When do inquiry teachers let go?

A request arrived this week for permission to use a cartoon I’d created years ago, showing the gradual release of responsibility of model.

As an inquiry teacher, who values learner agency, do you always teach or model first, only letting go when you think they are ready?

Or are students free to have a go, explore, experiment, test theories, formulate ideas… while you observe the learning, allowing your observations to inform when and whom to teach or support and when to step aside?

Do you trust the learners and the learning process?

Update 2019

Cultivating action…

“When students see tangible actions that they can choose to take to make a difference, they see themselves as competent, capable and active agents of change “(Oxfam 2015).

‘How do we get them to walk the talk? ‘ someone asked in our leadership meeting, sparking, as always, a host of ‘what if’ and ‘how might we’ questions. (A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger)

  • What if we chose action as our whole school focus for 2019?
  • What if we created a whole school inquiry that was inherently about action?
  • How might this provide an opportunity for teachers to delve into the new PYP Principles into Practice?
  • How might we explore the interconnection between action and agency?
  • How might we link our focus on ‘cultivating action’ to our previous annual teacher inquiries?
  • How might action look in the early years?
  • What if we redeveloped our Year 6 leadership program to further encourage students to pitch and drive ideas for action? (Thank you Stephanie Thompson!)
  • How might an action focus impact school culture?
  • How might thinking beyond ourselves empower us to act?
  • What if we used the cultural forces as a way to think about cultivating action?
  • What if we included parents and how might we get them thinking about action they might take with or in relation to their children?
  • How might members of the whole learning community take, encourage, support and acknowledge individual and collective action?

… which brings us to Day 1 of the school year and a massive, whole school workshop for teachers, assistants and leaders, to initiate the process of our inquiry.

We start with time to chat about the holidays first… with the guiding questions ‘What is something you learned in the holidays?’ and ‘Which form of action was sparked as a result?’

(Action markers in Early Years PYP doc)

Inspired by the beautiful Lead India clip, The Tree, participants record their initial thoughts about action.

Each group is assigned one of the action examples (Participation, Social Justice, Social Entrepreneurship, Advocacy and Lifestyle Choices) to unpack, considering how it might look through the lenses of their various roles and contexts, using the action markers above as prompts. The action section from the new PYP Principles into Practice is a valuable resource, adding a layer to the process.

Regrouping in jigsaw fashion, allows teachers to share their groups’ thinking as well as build an understanding of the bigger picture. What better way to synthesise the ideas and express the essence than through making….

The next stage is to consider how this goal relates to and builds on our whole school inquiries of the past few years, such as encouraging learner agency and starting with the child. Guiding questions: How does this goal connect with our previous goals? How does this goal extend learning and teaching? What challenges or questions do you have?

Then it’s back to the initial thoughts recorded by participants at the start of the session. How has their thinking changed? What new questions do they have? What action will they take?

What action do you plan to take in 2019?

Thinking beyond ourselves – a whole school inquiry…

Thinking beyond ourselves empowers us to act.‘ This powerful central idea for our PYP exhibition has fostered awareness of self and others, revealed vulnerabilities and spawned a variety of meaningful student initiated action. But it’s almost the end of our school year and some of them are only just getting going…

What if we combined several of the ideas in the previous post and developed a whole school, year long inquiry, transcending the boundaries of trans disciplinary themes, explored by both teachers and students?

We start each teaching team’s planning session by revisiting our beliefs about action, considering examples of action and placing them on the iceberg.  (Try it and see the ideas that emerge). Next we reflect indivdiually and share examples of ways we contribute beyond ourselves. We break this down into contributions within the school community, the broader community and then globally. (Another provocation worth trying!)

We brainstorm possible, age appropriate ways that children might be encouraged to think beyond themselves, enabling us to create some initial, potential lines of inquiry. It’s interesting to see the beliefs and values that teachers bring to the planning… and it will be fascinating to see the student initiated inquiries and actions.  Exploring this big idea through different conceptual lenses will add further layers.

So far, in the Who We Are theme, Year 1 students will inquire into who we are as individuals within our learning community; how we build an effective learning community;  how kindness impacts our community; why and how we create an essential agreement.  

Also in Who We Are, Year 4 will inquire into how individuals contribute to our community; how we build connections within our community; and how knowledge of others influences our actions. Revisiting the big idea in Sharing the Planet, they will investigate the impact of our actions on a sustainable future.

Year 6 will explore forces that shape culture;  how our actions influence culture; the impact of thinking beyond ourselves; and how thinking beyond ourselves transforms us. This will be a year long unit spanning Who We Are and Sharing the Planet.  Inspired by the sustainable development goals, students will have opportunities to design their own lines of inquiry, depending on interests and needs, within or accross any of the concentric circles

I’m looking forward to planning with the other teams.  Year 3s might be inspired to explore diversity accross Who we Are and Where we are in Place and Time.  Year 5s are keen to explore values and it will be interesting to see where that might lead, across more than one theme. Thinking beyond ourselves takes on a different dimension when explored in the context of Phys Ed and team games. Our whole school focus on developing the whole child is firmly embedded, and the potential of this unit to further enhance that is exciting.

