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 ūüôā (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?

Documenting the planning process…

In the enhanced PYP, schools will have agency to decide on their own format for documenting planning, as long as collaborative planning follows the PYP guidelines. We’ll no longer be obliged to fill in the traditional boxes or follow the linear design of Managebac.

It was an honour to be invited by the IBO to submit an example of a school designed planner. It seemed like an exciting opportunity to collaborate with teams of teachers on developing something fresh, new and, above all, user friendly. So I was disappointed to read the terms and conditions that accompanied the invitation. Due to copyright restrictions, the IBO would own the planner design and we would not be allowed to share or change it without their permission.

Although I appreciated the invitation and understood their need for copyright restrictions (sort of), I declined.

In the spirit of collaboration, how much more valuable would it be to share drafts and designs both within the school and with the wider, global PYP community? How much more interesting could it be to seek and apply constructive feedback from educators all over the world? How much more exciting might it be if we took an inquiry stance, explored possibilities, had a go, reflected and made adjustments along the way?

Still. The process of considering and documenting new ways of planning is alive and well!

Every team in our school is enjoying experimenting with new planning formats and adapting them to their needs. Members of our online global PYP community have shared their own initial models, suggested ideas and given feedback on our drafts.

We always start with the child at the centre.

We have moved from the table

to the beginnings of a draft planner…

to a visual summary…

Now we’ve shifted into Google Slides and added everything to the same deck. Teams have been experimenting with what to include and how to record it. Some have started adding documentation and reflections along the way, which is allowing it to be¬† a living document that encourages emergent curriculum.

Some questions that have been considered along the way:

  • How best might we record the thinking that takes place during collaborative planning sessions?
  • What needs to be recorded and how? (And why?)
  • What is the purpose of documenting planning?
  • Who is the documentation of planning for? (The IB? The teachers?)
  • How do we visualise all the elements simultaneously?
  • To what extent do learning experiences need to be planned and recorded in advance?
  • How might we record the data that’s revealed by the provocation, so that we can decide where to go next?
  • How do we integrate literacy planning into the same document?
  • How might teams make this their own?
  • How best will reflections be recorded?
  • How might our learners participate in the planning process?

You’re welcome to join us on our journey!

Planning (but not too much) for inquiry…

 

There were so many things to be excited about during the planning of this unit with our Year 1 team:

  • the honest reflection of the teachers who engaged in this inquiry last year and their willingness to view it through fresh eyes;
  • the openness of the teachers for whom the unit is new and the ideas they bring to the learning process;
  • how far we have come from the days when we thought we had to plan the whole inquiry in advance;
  • our split screen approach to planning, in which we simultaneously consider the unit and the format of the new planner we are designing;
  • the opportunities for the development of the whole child, both as a curious scientist and as a human being who cares about animals;
  • the authentic learning that will arise from having caterpillars, chickens and rabbits in the learning space;
  • the teachers’ own inquiry into how best to provoke, support and encourage the children’s inquiry;
  • the agency learners will have as they help care for the animals, share their wonderings to lead the inquiry, develop their own theories, find the best ways to document their observations and choose how they might like to present their learning…

and now, the wonderful possibilities arising from the children’s initial wonderings:

  • I wonder if they eat their poo.
  • I wonder what patterns they will have on their wings.
  • I wonder what they do when no-one is there…

Unit planning isn’t linear (either)…

Following on from our  non-linear consideration of curriculum, we approached collaborative unit planning in a similarly holistic way, with the child at the centre, to ensure a focus on our goal of developing the whole child.

As teachers considered the desired conceptual understandings and the content requirements of our curriculum, the potential to develop skills and dispositions in an authentic context¬†were revealed…

Following this process with different year level teams and different units of inquiry led to a number of insights:

  • Making thinking visible is an important part of the collaborative planning process.
  • Considering all the elements simultaneously makes it easy to visualise the potential big picture.
  • The visual process allows for collaborative construction of meaning.
  • While always conceptual, some units are more knowledge based, others more skills based, and that’s ok!
  • A holistic vision of the unit highlights¬† opportunties for natural connections that strengthen learning.
  • Opportunities are illuminated for split screen teaching¬†(inquiring into content and developing skills & dispositions simultaneously).
  • Standing around a table might trump sitting behind computers for collaborative thinking!

Curriculum shouldn’t be linear…

Learning isn’t linear. Consider your own learning… How do a range of separate experiences contribute to the development of your understanding? How does that understanding deepen, the more you engage with the same conceptual ideas in different contexts?

So, why had we historically planned the order of our units of inquiry in a linear way? (When would one unit end and the next unit begin? How many weeks would we need to devote to each? What dates would work best?) The time had come to view the process in a different way.

We started from the most beautiful questions¬†that drive change –

Why?’ ‘What if?’ and ‘How might we?’

