Thursday, September 28, 2017

Priorities, daily schedules & the PYP

The language we use and the way we spend our time are reflections of what we value.

In schools that subscribe to the International Baccalaureate's Primary Years Program (IB PYP) our language and use of time must reflect a prioritization of significant, relevant, challenging and engaging learning that is enacted by implementing the PYP Approaches to Teaching. In the PYP, among other approaches, we value:
  • inquiry
  • a balance between transdisciplinary and disciplinary learning
  • concept-based learning
  • differentiation
  • collaboration
In the elementary school, teachers often post a schedule or timetable in the room, to outline for students the plan for the day. As PYP educators, it is important to ask if our daily posted schedules reflect the priorities of the PYP.

In order to guide them through this reflection, I recently had teachers with whom I work explore PYP expectations and then look at a couple of sample daily schedules.

We first started looking at how the PYP expects us to spend and organize our time:

  • B2.10.a: The schedule or timetable allows for in-depth inquiry into the transdisciplinary and disciplinary dimensions of the curriculum.
  • “To ensure the coherence of the learning from the students’ points of view, it is essential that all teachers in a PYP school see themselves as PYP teachers, and are fully committed to and engaged with the philosophy and practices of the programme. Within each school community, the approach to the implementation of the programme needs to be holistic, not fragmented by disciplinary teaching,” p. 31.
  • “Please note that mathematics, language(s) of instruction, social studies and science need to be the responsibility of the classroom teacher: the teacher with whom the students spend most of their time. Single-subject teaching of these areas is not consistent with the PYP model of transdisciplinary learning— learning that transcends the confines of the subject areas, but is supported by them. Personal and social education is the responsibility of all PYP teachers,” p. 67.
  • “The programme of inquiry provides an authentic context for learners to develop and use language. Wherever possible, language should be taught through the relevant, authentic context of the units of inquiry. The teacher should provide language learning opportunities that support learners’ inquiries and the sharing of their learning. Regardless of whether language is being taught within or outside the programme of inquiry, it is believed that purposeful inquiry is the way in which learners learn best. The starting point should always be learners’ prior experience and current understanding,” p. 70.
  • “Wherever possible, mathematics should be taught through the relevant, realistic context of the units of inquiry. The direct teaching of mathematics in a unit of inquiry may not always be feasible but, where appropriate, introductory or follow-up activities may be useful to help students make connections between the different aspects of the curriculum. Students also need opportunities to identify and reflect on “big ideas” within and between the different strands of mathematics, the programme of inquiry and other subject areas,” p. 83.
Next, we looked at variety of schedules, continually asking:

  • What do we see / notice?
  • What PYP approaches to teaching do the schedules reflect?

Then, we thought about our own schedules as we asked:

  • What PYP approaches to teaching does my daily schedule reflect?
  • How could I adapt my daily schedule / agenda to better align with the PYP?

After I invited teachers to think about ways they could adapt their own posted daily schedules to better reflect the priorities of the PYP, several risk-taking teachers took me up on this invitation. Below are recent schedules posted in their rooms that will no doubt continue to morph as they react to the needs and understandings of their students.

What do you see and notice in these daily schedules? What PYP approaches to teaching do the schedules reflect?

Special thanks to Mrs. Liesener, Ms. Elliott, Mr. Dawson, Mrs. Lorentz, Ms. Erickson and the other teachers who shared their schedules with us!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

PBIS in the PYP: making sense, not alphabet soup

"Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) is a framework or approach for helping schools select and organize evidence-based behavioral interventions into an integrated continuum that enhances academic and social behavior outcomes for all students ... The underlying theme is to teach behavioral expectations in the same way as we teach academic subjects." (from Minnesota PBIS).

At our Primary Years Program (PYP) school, PBIS is helping us:

  • identify and teach expectations for being responsible, respectful and safe in all physical and virtual areas at our school through the integration of The Kaposia Code and the accompanying Matrix.
  • acknowledge & celebrate expected behaviors through the use of Be Bucks
  • respond to unexpected teacher- and office-managed behaviors in a consistent and systematic way through the use of a Behavior Flow Chart
  • create tools to help students reflect on their unexpected behaviors and communicate with families through the creation of the primary and intermediate versions of the Act-Reflect-Choose forms and the Office Discipline Referral form.
We use PBIS at our school to help strengthen our implementation of our PYP. To learn more about the PYP, click here: Back to the Basics: PYP 101.