Once the Program of Inquiry is viewed flexibily, its potential expands exponentially…

Liberating the program of inquiry…

What if we develop a new whole school unit of inquiry, linked to our whole school focus?

What if teachers and learners focus on the same inquiry?

What if we critically evaluate all our units against a list of criteria generated by both teachers and learners?

What if units do not follow one after another, but rather overlap and intersect?

What if some units are year long, some short, some ongoing… depending on content, concepts, trans disciplinary possibilities and student interest?

What if we actively seek unexpected combinations of learning areas, like science and poetry?

What if one unit incorporates two trans disciplinary themes?

What if we wait to develop the lines of inquiry till we see where the learners want to take it?

What if we we have the same central idea for all the classes at one grade level, but each group of learners develop their own lines of inquiry?

What if we analyse our program of inquiry in terms of the concentric circle model and check the balance between opportunities for self discovery and thinking beyond ourselves?

What if all units focus not just on developing knowledge and understanding, but on developing human beings?

What if every grade level has at least one unit that is individual and personal, student selected and student driven?

What if we liberate ourselves from the traditional curriculum prison and explore new vistas? 

These are some of the questions we are considering as we head into the annual review of our Program of Inquiry . We have already experimented with some of these ideas.  How might we shift thinking and learning even further, for both teachers and students? What else might we explore? 

I used to think the POI review was about checking for curricular alignment and conceptual development… Now I think it’s about asking evenmore beautiful questions’.

Beyond ourselves…

For the past couple of years, our culminating PYP expedition (exhibition) has centred around passions. This year, with Studio Time or iTime already embedded, and learners exploring, not just their their passions and interests, but also how they might develop as learners and individuals through the process, it’s time to move beyond ourselves.

We start today’s team meeting with the first few minutes of the film 30,000 days and discuss what it makes us think and feel. Responses refer to the meaning of life, a sense of urgency, excitement and empowerment without guilt, a desire to take action and a feeling of hope.

Next, we consider what each of us does to contribute beyond ourselves. We break this down into contributions within the school community, the broader community and then globally, and the answers are both diverse and thoughtful.

  • A sense of fun and silliness.
  • Care for the wellbeing of others.
  • Being a team player.
  • Supporting students and teachers.
  • Greeting people, not just walking by.
  • Showing appreciation to service workers.
  • Being kind to others.
  • Writing to challenge and entertain.
  • Volunteering with Pyjama Angels.
  • Advocating for mental health.
  • Reusing and recycling.
  • Connecting with children in less advantaged settings in India.
  • Educating future leaders.
  • Organising cultural events and fund raisers.
  • Donating to causes that matter.
  • Supporting a school in Africa.

We think this could be a powerful reflective question with which the children might engage, in relation to themselves, their families and other people they know.

With the trans-disciplinary theme of Sharing the Planet as a prompt, we brainstorm issues beyond ourselves and organise them, using the concentric circles of school, local and global communities.

It’s quickly apparent that the issues we raise connect to the Sustainable Development Goals, which will be one of the springboards for students to dive into their explorations and possibilities for action.

The children’s version of this brainstorm might look different, but the concentric circles always provide a valuable lens for seeing how ideas can transfer both inward and outward. What if we asked kids to come up with their own broad categories of goals, relevant both at school and beyond? What if we asked them to anticipate which might be achievable by 2020 or 2030? What if they began to imagine their own solutions?

Prior concerns about how to make this inquiry relevant, and ensure it is neither shallow nor too removed from the children’s reality, are laid to rest. The ‘split screen’ potential is evident! It’s an opportunity for our students to develop, not just as learners and inquirers, but as thoughtful, caring human beings, ready to take the first steps towards making their world a better place.

As educators, we are well placed to approach this as an inquiry for ourselves, as well as for our learners. (The provocation has been a success.)

It’s an opportunity for students and teachers alike to move beyond ourselves

Building a culture of agency…

It’s exciting to see so many teachers relinquishing control and empowering their students. Stephanie in Singapore had kids do their own set up on the first day of school and the inspirational folk of Studio 5 at ISHCMC have broken yet more moulds.  Right here in Aus, at my own school, some students are planning their own inquiries in the same way that teachers plan, and teachers are releasing control and reflecting candidly about the process in the pursuit of learner agency.

What if you’re not ready to release control to this extent? How might you start small? What might some first steps be towards an increase in agency for your learners?

Ron Ritchhart’s 8 cultural forces provide a platform from which to embark on your journey. Just apply them to agency, instead of thinking! How might you build a culture of learner agency in your classroom?

What sort of language will you use?

Do you talk about learning, rather than tasks and work?

Is your learning framed as a question that invites learners into the process?

Do you ask the learners’ opinions and really listen to what they say?

Do you notice and name learning assets?

Do you refer to your students as authors, mathematicians and scientists?

How is the environment organised to foster agency?

Who designs the learning space? Whose thinking is on the walls?

Are there options for where and with whom to sit and learn?

