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  • Writer's pictureGary Chapin

The Making of an Excursion

Updated: Feb 15, 2023

Larissa Peru, bottom, Yesenia Ayala, and Gary Chapin talking about Student Agency at Desert View High School (Sunnyside Unified School District)
“If these are the experiences the students have had that have helped them to build agency, what do they want these ALP participants to experience so that they are also getting that same kind of feeling?” – Larissa Peru

At the ALP Convening, squads of educators heading out into Tucson USD and Sunnyside USD to check out and experience the work educators are doing embodying the ideals that the Assessment for Learning Project advocates. One of those ideals is student agency. The excursion – Student Agency and Student Voice – was designed by Kasie Betten and Larissa Peru, of Desert View High School (Sunnyside Dist.), and Yesenia Ayala, of WestEd and Stanford U. I talked to Larissa and Yesenia (Kasie was ill) about their process, specifically, why early on they realized that the kids had to be co-conspirators in the design of this excursion.

Larissa: We had already worked with four students presenting at a conference in October. The students spoke to what that was like to experience student agency. Kasie and I have been really playing around with the idea of how student agency moves our work from teacher to student relationships into teacher to student partnerships. It was important for us to have the students as partners in planning the excursion and then also make it evident to the ALP participants that our students are partners as presenters.

How did the students take to this process?

Larissa: Some of them were surprised that they were being highlighted as individuals who could speak to the work, but they were excited and eager to join the group and join the thinking around it. Especially because when Kasie and I asked these students to join, we really came from a place of, “We need your help. You are the people who have experienced this. You know what it's like. For us to be able to speak about this, we only really know one side of it, but you all are the ones who are doing the work.”

Yesi: They are the ones who know their experiences the best and they are the ones who can articulate and design a way of showing what happens at Desert View. Students were really creative in the sense of what hands-on activities people can go through while at the same time having them do observations. They're actually doing a sort of escape room model. The students will be observing the participants and providing some feedback. It completely shifts the role that they take on.

Larissa: I think our ultimate goal is for our ALP participants to really think about what it means to develop this in this kind of classroom.

[So, prior to all this], our district has worked on a document for teachers to use to identify when agency is present in the classroom. It's a list of look-fors. What would you see in a classroom if students were being agentic? What would you see the teacher doing to develop it? So, one of the first things we did when we brought in the group of students was to ask them to look at that list and provide some examples of their experiences in relation to those look-fors.

Then they thought, “If these are the experiences they've had that have helped them to build agency, what do they want these ALP participants to experience so that they are also getting that same kind of feeling?”

Some of the examples that they came up with were: being able to see peers as a resource, using questioning to push their own thinking, … using the resources when they need them, and just being really collaborative in a space. They talked about having the vulnerability to work with people and admit when you need help or admit when you've made a mistake.

The team feels as if there’s a fundamental misunderstanding of student agency in the field.

Larissa: There's often misunderstanding with student agency that it means giving students choice, and that if you give students choice to do something in your classroom, all of a sudden, they're energetic learners. That is a false sense of what agency looks like. I don't want our work here to be misconstrued that we “gave students the choice” of how to do these things. It goes beyond that because myself, Kasie, Yesi really had to create the structures that allowed students to think deeply about their experiences, and how that translates to creating experiences for others.

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