Specifically, PBIS helps us implement many IB practices and PYP-specific requirements, including, but not limited to, the following:
  • A.3.b: The school as a community of learners is committed to a collaborative approach to curriculum development.
    • As a community of learners, Mrs. Becker, the Behavior Specialist/PBIS coach, leads a team made up mostly of teachers in collaboratively creating our PBIS plan.

  • A.6: The school promotes open communication based on understanding and respect.
    • The proactive nature of our PBIS is centered around our commitment to open communication based on understanding and respect for our staff and the students & families we serve.

  • B1.5: The school develops and implements policies and procedures that support the program.
    • We have developed the Kaposia Code Matrix and the Behavior Flow Chart that support the implementation of PBIS and PYP.

  • C1.2: Collaborative planning and reflection takes place regularly and systematically.
    • Our PBIS leadership team meets frequently to reflect on past decisions, current reality and future steps, decisions and professional learning opportunities.

  • C2.4: The written curriculum identifies the knowledge, concepts, skill and attitudes to be developed over time.
    • Our PBIS plan identifies the knowledge, concepts, skills and attitudes related to expected behavior that need to be developed over time.

  • C3.9: Teaching and learning uses a range and variety of strategies.
    • Our teachers utilize a range and variety of strategies to teach and reinforce expected behaviors.

  • C4.4: The school provides students with feedback to inform and improve learning.
    • A major expectation of our PBIS plan is to continually provide students with feedback to inform and improve their learning of expected behaviors.
Above all, PBIS is used at our school to give students the opportunities to develop the attributes of the IB Learner Profile and reflect on their development of said attributes (A.4, C1.9, C2.11, C3.16, C4.6.a).

Although it is true that PBIS helps to strengthen our implementation of the PYP, it isn't always obvious. Rather than understanding why we have all these programs, sometimes some members of our learning community think we're just making alphabet soup. We must gives staff, students and familes the opportunities to make connections between these two frameworks.

Mrs. Lorentz, a fifth grade teacher in our school, gave her students such opportunities at the onset of the academic year. Before she could help her students make connections between the PYP and PBIS though, she had to make sure they had a solid understanding of what it means to be a student in a PYP school.

First, she gave her students PYP Essential Elements mats to review the important elements of the PYP and the IB Learner Profile. Mrs. Lorentz noticed that many of her students had background information on the PYP attitudes, but were less sure in their understanding of the IB Learner Profile.

So, she had her students research the attributes of the IB Learner Profile. She gave small groups of students one of the descriptors for each of the attributes of the IB Learner Profile. Along with these descriptors and dictionary definitions, the students came up with one sentence that would encapsulate what the attribute they were researching meant to them. They also thought of PYP attitudes associated with each attribute.

Mrs. Lorentz had the students use the 3-column note-taking structure to make their thinking visible. She first modeled this process with the students using the attribute "Reflective" and then each subsequent group shared their thinking with the class. As the other students listened, they added to their notes until they had all 10 Learner Profile attributes in their notes.

Simultaneously, students also filled out graphic organizers where they were able to also show their thinking with an image.





Once Mrs. Lorentz noticed the students had a good understanding of the Learner Profile, they began to explore the IB Mission Statement and discussed what is the IB and the PYP. They also started an initial investigation of PBIS.

To deepen their understanding, she again had the students work in small groups with a large piece of paper and two mission statements: our school's PBIS Mission Statement and the IB Mission Statement. Students were invited to document how they saw the two programs connecting.

Through these opportunities, these fifth graders were able to begin to make explicit connections between PBIS and the PYP; The Kaposia Code and the IB Learner Profile. Ultimately, they were able to apply their understandings to create an essential agreement, that weaves the two programs seamlessly together.

The educators at our school are constantly reflecting on our practices and planning for an improved educational experience for our students. Sometimes, that involves adopting frameworks such as the PYP, PBIS and others (AVID, MTSS, PLCs, etc). It is extremely important to give students, families and staff opportunities to draw explicit connections between these programs so they can make sense of it all. How do you make connections between the various programs you implement at your school?

