Friday, December 8, 2017

Word Wallets

At a recent professional development, teachers were given the opportunity to REFLECT on what they had learned, brainstorm a list of actions they could CHOOSE based on those reflections and then pick one and ACT on it.

One kindergarten teacher collaborated with a colleague to use Word Wallets as a way to track student progress and to celebrate the successful learning of sight words. Using these wallets also builds confidence and encourages students to continue to push themselves.

Being able to read sight words is an important reading skill. In the PYP, reading is categorized as a communication skill, one of the five sets of approaches to learning necessary for students to become life-long learners.

The teacher took a folder, cut about two thirds the way down the fold, rounded off the tops of both the sides and folded the tops down. She labeled one side "working on" and the other side "done ☺"

Students are working on learning sight words, five at a time. When they've mastered a word, they celebrate by coloring in the box.

When all five words are colored, they celebrate and move the words over to the "done ☺" side. The students continue to practice the sight words even when they're on the "done ☺" side.

Once students have mastered several strips of words, the teacher plans to make a Sight Word Crown so that students can prominently and proudly display the words they've worked so hard to learn.

When students are reading books appropriate for their developmental and skill level, they'll have an easier time identifying these sight words in context, because they have build up their knowledge of these words and their confidence in their ability to read them.

Word Wallets can, of course, be used to track progress and celebrate successes with other kinds of learning. How might you use these wallets in your classroom? How do you track students' progress and celebrate students' efforts in other ways?

Friday, November 10, 2017

Teaching writing authentically: the WHAT, the WHY, & the HOW

This post was written collaboratively by elementary teachers enrolled in the Alternative Pathway To Teaching program at the University of Minnesota in partnership with Teach For America. The post was edited & stitched together by Ryan Higbea, one of their instructors. As part of CI 5214: Elementary Education Content and Pedagogy IV, teachers are working to understand writing and genre instruction in the elementary school. This post is a synthesis of chapters 1, 2, 4 & 6 of Reading and Writing Genre with Purpose in K-8 Classrooms by Duke, Caughlan, Juzwik, and Martin. Page references throughout the post refer to this text.

Introductory Thoughts

by Gwen

Teaching writing with purpose allows students to see connections between the writing they are learning and their daily lives, while explicitly learning key skills. Genres are not taught in a specific sequence but rather reflect the mixture of text types they’ll see in their daily lives. Writing with purpose allows students to become motivated to write and will engage students to work hard and become more curious about their writing.

The 5 principles (p. 3) that help guide writing instruction are:

  • Create an environment that welcomes all communication
  • Introduce, through exposure, different types of text
  • Explicitly teach genre features.
  • Explicitly teach genre-specific or genre-sensitive strategies
  • Offer ongoing coaching and feedback
These principles are designed to engage students at different levels to learn these main types of texts: narrative, informative/exclamatory, and persuasive.

What are narrative texts?
by Hannah Bates

Narrative texts share stories about a variety of experiences, for a variety of reasons. Narrative writing is authored by people who have knowledge about a particular experience and can be fiction or nonfiction. It's important to teach narrative writing to empower students to write about their own lived experiences, or historical experiences that have affected them.

When teaching narrative writing, create meaningful assignments that are "larger" than the students themselves. Make them collaborate about something meaningful that will allow them to truly engage authentically. Use mentor texts and modeling to expose students to the components of narrative. Teach genre features, such as setting, plot, details, language, etc. Teach strategies for effectively making sense of narrative texts, like visualizing or rereading for clarity, (p. 22-51).

In the Minnesota Academic Standards for English Language Arts (ELA) K-12, the third benchmark in the writing strand (x.6.3.3) is related to narrative writing.

Narrative – the HOW
by Sarah Ehlen

In my own classroom, after explaining the “what” of narrative, using mentor texts in a variety of narrative types has been crucial in teaching the “HOW.” Young students are natural storytellers, filled with experiences and stories to share. By reading mentor texts and highlighting published authors' “craft moves,” students are able to see different methods of bringing stories to life on the page.

Exemplar mentor texts (like On My Way to Buy Eggs by Chih-Yuan Chen) exposes students to different aspects of narrative writing and gives them an anchor when they want to try a new element of narrative writing themselves. A set of mentor texts is necessary, as well as a variety of paper choices, illustration tools and writing instruments. Students of all stages of writing development should have access to writing materials that allow them to test out craft moves and tell their own stories. Older students, should also use different forms of technology.

Once students begin reading, publishing and sharing their writing, other ELA benchmarks are addressed (x.8.1.1 for example).

