In a PYP school, the culmination of primary school learning is the exhibition unit, in which students carry out an extended, collaborative inquiry. The exhibition synthesizes the essential elements of the program: knowledge, trans-disciplinary skills, concepts, attitudes and action. It’s an opportunity to celebrate their learning and share it with the whole school community.
As leader of a PYP workshop on the exhibition recently, I wanted to ensure that participants thought deeply about the purpose of the exhibition, to support them in formulating their opinions and developing concrete plans for how it would look in their own schools.
Participants shared their what, how and why questions in groups and we set these aside to be addressed during the coming three days, including this one:
‘What should we avoid?’
Simon Sinek’s golden circle served as a trigger for initial thinking. It’s worth watching his TED talk, if you haven’t seen it, but the essence is that great leaders and organisations (teachers and schools!) start with ‘why’.
I shared my school’s journey: Our first PYP exhibition three years ago, focused on the ‘what’ (forms, sheets, protocols and guides to support us)… and we thought it was wonderful! Our most recent exhibition started from the ‘why’ and was all about the learning. The process became much more important than the product. The exhibition itself was an opportunity for students to really talk about their learning, with a choice of one means of presentation (a painting, a poster, a movie, an artifact…) replacing the mass of paper we used to have on display and discard the following day.
Keeping the ‘why‘ in mind throughout the workshop, the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ fell into place and the three days flew by. We explored possibilities, deepened understandings, aired concerns, shared experiences, discussed issues and made plans…
On the last day, I asked the participants to answer their own question-
What should we avoid?
- over complicating
- anything that isn’t purposeful
- teachers controlling the learning
- focusing on product and polish at the expense of learning
While it’s clear that the teachers will have to deal with the demands and expectations of their specific school contexts, I could see that my dual messages of ‘keep it simple‘ and ‘start from why‘ had been internalised.
Back at my own school, the Year 6 Learning Team Leader and I have prepared a proposal to move our own exhibition to the end of the school year as a trial. We would like to replace the traditional, contrived graduation ceremony with a celebration of authentic learning. Graduation would consist of a simple student-created opening ceremony, followed by the exhibition: our students presenting all that they have learned, displaying the attributes of the learner profile, demonstrating their skills and sharing their knowledge with pride.
Are the powers that be ready to shift the graduation focus away from product and polish?
‘Language is a vehicle for communication and self expression.‘
It’s a starting point for a central idea for a new inquiry unit in How We Express Ourselves and no-one in the room is excited. The draft central idea seems like a statement of the obvious and teachers are concerned that it might not have the potential to invite student inquiry. We can see opportunities for the development of skills and outcomes in our English scope and sequence, exposure to Aboriginal culture, obvious links with second language learning and wonderful ways to incorporate the arts. If we can come up with possible directions and some great provocations, we’ll be happy to let the learners lead the way…
… Inquiry teachers are not afraid to let go.
It’s the pre-thinking stage and we have yet to explore the potential by investing some time in our own inquiries. An interesting way to provoke initial thinking is via google images. A quick search for ‘language’ generates pictures of different kinds of scripts, people communicating, sign language charts, ancient writing, translations, symbols and signs. We’re off on our own tangents, considering different perspectives, exploring in different directions. My personal inquiry has already taken me to Steven Pinker, Mark Pagel and the National Geographic Enduring Voices project…
… Inquiry teachers are inquirers themselves.
The range of questions teachers generate themselves is an indication of what’s possible… What is language? How can we communicate without language? How do writers use language effectively? How is spoken language different from written language? How would the world be different if everyone spoke the same language? How has language evolved over time? How does slang develop and evolve? How does body language impact on communication? How do gestures communicate meaning in different cultures? Why do some languages not have words for concepts we have in English? How does language shape culture? How does culture shape language? Why are many languages becoming extinct?
… Inquiry teachers are more interested in questions than answers.
We consider the conceptual focus. We might explore language through the lenses of function, connection and change. The big ideas (related concepts) might include communication, expression, culture, systems, relationships, adaptation, literature…
A tentative articulation of the desired conceptual understandings looks like this:
- We use language to communicate and express thoughts, ideas and feelings. (function)
- Language is a dynamic system that evolves over time. (change)
- Language and culture are interdependent. (connection)
… Inquiry teachers focus on conceptual understandings, not just facts.
A range of provocations that involve slang and text speak should pique students’ interest, before taking the learning further…
… Inquiry teachers help learners make personal connections, so that learning is relevant and engaging.
Not everyone is excited (yet). We’re on the lookout for some inspiration relating to the big ideas so let me know if you have anything to share!
I recently co-presented a workshop with an educator who is very different from me. She is both experienced and knowledgeable, but our beliefs about teaching and learning don’t coincide, so the planning process involved much disagreement and compromise.