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Back to Basics: PYP 101

The International Baccalaureate's (IB) Primary Years Program (PYP) is a comprehensive, yet sometimes complicated, educational framework. Those of us who work in PYP schools must work hard to communicate to the entire learning community what the PYP is in an easy-to-understand way without oversimplifying this complex program.

To better understand the PYP and how it benefits children, let's get BACK TO BASICS and look at a broad overview of the PYP.

To learn more about the different aspects of the PYP, click on the bulletin board below. Specifically, click on the:

  • circle in the middle to read an overview of the PYP.
  • yellow posters on the left to learn about the Essential Elements (what we learn).
  • blue posters on the right to learn about the Approaches to Teaching (how we teach).
  • green poster in the middle to learn about the Exhibition, completed by students in the last year of the PYP.
  • large poster all the way to the right to learn about the IB Learner Profile.
  • large poster all the way to the left to learn about our district's strategic plan and how it fits into our implementation of the PYP.

Similar information found in the electronic bulletin board is summarized here:
  • I've heard of IB. What's PYP?
    • IB stands for International Baccalaureate. The IB is for students aged 3 to 19. The Primary Years Program or PYP is IB in the elementary school.

  • In the PYP, what do we want kids to learn?
    • We teach our students balance between learning essential knowledge and skills, development of conceptual understanding, demonstration of positive attitudes, and taking of responsible action.

  • In the PYP, how will we teach?
    • Teachers work together to write, teach and assess transdisciplinary curriculum that is engaging, relevant, challenging, significant, inquiry-based and concept-driven. Informed by assessment, we offer students differentiated opportunities to explore issues in local and global contexts.
You can also watch this short video published by the IB about the PYP.

After learning a little bit about the PYP, what questions do you have? Make sure you ask those at your child's school: your school's PYP Coordinator, your children's teachers and the school's administration are all here to help you better understand this framework for international education that has countless benefits to its students.

*Note: over the last several years, the PYP has been undergoing an update, with the "enhanced PYP" set to be released soon. Although there may be some changes that will undoubtedly change some of the specific information detailed above, students, educators and families can be assured that the essential nature of the PYP will remain unchanged.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Balancing the POI by Key Concepts

The curriculum of the International Baccalaureate's Primary Years Program (PYP) is a concept-driven curriculum. This means that our main goal is getting students to understand significant ideas, as opposed to being focused on memorizing isolated facts and mastering skills out of context (p. 15 of Making the PYP Happen). In a PYP school, we focus on helping students collaboratively construct an understanding of eight key concepts: form, function, causation, change, connection, perspective, responsibility and reflection.

p. 18-20 of Making the PYP Happen
Our concept-driven curriculum is organized into six transdisciplinary units of inquiry and it is within these meaningful contexts that students construct an understanding of the eight key concepts. Generally two-to-three key concepts are explored during each unit of inquiry. These key concepts help shape each unit, giving the unit direction and purpose.

It is imperative that the school periodically look at the horizontal and vertical balance of their key concepts. The IB publication Developing a Transdisciplinary Program of Inquiry states that "all eight key concepts must be represented on the program of inquiry at each grade/year level" (horizontal balance) and that "there should be a balance of PYP key concepts used throughout each transdisciplinary theme," (vertical balance).

The document goes on to explain that vertical balance, "does not mean that each key concept must be represented under each transdisciplinary theme but rather that schools are mindful of repetition or under-representation of concepts in order to ensure that there are appropriate opportunities for students to revisit and develop their understanding of all concepts,” (pages 5 & 6).
During our last evaluation in 2012, our school learned that our curriculum was too knowledge-based and that we needed to revise our planners to make them more concept-driven. Over the last five years, our teachers have worked hard to revise our units, focusing our curriculum on understanding meaningful ideas (THE CONCEPTS). As coordinator, I wanted teachers to authentically identify the key concepts that would best fit with their units and not to pay attention to horizontally or vertically balancing the key concepts as we revised the units.

That meant that our POI may not be horizontally or vertically balanced by key concept and that the work to bring it into balance may be tricky and messy. Change the concepts to horizontally balance a grade level, and the vertical balance might be off. Change a concept to bring about vertical balance and a grade-level might then get thrown out of wack.