Why should curriculum be viewed as linear?

What if we put the child at the centre and considered the learning in a more wholistic way?

How might we approach the big picture through the lens of transferable concepts, rather than the calendar?

In each team meeting, we began by writing the ‘related concepts’ (PYP terminology for the big transferable ideas) in each unit on individual sticky notes and arranging them to allow us a visual perspective on the learning as a whole, then underlining the concepts that are most transferable.

This simple activity raised a number of insights, such as:

  • There are opportunities for further development of understanding, through concepts repeating in different units.
  • Some concepts are more highly transferable across different areas and more applicable in life.
  • Sometimes a unit has too many concepts, leading to less depth in the learning.
  • Some combinations of units have concepts that interconnect more, while others are more subject specific.
  • Some units lend themselves more to transdisciplinary learning than others…

Approaching the exercise conceptually, visually, in a non linear way led teachers very quickly to valuable conclusions about the big picture of learning – which units would flow on most logically from each other, which units might be best run concurrently and which units lend themselves to ongoing learning, woven throughout the year.

Some examples of ongoing, concurrent or even year-long, units of inquiry:

A Prep unit, exploring reading and writing as an inquiry.

Central Idea: We can receive and communicate meaning through symbols. 

Lines of inquiry:

  • How sounds and words are represented
  • How we ¬†receive and communicate meaning through written text

A Year 5 unit which, after the initial provocation and exploration, will continue as a Genius Hour project, with learners pursuing their own inquiries and action.

Central Idea: Ideas inspire possibilities for action.

Lines of inquiry:

  • How we bring our ideas to reality
  • Skills and attitudes required for taking action

And our whole school, year-long central idea: Our choices define who we are as individuals and as a community, with different lines of inquiry at each year level, such as:

Prep (self)

  • How our choices help us learn
  • Choices in how we express our learning
  • How we choose to use our environment to support our learning

Year 3 (individual and community)

  • Who I choose to be ¬†as a member of our learning community
  • Choices that affect our learning community
  • How diversity enriches our learning community

Year 6 (personal, local and global)

  • Active citizenship
  • How choices and decisions are made
  • The impact of our choices and decisions¬† – personally, locally and globally

Learning isn’t linear…

The ‘so what’ of learning…

Action is the ‘so what’ of learning…

“PYP schools can and should meet the challenge of offering all learners the opportunity and the power to choose to act; to decide on their actions; and to reflect on these actions in order to make a difference in and to the world.” (Making the PYP Happen)

At the start of our PYP journey, we used to think…

  • Action was a separate ‘thing’.
  • Action usually happened towards the end or after the unit.
  • Action needed to be visible.
  • Action was only about what students ‘did’.
  • Action needed to go beyond the self in order to be valuable.
  • Student initiated action was the most desirable kind.

Now we think…

  • If learning is active, relevant and meaningful, action will be integral.
  • Learner agency implies ongoing action of all kinds.
  • Some of the most valuable forms of action are not overtly visible – shifts in thinking, deepening feelings, development of dispositions.
  • Action might be shifts in what learners think, say, feel, have, believe and become… not just what they do.
  • Action often begins with shifts in the self.
  • Shifts in thinking can lead to visible action. Action can lead to shifts in thinking.
  • Demonstrating attitudes and skills can be a form of action.
  • Sometimes an idea isn’t initiated by students, but they can take it and run with it resulting in highly meaningful action.

Do you consider these to be examples of action? Try placing them on an iceberg, depending on whether they are overtly visible or not and see what new ideas emerge?

The PYP review update suggests the following lenses through which to view the demonstration of action: social justice, advocacy, participation, lifestyle choices and entrepreneurship. We have applied the model of action below (shifts in thinking, having, saying, feeling, being as well as doing) to unpack what each of the new lenses might look like… in action.

 

When viewed in this way, it becomes apparent that concepts like social justice can apply just as much to 5 year olds as to older students and that any one of the lenses can be just as relevant in the classroom context, the school, the local community or globally.

What action will you be taking next?

An opportunity to stop and reflect…

‘What do you love about the Primary Years Program?’ is the check-in for today’s LTL meeting.

Our Learning Team Leaders, one from each grade level and a couple from specific learning areas, gather for our weekly meeting. With thoughtfully planned Meeting Wise agendas, clear objectives and protocols in place for everyone to have a voice, these meetings are a valuable space for collaboration, shared learning, community building, analysis of ideas and collective problem solving.

The objective of today’s meeting is to share the latest updates on the PYP review. Responses to the check-in question include the fact that it is purposeful and relevant, the attitudes it fosters, the culture it creates, the value placed on learner agency, the common language and understandings, inquiry as a stance, the concept driven approach, encouragement of ownership and action.