The WHAT of Informative/Explanatory
by Callea

“Informational and explanatory” is a broad genre that consists of many sub genres, including but not limited to:

  • Textbooks
  • Newspaper articles
  • Magazines
  • Journals
  • Websites
  • Letters
  • Informational pamphlets
Authors of these texts use strategies that we should teach students to use:
  • Research by reading texts, interviewing and observing
  • Preview texts by skimming and scanning
  • Make clear and concise notes
  • Summarize
  • Capture the gist
  • Organize information
The intended audience should be the driving force behind deciding what type of informational text the author will create.
  • A textbook for children?
  • An informational pamphlet for parents?
  • A guidebook for visitors?
Students should get exposure to the text types they are creating and take note of the text features that are predominantly used. These text features can include:
  • Information boxes
  • Pictures
  • Graphics
  • Graphs and data
  • Paragraphs carefully organized by topic
MN ELA benchmarks related to reading and writing information texts are:
  • Informational text benchmarks:
    • x.2.1.1
    • x.2.1.2
    • x.2.5.5
    • x.2.6.6
  • Writing:
    • x.6.2.2
    • x.6.4.4
    • x.6.8.8
The “How” of Informational Writing
by Will McDuffie

There are five “principles” for teaching informational writing to students (p. 84-108):

  • Create a compelling, meaningful environment 
    • Introduce interesting topics and graphics
    • Design projects around pressing issues
    • Provide a real audience
    • Follow through (i.e. if you tell students you’re sending their writing to the president, really send it)
  • Provide exposure and experience
    • Give kids either a teacher model or a mentor text
  • Explicitly teach the features of informational texts
    • Examples of these features:
      • Table of contents, headings/subheadings, index
      • Final summary and closing statement
      • Frequent repetition of the topic of the text
      • Technical vocabulary
      • Graphical devices like timelines, diagrams, and flowcharts
    • Be influenced by the students’ writing, the needs of their audience, and state benchmarks - not the sequence of mini-lessons from the published curriculum.
  • Explicitly teach genre-specific or genre-sensitive strategies
    • Strategies for reading and listening
    • Strategies for writing and speaking
      • Researching
      • Planning
      • Revising
  • Offer Ongoing Coaching and Feedback
    • Small group and one-on-one settings
The WHAT of Persuasive
by Freda

The purpose of persuasive text is to influence the reader’s opinion - either subtly or blatantly. Persuasive text is found in many different types in our daily life:

  • Editorials
  • Blogs
  • Magazine articles
  • Pamphlets
  • Literary essays
  • Poetry
  • Letters
  • Speeches
  • Surveys
  • Commercials
  • Grocery flier
  • Campaign flier
Persuasive assignments are often given to students without any real purpose or audience. If students feel their writing has a legitimate purpose and an audience beyond simply the teacher for a grade, they are more likely to be passionate, excited and highly involved in the actual writing because it matters.

Years ago, my son’s teacher challenged her second graders to think of their favorite restaurant and the reasons why it is their favorite (
related MN ELA related benchmark2.6.1.1). Students wrote a persuasive piece attempting to influence one of their classmates. My son was so excited about this assignment. 

My son picked Smashburger. Students got to share their essays with one another, they were posted in the classroom and copies were mailed to the local restaurants.

Weeks later, my son asked if I would take him to Smashburger for dinner. Upon receipt of my son’s work, the local Smashburger sent coupons to the school as a way of thanking him for his writing. When we redeemed the coupon, I thanked the cashier and she thanked my son for his writing sample!

Now that I am a teacher myself, I think of the extra effort that my son’s teacher went to for this persuasive writing piece to ensure that the assignment had actual purpose to increase student involvement and passion about the writing.

Features that we should teach include:

  • Knowing your audience
  • Using vocabulary 
  • Being creative with arguments
  • Beginning with a great launch or “hook” 
  • Including rebuttal responses 
  • Ending with a strong conclusion
The HOW of Persuasive
by Colin

Several actions MUST be done to teach students HOW to write with persuasion and to support them in their knowledge of a persuasive text. Finding a situation that engages students is essential and once the problem has been identified, find something your students can do to contribute to a solution (p. 142). To identify those problems, think global, act local; in other words, address a real need in their community.


  • Access to resources
    • reading texts, watching videos, listening to others’ experiences
  • Opportunities to collaborate
    • get students talking so they can communicate thoughts and opinions
  • Modeling
    • model texts from the teacher or the students to show what their work could look like. This will help students produce quality work and meet expected outcomes
  • Opportunities to practice
    • Give students the chance to communicate effectively, construct arguments with purpose and reasoning, and connect with their audience
  • Supports
    • graphic organizers (like this one or a bubble map) and support systems can help students structure their arguments
Concluding Thoughts
by Katie

Teachers should keep in mind what being authentic looks like in practice. We may teach the same benchmarks, but we do not use the same goal posts. The needs of students are not necessarily equal. The innately personal aspect of writing necessitates careful contemplation of the needs of our specific students, and just as students must think of their audience when writing, so too should us teachers when planning a project.

The more impassioned by the topic students are, the closer we inch to true engagement. Conversely, without analysis of what an authentic topic means to our specific students, the amount of engagement plummets.

“Children aren’t born knowing”, (p 94), but what they are born with is a need to express, and teaching writing authentically does just that.

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.