Liberating the arts from the prison of the timetable…

The arts are not mere diversions from the important business of education; they are essential resources.

Elliot W Eisner, “The Role of the Arts in Cognition and Curriculum” (2001)

If this is what we believe, why do we allow the tyranny of timetable to dictate the constraints of our arts programs?

Why are Art and Music often viewed as ‘lessons’ rather than effective modes of communication, ‘through which students explore and construct a sense of self and develop an understanding of the world around them’? (IB Primary Years Program, 2018).

Why are the arts not always valued as ‘fundamental to the development of the whole child, promoting creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving skills and social interactions.'(IB Primary Years Program, 2018).

With these beliefs and wonderings in mind, we are wondering…

What if our Art and, perhaps, our Music teachers worked on a more flexible timetable, allowing them to step in and out of the learning when the time was right and the learning could be enriched through the experience?

What if, instead of always planning whole class lessons, our specialist teachers worked with individuals, small groups or larger groups, depending on the needs, interests and opportunities that grew organically within the learning?

What if some or all grade levels had ongoing, interwoven inquiries that allowed children to deepen their learning through a hundred languages, and explore questions such as ‘how might I communicate my ideas?’ ‘and ‘how is my thinking changing through engagement with a different material, experience or ‘language’?

What if the arts shifted from being a lesson on the timetable to being viewed as integral to learning and as a powerful means for inquiry?

If it already looks like this in your school, we’d love to hear from you!

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?

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!

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.

What if collaborative meetings always led to action?

What if collaborative meetings always led to action?

Starting with the end in mind, our team leaders considered what they would like participants to FEEL, THINK, BE, HAVE, SAY and DO after their collaborative meetings…

The consensus was for people to come out feeling motivated, empowered and challenged, with a sense of purpose and shared vision, eager to move forward with the implementation of new ideas. (Meeting Wise!)

So…

How might we create a culture of productive collaboration?

Team leaders reflected on the culture of their teams by using match sticks to represent their team dynamics, which proved to be both an interesting exercise in visualisation and a powerful reality check. (Thanks, @kjinquiry!)

The next step was to consider the conditions that might contribute towards a productive collaborative culture. Which of these are most important for all team members? How would you prioritise these and what would you add?

  • having a positive image of the child
  • being comfortable with cognitive dissonance
  • having autonomy/ a sense of agency
  • feeling safe
  • assuming positive intentions of other team members
  • having a clear purpose
  • contributing actively and equitably
  • being willing to grow, see things in new ways and open to change
  • having knowledge and understanding of pedagogy

And then…

How do we develop  a culture of productive collaboration within our teams?

Some of the ideas that were shared:

  • Create an essential agreement and agree on meeting norms
  • Acknowledge mistakes and share insecurities
  • Celebrate successes
  • Constantly reflect – individually and as a group
  • Listen to and acknowledge all perspectives
  • Ensure agenda is available in advance and input is open to everyone
  • Celebrate the zone of discomfort and ask people to try things
  • Be non judgemental
  • Develop trust and respect so tensions are easily talked through
  • Listen to each other
  • Always focus on the child
  • Ensure everyone has a voice
  • Compromise, affirm, reassure and encourage
  • Allow time. Be creative in finding time!
  • Keep asking questions  – Why? What if? How might we?
  • Be flexible
  • Try to understand where everyone is coming from
  • Take turns to plan and facilitate meetings
  • Bring others/ experts into the planning and reflection process
  • Be available as much as possible
  • Know when to lead and when to follow

And also…

How do we ensure our meetings are valuable?

Team leaders jotted down things they currently do in meetings and then evaluated those against a list of criteria that make meetings really valuable…

Collaborative planning and reflection meetings should: (adapted from IB PYP standards and practices)

  • take place regularly and systematically.
  • address all the essential elements of the PYP 
  • be based on agreed expectations for student learning.
  • consider the different learning needs of students.
  • address horizontal and vertical articulation.
  • include analysing and responding to student learning eg looking for misconceptions and patterns
  • involve teachers modelling the attributes of the learner profile.
  • ensure that our practice aligns with our learning principles.
  • take an inquiry stance, eg through framing inquiry questions.
  • consider the development of conceptual understandings.
  • include planning provocations, addressing our agreed purpose and criteria

These are some of the wonderings that came up as a result:

  • Who needs to be at meetings and how often should they take place?
  • Are there other ways to deal with administrative matters, outside of meeting time? 
  • If we spent time setting the tone for our collaborative meetings, would they be more productive?
  • How can we support teams which are not functioning productively?
  • How can we work around timetable constraints?
  • How can we share what we value about culture and content with our teams?
  • How might we address challenges in a solution focussed manner?
  • How can we get people to step up to facilitate a meeting?
  • What kinds of student data should we bring to meetings?

And coming full circle to where we started…

What action will this collaborative meeting lead to?

What will our team leaders (and you, the reader)  FEEL, THINK, BE, HAVE, SAY and DO as a result?

The power of a provocation…

Whether it ignites an inquiry or shifts the gears of learning, if it’s fuelled by careful consideration and clear intentions, a ‘provocation‘ can drive powerful learning.

Considering the ‘power of provocations’ with our Lana Fleiszig recently, teachers explored the purpose of provocations, what could be used as provocation and the teacher’s role in the provocation process. The most important question, though, is what might the provocation reveal about our learners, their thinking and learning and where to next?