According to the dictionary:
Collaboration is ‘working together’, but is ‘working together’ necessarily collaboration? Or does true collaboration require specific conditions?
As I prepare for a coming PYP workshop, I find myself content to be presenting alone. Using Simon Sinek’s golden circle principle, I start from the ‘why’, rather than the ‘what’. My approach is based on my beliefs about learning and my presentation has the stamp of my personal style.
I’m still collaborating.
Input from my global learning network adds another dimension via blogs, Skype and Twitter. I have invited other experienced educators to share their perspectives, requested permission to include others’ examples, sought opinions, discussed ideas with and gathered resources from my global community of educators.
As recently stated so beautifully by a group of 8 year olds inquiring into community:
Year 3 GBH
Thanks to my PLN for contributions to the cartoon. What else do you think should be added?
A brief letter to young parents about choosing a school…
Dear Mums and Dads,
I’ve heard from a few of you lately about the schools you have chosen for your children. I was a little taken aback to hear that you did this by checking online for the schools’ Naplan scores.
What matters to you?
An environment where…
- your child’s curiosity is nurtured and inquiry is encouraged?
- her unique abilities and preferences are taken into account?
- social and emotional needs are addressed as much as intellectual and physical?
- your child feels secure and valued, able to take risks and build resilience?
- learning is engaging and purposeful, relevant to the future in which she will live?
- creativity and initiative are valued over mere compliance?
- understanding, empathy and compassion are fostered?
- your child learns to be reflective and understand herself as a learner?
- education looks different than it did when you went to school…?
Naplan scores won’t reveal any of these.
PS. Try visiting the school, talking to students, teachers and parents and asking questions about the things you really care about…
‘There is never enough time‘ is a frequent cry by teachers around the world.
It was one of the reasons for handing over ownership of our PD day last week to the teachers. After an initial survey on effective professional learning , it was clear that teachers would value an entire day to pursue their own learning.
The teachers’ reflections are a clear indication of the day’s success.
Thanks to Kath Murdoch for suggesting that we ask what they noticed about themselves as learners…
- I am very focused when I am genuinely interested.
- My learning is more effective and enjoyable in small groups.
- I’m still learning new things after many years of teaching – there’s always something new to try. I’m becoming more confident in using computers as I get time to try out new ideas for the classroom.
- I am best with with like minded people that work at my pace. I am quite easily intimidated when i am unsure of what I am doing. I need to practise what I learn as much as possible, just like the students..
- Today I tried really hard when working with a group to sit back and let them lead the discussion rather then coming with my own agenda.
- I get flustered easily when I do not believe in the essence of something. Maybe some of my students have the same issue and I will try to understand them better.
- If I am motivated the learning is easy. If I find something overwhelming or daunting I need to break it down and take one step at a time.
- I am being a risk taker which I usually am not. Even thinking of starting a blog is quite scary as it is very new.
- I was really looking forward to our PD today because I was able to choose what our learning was about and what was relevant to me.
- I am calmer and more patient in my approach. If it does not work, I try again without getting flustered.
- We learn much better collaboratively. We become more inspired by bouncing different ideas around.
- I like to read something over and process it on my own before really talking about it with others. Happy to talk/chat after about it, but prefer to absorb/take it all in on my own.
- I think more slowly than most people I work with, and I require the time to contemplate things. Once I have allowed myself that time, I can think as clearly as others.
- I wouldn’t have survived today without a certain flexibility and ability to change some of the plans as we went.
- When I direct my learning I become responsible for it.
- I love collaborating. It is great to learn with others and to throw ideas around was very refreshing and reassured me that I am on the right track.
- Thank you for today for having the opportunity to go on personal journey and a time to catch my breath and move forward in the areas I needed.
There is much for teachers to take away, not just from what they worked on, but from their process, their challenges and from what they noticed about themselves as learners. They can apply what they learned from all of those in their classrooms.
Messages to take back to the classroom:
Learning is enhanced when…
- Learners have a say in their learning.
- Learning is meaningful, purposeful and engaging.
- Learners choose when to work alone and when to collaborate.
- Learners have enough time to think, learn, practice and apply…
…which takes us back to where we started: ‘There isn’t enough time’.
And there will never be enough time, for as long as…
- Governments dictate crowded national curricula .
- Schools introduce too many new programs which teachers need to master and integrate.
- Administrators exert pressure and demand results in national standardised tests.
- School days are divided by bells into arbitrary chunks of time between which students often have to move classrooms.
- Schools don’t stop to reflect on the things they have always done and how much learning time each takes.
- Teachers don’t stop to reflect critically on the way learning time is used.