Universiteit Leiden

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PhD project

Student agency in secondary school: The development of student agency in secondary schools

Student agency is defined as the ability to increasingly take control of the learning process. It is associated with better grades, well-being, motivation and self-confidence. This research aims to provide teachers tools to stimulate student agency and to monitor its growth.

2020 - 2024
Anja Schoots-Snijder


  • A.J.M. Schoots MEd - PhD candidate
  • prof.dr. W.F. Admiraal - supervisor
  • dr. E.H. Tigelaar - co-supervisor

Research question

This research aims to provide teachers with tools to stimulate student agency and to monitor its growth. The main question is: What are the characteristics of a learning environment in which student agency can develop optimally?

Social relevance

Education prepares students to be able and willing to make a meaningful contribution to society. Students who develop agency are better prepared for this role. In addition, there is a growing realization in our society that children have the right to influence the environment they are part of. Having such influence, also in school, can increase students’ pleasure in learning, and motivate them to keep on learning even after school.

Scientific relevance

Student agency has been operationalized in various ways. This research can contribute to providing a shared language about agency and a model that maps the relationship between the learning environment and the development of agency. Based on this, also a measurement instrument for student agency is being developed.

The project and research questions

The first study is a literature reviewon student agency, the second is focused on developing and validating a measurement instrument, the third is a descriptive study exploring the relationship between characteristics in the learning environment and the degree to which students show agency, the fourth study is focused on formulating design principles for supporting the development of student agency within schools and in the fifth study the effects of the designed learning environment on the development of agency in secondary education students are being investigated.

The resarch questions are:

Study 1:

  • How is student agency defined in the context of secondary education?
  • How is student agency operationalized?
  • What is seen as promoting factors?
  • What results are attributed to agency?

Study 2:
Is the instrument that is developed (as a result of study 1) valid?  

Study 3: 
To what extend are students agentic and what are characteristices of their learning environment? 

Study 4:
How can the learning environment promote student agency in  an effective way?

Study 5:
What is the effect of the design on student agency? 

Material and methods study 1

The first study is a systematic literature review. The results will be used to develop a measurement tool and critiria for the curriculum design.

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