I am going through a cycle in my own learning where I am taking in lots of information and trying to process it as I construct meaning and make connections across a few different related concepts. My mind is sifting and sorting as I try to learn and ultimately, grow both personally and professionally. As I try to inquire into each, I can’t help but make big connections as I explore these concepts individually and in tandem. I have lots of notes on all three and loads of ideas…but my understanding is still growing even though I’ve been at it for months. My inquiry, ideas and thinking are in process, but they are not at the point where I could possibly articulate the new understandings that I am building.
So, my current state has got me pondering and wondering about meaningful learning and the timing of summative assessments. What of the learner who is still making connections and processing their understanding and somehow they are supposed to complete a summative assessment because it’s “the end” of a unit? I was very provoked and inspired by the extremely reflective and insightful blog post recently shared by Sam Sharrett on summative assessments. Recently, I also participated in a webinar hosted by Rick Wormelli. Wormelli got me wondering when he questioned the mixed signals we are sending in the “rush to quantify learning”. I am wondering this: if differentiation is integral to teaching and learning, why is it typical practise to give the summative assessment to all learners at the same time? Even if we are differentiating the task, what if the timing isn’t right for some or all learners? How do we differentiate time in a system where time is often portrayed as the finite villain? It bothers me that the program of inquiry can become like a series of Amazing Race episodes, with learners racing from one line of inquiry to the next with the hopes of making it the big conceptual aha/final destination– except in this case, there is no million dollar prize at the end – just teachers scratching their heads and students lining up to start the race all over again when the next unit begins. And furthermore, how many of our students are eliminated during the race because they run out of time?
I must say that one of the big frustrations that I felt when I was in in the classroom full time, and one that has been shared with me countless times by colleagues and other educators I’ve worked with as a PYP workshop leader is the constraints that 6 transdisciplinary themes in one school year puts on learning. Is the requirement for learners to experience all 6 transdisciplinary themes REALLY about the learner? Six linear units with fairly firm start and end dates on the curricular clock doesn’t give the learner who isn’t ready to move on yet the time they may need to let their learning percolate. What about the learner who can’t process all that rich conceptual information within a 4-6 time-frame? Units of inquiry have a way of marching forward, one unit wrapping up as the other is ready to begin…the relentless calendar reminding us that a school year is finite and that learners must move on, ready or not.
I hope that as the IB revisits the PYP over the coming months that serious consideration will be given to making learning more flexible within the PYP curricular framework. The framework needs some refreshing – it’s been 15 years with no change – except some minor tweaks to a couple of theme names. While I appreciate the value of each unique transdisciplinary theme, I do believe that “coverage” of all six themes across one school year is not always learner centred and can actually be counter-productive to the heart of the best-practise inquiry based pedagogy that the PYP is built on. Schools should be able to make more flexible choices about the ebb and flow of units and which themes are best suited to learners at different developmental stages. Instead of a rigid matrix, perhaps some clear guidelines about minimum criteria around planning curriculum within the framework might help alleviate some of the crunch I know many teachers, and as a result, learners feel. This might give learners who need time to truly explore and inquire into and across transdisciplinary concepts the time they need to process, consolidate, apply and maybe even really have the time to take meaningful action for and from their learning.
Our Exhibition is tomorrow! The last week and half have been filled with a busy energy as learners engaged in the hands on work of creating the different components of their presentations and exhibits. Week 6 is all about constructing, creating, collaborating and communicating as students work in their inquiry groups to bring the plans they created in Week 5 to life. Learning spaces become construction zones and Grade 6 student can be found in every available space in the school engaged in the realization of their plans. Sometimes students find challenges in making a plan become reality. It’s our job as the adults to give them the space they need to approach their challenges with their team members to find solutions, and to not step in unless we’re asked for support or to be an objective “third eye”. It’s amazing to watch the students bring their ideas to life – this is a time to see their confidence and creativity shine. All aspects of the presentations are created and completed at school. They have lots of time to make it all happen and by the end of week 6 each group is feeling ready for the “beginning of the end.”
Week 7 begins with time for rehearsals. Each group presentation consists of a 10-15 minute presentation where each group shares their issue, perspectives, solutions and action. Students also have the option to have a table where they can share artifacts, art work, statistics, interactive components and any other visuals. All students display their Exhibition journals and planning as well. Students work in their groups to rehearse and interact with their props. Because we believe that Exhibition Day is a day of celebration, group presentations are formally assessed during the “dress rehearsal” in class presentations. They are given immediate feedback (stars and wishes) from their peers and their teacher provides them with feedback and evaluative data as well. We find that this de-emphasises marks and instead places the emphasis on opportunities for continued growth. Students have the opportunity to reflect prior to exhibition day and this means that each group uses the feedback they receive and applies it to their public presentation on Exhibition Day. There are no clip boards, rubrics or check-lists on Exhibition Day – just passionate students sharing their learning . As I watch the dress rehearsals I am in awe of the girls’ Exhibition journey and the diversity their work shows. Every group has chosen unique ways to share their learning about their chosen issue. Passion and commitment are highly evident; knowledge is delivered in creative ways; students show they are risk-takers through their provocations and their confidence.