During our last professional development day, our entire staff took on the challenge of balancing our POI by key concepts by gamifying the task. What ended up happening was wonderful!

First, we had to set up the game board. 

Step #1: We created a Key Concept POI; copying the key concepts that were in each of our planners onto the corresponding box on the grid.

Step #2: Teachers identified the key concepts that COULD NOT be changed by typing them in ALL CAPS. If we were going to balance the POI by key concept, most likely something was going to change, but we wanted teachers to let us know the ones that absolutely COULD NOT be changed. In essence, they were "locking them in". During this step, some grade levels made changes to their key concepts when they noticed they were not horizontally balanced. 

Step #3: Next, we wanted teams to identify the key concepts that COULD go into each of their units. Again, as we were balancing the POI by key concepts, it might be possible that a key concept needed to be added somewhere. However, we wanted those additions to be authentic, so teachers needed to tell us which key concepts could possibly go in their units. They recorded those possibilities in light gray on the Key Concept POI. During this step, some teams continued to make changes to their key concepts to bring balance to their grade level key concepts. 


With the game board set, we then switched into five vertical teams and the rules of the game were shared:
  • Goal: balance the POI vertically and horizontally by key concept with as few moves as possible.
  • Parameters:
    • Horizontal balance means, "all eight key concepts must be represented (page 5 of Developing a Transdisciplinary Program of Inquiry.
    • Vertical balance means, "there should be a balance of PYP key concepts used throughout each transdisciplinary theme, but that does not mean that each key concept must be represented under each transdisciplinary theme," (page 6 of  Developing a Transdisciplinary Program of Inquiry.)
    • No concept in CAPS can be moved. It has been "locked in".
    • Only concepts in gray can be added. 
The team that would suggest the lease amount of moves while still creating a balanced POI would win a tub full of homemade cookies. Click here for the Bestever Cookie recipe.

Teams had 20 minutes to work. They were engaged and focused, working to see how they could vertically and horizontally balance their POI by key concepts.

At the end of 20 minutes, all five teams submitted their suggestions for changes to the key concepts. Teams suggested anywhere from 1 to 10 changes. The judges looked over the plan made by the team that had suggested one change and declared them the winner! They then had to explain their thinking to the group:

"First, we looked horizontally to make sure that every grade level had all eight key concepts. We found that all grade levels had all eight key concepts represented.

Then, we looked vertically to see if all eight key concepts were addressed under each transdisciplinary theme. We discovered:

  • Who we are: no connection 
  • How we express ourselves: no change or causation 
  • How the world works: no responsibility 
  • How we organize ourselves: no form, causation or reflection 

Next, we tabulated how many times each of the key concepts showed up across the whole POI:

  • Form - 13 
  • Function - 12 
  • Causation - 10 
  • Connection 14 
  • Change - 13 
  • Perspective - 12 
  • Reflection - 7 
  • Responsibility - 12 
Although some transdisciplinary themes didn't have some key concepts (as mentioned above), throughout the entire POI, all eight key concepts seem to be represented in a balanced way; all except reflection.

So, we made the suggestion to add reflection to the Kindergarten unit How we organize ourselves."
Throughout this entire process, teachers were engaged in digging into their units and thinking in an honest and meaningful way about how the key concepts are taught and learned in each of their units of inquiry. As they worked vertically, they were engaged in suggesting authentic changes that would help bring about a more balanced Program of Inquiry, "to ensure that there are appropriate opportunities for students to revisit and develop their understanding of all concepts."

Moving forward, we will look for opportunities to incorporate more reflection into our units of inquiry, which still is under-represented in our POI. Also, any time a key concept needs to change in the future, we will look to see how the horizontal and vertical balance will be affected by such a change.

Balancing our POI in this way proved to be engaging, meaningful and even fun! How have your schools balanced your POI by key concepts?

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

What the heck is transdisciplinary learning?

As someone in charge of coordinating a program that is committed to a transdisciplinary approach, I shouldn't be asking this. I should know. But for too many years, I've relied too heavily on the shallow understanding that transdisciplinary learning simply is "learning that transcends the traditional subject areas".

