Building Agency in our Students Online

Why agency and why now?

Now more than ever our students need to have agency in their learning and in their lives in and out of their academic lives. Agency enhances our students' sense of control, which is a pivotal part of building resilience and ultimately healthy coping strategies for when things change around them. One way to see how agency fits into the bigger picture of our students well being is this amazing sketchnote by teacher, learner and sketchnoter, Lauren G. Her Instagram is dedicated to developing a visual language to enhance learning. I love this graphic because it reminders me that agency is one avenue we can use to build resilience in our learners. 

Photo: Lauren G., Teacher at The American School of Barcelona. Instagram


What is student agency?

Student agency usually includes learning that is meaningful and relevant to learners, is often driven by personal interests, and almost always involves some element of voice and choice. Students are encouraged to self-initiate and make decisions about their own learning. The following graphic helps define agency based on four critical components. In this brief screencast, you will see how HyperDoc sample lessons can promote these important descriptors.


 "Part 1: What Do You Mean When You Say “Student Agency ...." 11 Sep. 2018, Accessed 7 Nov. 2019.


What are the skills associated with developing agency in learning? 

According to, the skills needed to thrive in a student-driven environment include confidence, self-advocacy, perseverance, risk-taking, creativity, and curiosity. To develop these skills, teachers must help students recognize their social-emotional needs along with their academic needs. Many of the attributes of a learner-centered lesson are captured in the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework. The final goal of 


Learning happens when students: 

  • Feel a personal connection to what they are learning, and see the relevance

  • Have voice and choice in their topics, tools, and more

  • Advocate for themselves

  • Share their work with authentic audiences 

  • Receive feedback in real-time

  • Reflect on their learning (Dewey) 


How might we teach agency in a 100% virtual setting?

Fortunately for teachers, building agency in our students, in some ways, is easier in a virtual learning environment. Virtual tools lend themselves well to providing our students with choice in their learning and how they show that learning. These same tools allow students to leverage the power of the Internet to find ways that their passions and interests fit into the curriculum. They also foster short design/creation cycles and allow students to fail often and recover quickly while working towards their learning goals. Below are three examples of HyperDocs that encourage students to self-initiate and make decisions about their own learning. These examples also help students recognize their social-emotional needs along with their academic needs.


Three examples of HyperDocs that build student agency.

My Happy Place

Great for upper primary school through secondary school, “My Happy Place” is a HyperDoc designed by Lisa Highfill and all about exploring spaces and places that bring us joy and why.. This HyperDoc is great for a first time user and is easy to set up!



Me, MySELFIE and MY Classmates 

Great for upper primary school through secondary school, “Me, MySELFIE, and My Classmates is all about expressing ourselves through the books we read and exploring the relationship between reader and book. This activity has a very collaborative feel while staying true to student agency. Each student curates the design of one slide and the final result is a mosaic of the whole class. This HyperDoc is great for teachers new to HyperDocs and asynchronous collaboration.



Exploring Theme through Poetry

Great for middle years through secondary school, “Exploring Theme through Poetry takes a deep dive into the literacy tool, theme by exploring poems about the coming of age. This HyperDoc is great for virtual learning but will need to be modified to fit an asynchronous learning environment. This HyperDoc is ready for teachers who feel excited to learn more about digital lesson design.

Author: HyperDocs Admin 07-04-2020