8 Enhancing agency through narrative texts
Agency can be defined as a person’s capacity to act independently, make their own choices and affect their situation. Reading can help children to generate understandings of themselves as integral and active members of local and global communities. Thus, it plays a significant role in cultivating and supporting their sense of personal, cultural, and social agency.
Mathis (2016) proposes three ways in which engagement with literature promotes children’s agency.
- Agency through discovering the familiar in stories – when children’s reading is choice-led they often select texts that align with their current interests and existing knowledge. The connections between the book and ‘real life’ enrich the reading experience, validating the child’s knowledge, life experiences and identity.
- Agency in the actual engagement of reading and becoming informed – through the process of reading, children come to think of themselves as capable readers. Furthermore, the process of building new knowledge, ideas and vocabulary enables them to speak with authority on a subject and enact the role of ‘expert’.
- Agency through entering the story, becoming a character, and extending the story – ideas from books provide stimuli for play, through which children can creatively adapt and extend the narrative as they wish. This creativity is amplified when several children have experienced the same book, enriching the story in collaborative re-enactments.
Personal reflection 3
Think about a situation you have observed in your classroom in which a book or other text has promoted children’s agency in one of these three ways.
When the course team reflected on this question, Lucy recalled a group of 3–4-year-old children who loved the book Little Rabbit Foo Foo by Michael Rosen.
Over the course of three weeks, they developed their own ‘play’ in which they acted out the story, sourcing and making props to enhance each new rendition. They explained to Lucy that they wanted to invite the school office staff to a performance, and set about making tickets. The performance was a huge success! Through the experience, these young children developed their individual and collective capacity to act, make choices and affect their situation.