While all have access to the whole document, for the purpose of this meeting each participant receives one item from the review to read and consider. We then each share the gist of that particular change, using the ‘plus, minus, interesting’ protocol, followed by discussion and questions. This turns out to be a successful approach, encouraging everyone to engage with the big ideas and become familiar with the coming changes, while providing an opportunity to reflect on our growth as a learning community over time.

We finish with insights and puzzles:

  • Great to see that even the PYP is reviewed and updated – always moving forward.
  • How flexible will expectations be, once the changes are in place?
  • We are well on the way already to many of the things that are ‘new’.
  • What will the new planners look like?
  • Our students have so much agency already. We need to notice it more.
  • There is so much we are already doing. Will we still be able to be innovative?
  • It’s encouraging me to be reflective about how my teaching aligns with the changes.
  • Where to next?

It’s satisfying to note the understanding, passion and pride with which these educators talk about what has become, for us, not just a way of learning, but a way of being.

Beautiful questions… and a whole school unit of inquiry

¬†‘A beautiful question is an ambitious yet¬†actionable¬†question that can begin to shift the way we perceive or think about something‚ÄĒand that might serve as a catalyst to bring about change.’ Warren Berger ~ A More Beautiful Question.

This generally starts with¬†a ‘why?‘ question which identifies the need¬†for change, followed by ‘what if?‘ which imagines new possibilities, and moving onto the ‘how?‘ which leads to action.

A couple of years ago we asked ourselves: Why do we spend the first few weeks ‘setting the tone’ in the classroom and then start the first unit of inquiry? What if the first unit of inquiry at every year level helped create classroom culture and set the tone for the learning to take place? How might we go about that?

A recent visit to ISHCMC provoked us to ask: Why do we need a separate central idea for each grade level? What if we tried one overarching central idea for the whole school? How might a whole school approach influence school culture?

And then: Why reinvent the wheel? What if we adapted the central idea we saw at ISHCMC and tweaked the lines of inquiry from our previous units? How might feedback from other educators support the development of this idea?

And now…

PYP Trans-disciplinary Theme: WHO WE ARE

An inquiry into the nature of the self; beliefs and values; personal, physical, mental, social and spiritual health; human relationships including families, friends, communities, and cultures; rights and responsibilities; what it means to be human. (IB Primary Years Program)

Central Idea: Our choices define who we are as individuals and as a community.

Possible lines of Inquiry:

These are still to be refined with input from teachers, students and the world. (As our junior school learning spaces will be redesigned over the summer, all grades have a line of inquiry about how the new spaces will be used.)

Prep

  • How our choices help us build a learning community (responsibility)
  • Choices in how we express our learning (reflection)
  • How we choose to use our environment to support our learning ¬†(function)

Year 1

  • Choices that help us learn (reflection)
  • Choices in how we we interact with others (reflection)
  • How we choose to use our environment to support our learning¬†(function)

Year 2

  • How humans learn (function)
  • Choices we make as learners, individually and collaboratively (reflection)
  • How we choose to use our environment to support our learning ¬†(change)

Year 3

  • Choices that affect our learning community (causation)
  • How diversity enriches a community (change)
  • How we use our learning environment to support our learning community ¬†(connection)

Year 4

  • How communication affects relationships (connection)
  • Choices in how we communicate – audience, purpose, context (causation)
  • How effective groups function (reflection)

Year 5

  • Personal values (perspective)
  • How our values influence the choices we make (connection)
  • The choices we make as learners (reflection)

Year 6

  • Active citizenship
  • Decision making strategies (reflection)
  • Our choices as individuals – personal interests and passions (perspective)
  • The impact of choices/decisions on other people, our community, the world (responsibility)

The central idea provides possibilities for authentic trans-disciplinary inquiry too. They might inquire into how our health and exercise choices affect us, how our choices affect others in games and sports, artistic and musical choices…

Teachers might inquire into how our choices define us human beings and as educators; the impact of our ¬†choices as educators on¬†the social, emotional and academic learning of our students; ways to increase opportunities for student ownership and agency…

And a few more beautiful questions of my own:

What if this was a year-long unit of inquiry?

What if, instead of a central idea, we had an overarching big question?

What if, instead of lines of inquiry, the learners came up with their own why, what if and how questions?

What if everything we did was about real learning instead of ‘doing school’?

Student ownership of learning…

“I think teachers should not be telling the students exactly what they should be doing. They should be finding¬†their own path and figuring out the ways that they learn best.”¬† ¬† ~ Georgia, Year 6.

The Year 6 PYP exhibition is a prime example of the kind of learning that is unleashed when students own their learning. The¬†confidence¬†and understanding with which Georgia and the other learners¬†shared this¬†learning experience are evidence of the power of student ownership…

Looking forward to increasing opportunities for student ownership in 2016!