Using the iPad to Develop Student Agency

Through agentic action, people devise ways of adapting flexibly to remarkably diverse geographic, climatic and social environments; they figure out ways to circumvent physical and environmental constraints, redesign and construct environments to their liking… By these inventive means, people improve their odds in the fitness survival game. -Albert Bandura, 1989

Agency is the capacity to take purposeful initiative. Bandura’s quote above is a timeless reminder of the need for human beings to construct their own environments-including their learning environments. However, agency goes beyond just voice and choice. It is giving students the ability to actually own their education. It means strengthening growth mindsets in our students as well as in ourselves as educators. It means focusing on student learning and not on grades. It means creating a student-centered culture where students have choice in their learning pathways.

In our kindergarten class, we have found using the iPad is a great way to encourage student agency, particularly in literacy. By incorporating choice into our writing curriculum, students are more engaged in their writing across the curriculum. See a video on choice writing here.  When students use creation apps as a way to demonstrate concepts, they are creating new learning in deeper meaningful ways. You can read more about that here. 

Whether students are writing on paper…


Or on their iPad…


Or they are demonstrating math or science concepts….








Student agency is encouraged as individuals choose activities and extend their learning. Agency requires collaboration between both student and teacher. This partnership depends on developing meaningful relationships with students. The iPad provides students with opportunities to create learning, expand learning, and share learning with authentic audiences beyond the classroom. This empowers students and encourages ownership.

Look at the ways you are incorporating technology into student learning and determine how much of their time is spent consuming content and how much time is spent creating it. By taking a look at our pedagogical practices, we can make minor changes to empower students and encourage agency.


Using the iPad for Deeper Learning

Deeper learning is the process of learning for transfer.  Student competencies that allow for deep learning include cognitive reasoning and problem solving, intrapersonal competencies which involve self-management, and interpersonal competencies which refer to working and communicating with others. When these competencies are in place, students are better able to experience deeper learning.

Math is a natural subject to incorporate these competencies. Recently, we were working on composing and decomposing numbers to 10. Initially, students worked independently to compose numbers using M&M’s and a work mat.

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By working independently, students engaged their cognitive and intrapersonal skills. Next, students were able to work together on their iPad devices to compose numbers in a variety of ways.  Students were able to choose the app to demonstrate learning.

Here are a couple of examples:

unit blocksThe above example is from the Number Pieces app.








These examples are from the Felt Board app. Do you see the difference from left to right? The pair of students on the left composed 10 in ways that were more traditional. The pair of students on the right were both advanced in their thinking and were able to  demonstrate far beyond the expected standard. All of these examples meet the standard, yet, given the opportunity to have choice in how they demonstrate learning, students often perform higher than our expectations.

Integrating technology into your teaching practice can transform learner outcomes. Through voice and choice, students develop “creating and doing dispositions”. Through inquiry, problem solving, and collaboration both with peers and teachers, students are better able to lead their learning more effectively and transfer their knowledge to their world beyond the classroom.

In what ways are you creating deep learning opportunities in your classroom?