it requires a great deal of exploration and one-on-one discussion in the initial stages of the course. I have found, however, that guiding students in identifying their own specific interest within this topic allows them to become more personally engaged with the material and they perceive the subject matter to be directly relevant to their lives. This has resulted in a richer experience for students and instructor alike.

Another aspect of the CPLC that has informed my work are the contributions of colleagues in how they are restructuring the classroom, curriculum, and assessment system to reflect a more problem-based approach. In Cathy Davidson’s The New Education: How to Revolutionize the University To Prepare Students for a World in Flux, for instance, she considers how testing learning can allow students to take charge of what they know, how they collaborate with others, and how they respond to feedback. For me, this point raises important questions with respect to evaluating students’ learning. If we embrace the goal of developing students’ capacity to be engaged and to take on problems with no easy solutions (i.e., Tackling a Wicked Problem), then assessments should reflect these learning outcomes in meaningful and relevant ways. As a result, I have had to develop criterion-referenced approaches to grading students’ work. These assessments have been beneficial in several regards. First, they set a meaningful standard based on what students can do. Second, they motivate students to measure their progress in relation to meaningful criteria. Lastly, they align to skill sets that teach students how to question, challenge, and find solutions. In some cases, students may have to rewrite an assignment several times before it reaches a level where both the student and I are satisfied. In such cases, it is the process, rather than the product, where the real learning takes place.

The CPLC experience has encouraged me to continue to look for ways to enhance the quality of learning in my classroom and to better serve the needs of my students. I take pleasure in sharing in the excitement of students’ learning.


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Cluster Learning at Plymouth State: A Community-Based Approach to Pedagogy Copyright © 2019 by Peter Parker is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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