But I'm not quite sure I deeply understand what that means, even after several years of workshops, reading, discussing and thinking about this question: What the heck is transdisciplinary learning? Which leads me to wonder, "Would I be able to recognize it, if I saw it?" Which most certainly means I can't help people adapt their written, taught and assessed curriculum to be more transdisciplinary, if it wasn't.

So, it was time to learn more about this concept (which is also unknown to both Microsoft & Google, as evidenced by that little squiggly red line that obnoxiously appears every time I type the word).

And, as someone who is committed to the social construction of understanding, I'm sharing my thinking with you all, that you might learn from and with me, and hopefully add to my understanding too.

My question: What can I listen and watch for so that I know a teacher/team/school is committed to and understands transdisciplinary learning?

To begin to answer my question, I pored over the IB document, The Primary Years Programme as a model of trandisciplinary learning

From that document, I synthesized that transdisciplinary learning is written, taught and assessed curriculum that:
  • is
    • engaging, relevant, challenging & significant
    • innovative
    • elusive
    • based in the exploration of real-life issues
    • authentic
    • a new vision & a new experience for learning
    • radically different from traditional education
    • universal (grounded in timeless, abstract, universal & transferable concepts)
    • embedded in the essential elements of the PYP, particularly transdisciplinary knowledge, key concepts & Approaches to Learning (this represents THE CORE of the PYP)
  • transcends
    • traditional subjects, but still has relevance across subject areas. Transdisciplinary learning isn't about getting rid of subject areas. Rather, it is complemented and supported by the subject areas.
  • connects
    • to what is real in the real world
  • may involve
    • what is commonly known as Problem-Based Learning
  • most definitely involves
    • collaboration (by teachers & by students)
    • problem-solving
  • allows
    • students to be autonomous
    • all students to contribute in a variety of ways
    • for spontaneous and easy connections across learning
    • students to acquire and sufficiently & competently apply Approaches to Learning, which are the tools of inquiry
    • students to explore our human commonality
  • promotes
    • lifelong learning, since it mimics learning we do in real life
    • an awareness of the commonality of the human experience
  • focuses on
    • issues
    • broad perspectives
    • deep understanding of timeless, abstract, universal and transferable concepts
    • a local issue or problem that also has global implications
  • demands
    • students work individually & in groups of different sizes and different make-ups for different reasons
    • students to be actively constructing meaning through inquiry
    • that the relationships between the teacher & student changes
    • higher-order thinking
    • participation/involvement/engagement
  • explores
    • the inter-relatedness of complex issues
  • shows
    • students the relevance of what they're learning. No student or teacher doubts the authentic reason for learning what we're learning
  • forces
    • teachers out of their comfort zones
  • relates to
    • students' lives
  • eliminates
    • redundancy
  • values & supports
    • all students, equally
Based on this synthesis, I wanted to develop a checklist that I could use to help me when observing in classrooms and perhaps teachers could use too as a self-assessment. (Disclaimer: I can imagine that some of my many astute colleagues in the PYP community will balk at the idea of reducing the very complex idea of Transdisciplinary Learning into a simple checklist; but I'm going to give it a go anyway).

When watching or reflecting on a collection of lessons or on a unit, ask:

Were students: 
  • involved, engaged, participating? (C3.5)
  • exploring a real-life, authentic issue? (C2.6a) Was the issue/problem a local one, with global connections? (C2.7)
  • focused on constructing an understanding of timeless, abstract, universal and transferable concepts? (C3.1a, C3.6)
  • collaborating in groups? Did they use different grouping methods throughout? (C3.10a, C3.14a)
  • having to collaborate? Did the teacher have to collaborate in preparation? (C1.2)
  • independent & autonomous? Did this take the teacher out of her/his comfort zone? Did s/he feel out of control at times? (C3.2, C3.5)
  • obviously studying one subject-area in particular? Were students able to make spontaneous connections to other learning? (C3.1b)
  • acquiring and applying the tools of inquiry (Approaches to Learning)? (C1.1c, C2.1d, C3.1a)
  • exploring multiple perspectives? (C2.8, C3.6)
  • understanding and thus able to articulate why they were learning what they were learning? (C3.13)
  • able to contribute? ALL students? (C3.7, C3.10)
Although I've taught in or coordinated a PYP for six years and I've visited with other PYP practitioners and visited other PYP schools, my experience is that Transdisciplinary Learning remains elusive. I look forward to continually deepening my understanding of this essential component of the IB Primary Years Programme.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Assessment-Capable Learners: Understanding one of Hattie's most powerful influences on student achievement

John Hattie published Visible Learning (2009) to synthesize evidence-based research in order to tell a specific and compelling story: 
  • Almost nothing we do harms kids
  • Most of what we do leads kids to learning
  • Therefore, instead of talking about "what works", we should be focused on "what works best"
Doug Fisher says that Hattie's work tells us what works, how it works and when it works. Deb Masters suggests the Mindframes for Teachers and Leaders represent a succinct story of the Visible Learning Research. 