Our teachers collaboratively developed a list of questions to consider when designing provocations:

  • Might the provocation excite/engage the learners and ‘hook’ them into learning?
  • Might the provocation ignite curiosity and wonderings?
  • Is the provocation likely to generate questions?
  • Is the provocation likely to leave a lasting impression?
  • Is there a degree of complexity?
  • Might the provocation invite debate?
  • Might the provocation begin a conversation?
  • Might the provocation extend thinking?
  • Might the provocation reveal prior knowledge?
  • Is the provocation likely to uncover misconceptions?
  • Does the provocation transfer the ‘energy’ in the room from the teacher to the students?
  • Does the provocation have multiple entry points?
  • Can the provocation be revisited throughout the unit?
  • Might the provocation lead learners into a zone of confusion and discomfort?
  • Does the provocation relate to real life/their world?
  • Is the provocation inconspicuous and a little mysterious?
  • Might the provocation lead learners to broader concepts that tend to carry more relevance and universality?
  • Will the provocation make the best use of learning time and teacher preparation time?
  • Might the provocation be student initiated or documentation of their learning as a springboard?
  • Is the provocation likely to clarify the essence of what is being inquired into?
  • Is the provocation the right provocation for the time planned?
  • Might the provocation be best during the inquiry, rather than at the beginning?
  • Does this provocation elicit feelings?

We’re looking forward to taking it further in the coming ‘ Reveal’ workshop with Sam Sherratt exploring ‘what it means to be aware of, receptive to and curious about what our students are revealing to us so that we can be constantly inquiring into our students and adjusting our planning accordingly.’

Do you begin with a purposeful provocation and then plan in response to learning?

The way we present ideas influences how they are received…

I was surprised by the number of slides tweeted from a recent literacy conference that lacked a sense of visual literacy. Even the most seasoned presenters sometimes seem unaware of the negative impact their slides have on the delivery of their messages and ideas.

Visual literacy has been described as ‘the ability to interpret, negotiate, and make meaning from information presented in the form of (still or moving) images, extending the meaning of literacy, which commonly signifies interpretation of a written or printed text’. (Bristol and Drake 1994). It’s not just about consuming though. This definition is missing the ability to create meaning through visual media too.

It is this literacy that underpins our new Year 5 PYP unit of inquiry in the trans-disciplinary theme How We Express Ourselves. 

Central idea: The way we present ideas influences how they are received.

Learners will explore examples of animation, short film, images and presentations to see what makes the delivery of ideas and messages effective. Through their exploration, they will deepen their understanding of techniques and develop criteria that they can apply to their own use of visual media for presenting ideas and messages.

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‘We are a visually illiterate society. Three R’s are no longer enough. Our world is changing fast—faster than we can keep up with our historical modes of thinking and communicating. Visual literacy—the ability to both read and write visual information; the ability to learn visually; to think and solve problems in the visual domain—will, as the information revolution evolves, become a requirement for success in business and in life’. – Dave Gray, founder of visual thinking company XPLANE.

 

Self challenge: A post a day for a week. #4

Encouraging creative instincts…

What is creativity?

Can anyone be creative?

What are the conditions for creativity?

Can creativity be taught?

Can/should creativity be assessed?

How might we encourage children’s (and teachers’) creative instincts?

How do we create opportunities for creativity in our classrooms?

Is teaching creatively the same as teaching creativity?

Is creativity an attitude, a skill, a conceptual lens or is it action? (PYP connection)

What is the relationship between inquiry learning and creativity?

How might global collaborations  enhance creativity?

These are some of the big questions with which participants grappled in a PYP workshop on encouraging creativity, last week at Victorious Kidss Educares, an international school in Pune.

It was the first time I had led this workshop and I wanted to ensure that the teachers’ own creativity was awakened and that the workshop would provide opportunities for creative thinking and creative expression.

In addition to exploring the issues above, among other things, teachers designed creativity maps..

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recorded their thinking on wall mounted ‘bubble catchers‘…

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engaged in a newspaper bridge building challenge…

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audited their units for opportunities for creativity…
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Skyped with teachers in Melbourne about creativity in the early years, in writing and in maths…

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planned and created animations...

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Hope they had as much fun as I did 🙂

School has changed, have expectations?

At an information session for parents, we highlight the ways that school has changed and share a range of examples of learning that is real, relevant, engaging and trans-disciplinary. Learning that matters in the world these children live in, not constrained by subjects, walls or limited imagination.

We explain how the PYP develops our students’ academically, socially and emotionally, focusing on personal values, learner agency and global awareness. The passion and knowledge of the teachers in the room is impressive and the picture that’s painted for the parents is one we imagined would excite and delight them.  But these are still some of the things we hear…

I just want my child to learn the basic skills.

What about rote learning? Knowing the periodic table was valuable for me.

At the end of the day, they need to be able to remember stuff for assessments.

With all this broad emphasis, will they learn about specifics?

What about VCE? Will their grades be good enough?

At the end of the evening, a number of parents do come up to say thank you. We have clearly provoked their thinking, even those who are having trouble reimagining school. One mother, whom I happen to have taught about twenty years ago, says quietly  ‘I know I need to shift my old-fashioned views of school’. Indeed. School looks nothing like it did when I taught her!