Are materials and resources well organised and easily accessible?

What sorts of opportunities are offered?

Are there opportunities for learners to pursue their own inquiries?

Are there opportunities to write for an authentic audience and to extend learning beyond the classroom?

Are there opportunities for learners to wrestle with challenging problems and design solutions?

How is time managed? 

Is there time for thinking, reflecting and inquiring?

Who manages the time? Is self management encouraged?

Is time used constructively for meaningful learning, rather than just completion of set tasks?

Do students waste time waiting for the teacher, when they could be doing something more worthwhile?

What dispositions do you model?

Do you model vulnerability, apologise when you’re wrong and talk about your mistakes?

Do you openly change your mind and your plan?

Do you model decision making and talk through the process aloud?

What routines are in place to encourage agency?

Are there routines for accessing equipment, sharing learning, asking for help…without waiting for the teacher?

Do they start when they’re ready, rather than waiting till you have finished giving the same instructions to all?

Are there routines for giving and receiving peer to peer feedback, without being told?

What kind of expectations are clearly set?

Are learners expected to and trusted to take ownership of learning?

Do they have (at least some) choice and voice in what they learn and how they learn?

Is initiative valued over compliance?

Is intrinsic motivation expected and encouraged through powerful, engaging learning experiences? (no Class Dojo)

How do interactions foster agency?

Are interactions between you and your learners mutually respectful?

How well do you know every child’s story, her interests, her passions and her insecurities? Can she tell that you care?

Do your interactions demonstrate belief in the learners’ capacity to own their learning?

Can they tell that you trust them to learn?

What small action will you take to shift the culture in your class?

Image from Presenter Media

No secret teacher business…

Our new approach to planning units has opened up teachers’ thinking. They talk about feeling liberated (from box filling or linear approaches), the organic way the elements are revealed and the easy visualisation of how we might develop the whole child.

Why would we keep such a successful approach as ‘secret teacher business’? First one then another intrepid teacher has shared our style of ‘table planning’ with the learners, so that they can thoughtfully plan their own inquiries, through the lens of various concepts, simultaneously considering what skills will be required, the dispositions they will develop and how they might grow through the process.

A Year 6 student considers the skills required for his exploration of psychology

‘This unit is really about being responsible, independent and creative…’ Year 3

This student started from a consideration of how he’d like to grow as a learner and individual. Now he’s thinking about how he’s going to help others…

Contemplating the descriptors in MTPYPH (student booklet) just like teachers do! (Photo Dean Kuran)

Collaborative planning – Year 3 version 🙂 (Photo Mel Sokol)

For more details, read Dean’s post here and Mel’s post here.

Agency begins with the belief that children are capable of planning and driving their own learning. What else do we as teachers do that the learners could be doing themselves?

Why do we STILL have reports?

Why is it that, in this day and age of instant communication, most schools and parents still expect the kind of report card suited to another era?

Why do reports traditionally go out twice a year, when there are endless ways teachers and learners can, and do, communicate their learning throughout the year?

Why do teachers spend great chunks of time reporting in a summative way on a final report, when formative assessment, goals and ‘feed forward’ during the year are so much more valuable?

Why don’t teachers, parents and learners share the learning via online portfolios, easily accessible throughout the year, demonstrating process, progress and final product, with facility for reflection by students, feedback by parents and ‘feedforward’ by teachers?

Why don’t learners communicate their learning more with parents and the wider world through the many possible channels available online?

Why do governments and administrators continue to dictate not just the existence of report cards, but often the format and parameters they should fit?

What if the hours teachers spend writing and proofreading reports were instead allocated to professional learning and collaborative planning that enhanced future learning?

and…

WHY has so little changed in the four years since I last wrote those questions?

What do you notice about yourself as a teacher?

It’s exciting to see teachers adopting the idea of thoughtfully considered reflective questions for themselves, as well as for the learners, in continued pursuit of the goal of developing the whole child – and the whole teacher! – rather than simply focusing on curriculum content.

If I want the children in my class to be creative, how might I encourage creative experimentation? How will I foster creative thinking and problem solving?

If I want to develop writers who consider audience and purpose in their writing, how will I help them find opportunities to write for an authentic audience?

If I think feedback is an important part of learning, how will I promote the giving and receiving of effective peer feedback?

If I want learners to be empathetic and understand different perspectives, how will I ensure that all points of view are considered to help them develop empathy?

If I want the next generation to make sustainable choices, how will I help them to understand the impact of their choices and to become thoughtful, principled global citizens?

If I want them to care about their environment, how will I foster a genuine sense of shared responsibility?

If I don’t want them to see mistakes as failure, how might I help learners use their struggles to develop resilience?

If I want my students to be positive, active digital citizens, how can I provide authentic contexts to practise digital citizenship? And how will I help them understand that positive active citizenship applies online or off?

In a recent collaborative planning session, while developing the notion of iTime (or Genius Hour) into an opportunity for self reflection and personal growth, the Year 6 team took this type of reflective questioning to another level!

What do I notice about myself as a teacher?

What skills and dispositions do I need to develop as a teacher…?