My sketchnotes from Masters' session on the 10 Mindframes for Teachers & Leaders.
To clearly show what works best (has greater probability of having a high impact on student learning), Hattie used the research to calculate the effect size for each influence studied. He found that an effect size of d = 0.15 to d = 0.40 represented what teachers can accomplish in a typical year of schooling. He argued therefore, we must focus on those strategies that have an effect size of d = 0.40 and higher; those influences that work best.
When Visible Learning Trainer Dave Nagel came to our district in February 2016, he mentioned an influence I hadn't heard of before in Hattie's research: Assessment-Capable Learners. Assessment-Capable Learners, Nagel explained, had an effect size of d =1.44, well above the majority of the other influences listed in Hattie's research. This influence is one of the most important things we can do to raise student achievement.

Although Nagel showed the following slide during his keynote, I was still left confused; what the heck was an Assessment-Capable Learner? How do we develop these types of students?

A slide explaining the attributes of an Assessment-Capable Learner from Dave Nagel, February 2016
As with many of the influences on Hattie's list, there is great danger at taking misguided action based on a superficial understanding of what an Assessment-Capable Learner is. On the surface, one might think that Hattie is suggesting that we develop learners who are capable of successfully taking assessments, particularly those high stakes tests which are pervasive in schools throughout the world; learners who have practiced and are skilled at various test-taking strategies: closely-reading the questions, eliminating answers obviously wrong, going back and checking work, etc. However there is evidence that teaching learners these test-taking strategies actually does not have a high impact on student learning (teaching test-taking: d = 0.27).

Those that have an initial misunderstanding of an Assessment-Capable Learner aren't alone. When asked, "Why are we striving for an 'assessment-capable learner' and not a 'self-regulated learner?'" Hattie admitted that he struggles with a lot of "those words". Rather, he suggests that we think about Assessment Capable Learners in this way: "When students see themselves as their own teachers."

Each keynote and breakout session at the Annual Visible Learning Conference in Washington, D.C. allowed me to further construct my own understanding of Assessment-Capable Learners. Below, I share a synthesis of my thinking:

Assessment-Capable Learners:
  • can answer the following three questions, as long as teachers have clearly communicated learning intentions and success criteria (teacher clarity: d = 0.75)
    1. What am I learning?
    2. Why am I learning it?
    3. How will I know when I've had success & have learned it?

  • know where they are, where they're going (based on clear learning intentions & success criteria) and their next steps to move forward.
  • know the language of learning (VOICE) and make decisions about their learning (CHOICE)
  • are open to and expect feedback.
  • give feedback to others, because they recognize the powerful impact they can have on their peers' learning.
  • set challenging, yet realistic learning goals AND put forth the effort to reach them.
  • are active, involved and engaged in their own learning.
  • are radical change agents
  • see errors as opportunities for learning
  • exhibit the eight Mindframes for Learners:
    1. I want to know what success looks like.
    2. I like challenging goals.
    3. I want to master and have deep learning.
    4. I am confident I can learn.
    5. I want to become my own teacher.
    6. I engage in dialogue, not monologue, about my learning.
    7. I like to plan to implement my learning goals.
    8. I want to learn to be strategic in my learning goals.

As I continue to construct my own understanding of an Assessment-Capable Learner, I begin to ask: what do we teachers need to do to develop these dispositions and encourage these actions in the learners with whom we work?

THANK YOU to all the presenters at the conference. My thinking above represents a synthesis of keynotes and breakout sessions led by those directly quoted above and: Paul Bloomberg, Barb Pitchford, Peter DeWitt, Michael Fullan, Jen Mall, Michael McDowell.