The range of emotions I experience as I watch our learners transform into teachers leaves me at a loss for words: goose bumps, discomfort as my thinking and assumptions are challenged, teary eyed from shocking facts and statistics, inspired by messages of hope and action, and even laughter. These reactions tell me that the PYP journey is coming to an amazing end for these learners. They are living proof of the power of the IB framework and philosophy in action in our school.
The exhibition is a process that reflects the development of the Learner Profile and the 5 Essential Elements of the PYP over time. In short, it acts as a school’s summative assessment of its entire PYP program, not just the final year of the program or one day. It is a milestone day that represents a significant journey for every learner and teacher in a PYP school. Presentations should be significant, relevant and engaging. They should also showcase each learner’s unique skills, talents and perspectives. Our job is to set our learners up for success by both challenging and supporting them. Today as I walked the spaces and interacted with our grade 6 students as they made their final preparations, my question to each of them was, “Are we ready?” Their resounding response – “YES WE ARE!”
Week 4 is all about research, research, research! Now that learners have a defined focus through their central ideas and lines of inquiry they go full-on into research mode, building on the preliminary gathering of materials in Week 3. This week students focus on building a bank of key concept related questions to help them deepen their research and inquiry into their issues. They use an F-Q-R format (Fact-Question-Response) to organize their research, show accountability/academic honesty for their chosen primary and secondary sources, and to think about their research as they conduct it.
A key piece of research is also sourcing out primary sources who can share unique perspectives into the various issues. Students make contact with local organizations, politicians, businesses, museums, etc. to arrange interviews (in person, via Skype or by e-mail) and learning trips.This year students are experiencing a great response to their requests and have taken part in some very meaningful learning as a result. Primary sources help to provide a real life lens into the issue and help students to gain local perspectives. E.g. One group visited a museum lecture and spoke to activists with varying perspectives; another visited a homeless shelter; another interviewed a police officer about gun control and visited a news paper office and interviewed the editor about guns and weapons in the news, etc. Our parent community provides essential support in helping us to make connections and chaperones small groups of students as they embark on learning trips to support their exhibition issues. As students reach out into the community they are also inspired to start taking action. While we do not require that every group must organize an action component beyond the exhibition itself, spontaneous action ideas begin to arise as students become more knowledgeable and passionate about their issues and make meaningful connections to local organizations and people through their learning trips and interviews.
As the week rounds out each group works together to frame a “debatable question” which will help them to analyse perspectives relating to their issue and synthesize the most important aspects of their research. They will use this question in Week 5 to write a persuasive essay arguing points for(pros) or against(cons) in response to their debatable questions. Each group meets with me and their teacher to discuss their debatable question ideas and share their preliminary thinking. We are so impressed with how the girls are able to confidently and articulately share their ideas and already tie in facts and information from their research to back up their thinking. That F-Q-R sure works to get learners thinking about their research while they are doing it. I was struck by a couple of comments students made during our discussions. Izzy said, “you know it’s a good debatable question because you have to think hard about which side to choose.” Fiona remarked about how she woke in the night thinking about her issue and the question she proposed to the group just hit her. (“They” aren’t kidding when “they” say the PYP is pervasive!) Some sample debatable questions:
Is the issue of body image properly addressed in our society?
Are we doing enough to preserve the earth’s supply of potable water?
Should children solve their bullying problems without adults intervening?
Is crowding people into cities an effective way to use the land?
During the week students meet with their mentors to review their research and set new goals. At the end of the week they complete reflections on their research skills, as well us update their open-ended “Tree People” reflections.
During our second week of preparing for the exhibition, the goal is to take students deeper into the issues that connect to the transdisciplinary theme, Sharing the planet. They begin by completing a web of possibilities, where they independently explore the range of different topics connecting to the four aspects that define the theme. They connect back to the charts they created during Week 1.Students then use their independent thinking to facilitate small group discussions to further extend and define the charts created during the provocation the previous week through the lens of the four theme descriptors. A carousel strategy is used to facilitate small group discussion, thinking, sorting and classifying of the different topics brainstormed the previous week. Students also have the opportunity to add topics to these charts as they are passed from group to group. Part of the sorting process also involves eliminating redundancies, and as the charts are passed around students make further connections to the commonalities across the four theme descriptors.
Our grade wide central idea is also shared with the students early in the week and they are asked to work in groups to augment this central idea. The grade wide central idea helps the students to focus in on the purpose of the exhibition and reminds the students of the importance of issues in guiding the decision making process as they get closer to defining the specific issues that will shape their exhibition. It also serves as a preassessment of the students’ understanding of key exhibition concepts and exposes them to the components of a central idea in the context of the exhibition. While each group will write their own central idea relating to their specific issue, the grade wide central idea defines our shared purpose as learners and collaborators.
To further emphasise the importance of moving from topics to issues, we explore one of the topics that was added to the charts. We choose “mega cities” as the topic and place it at the centre of the web. We use a code to examine how the topic connects to the theme (FR=finite resources; CR=communities and the relationships between them, etc.). The students are surprised to see that this topic connects to all aspects of the Sharing the planet theme in some way. Once they see this connection, the issues start to pour out and we brainstorm some of the issues that connect to this topic. Many aha-s can be heard around the room as the students start to truly realize how a topic becomes an issue. We think about it through a hierarchical lens: concept – related issues -facts/truths/assumptions. (We note that assumptions will need to be proved or disproved through the research process.)
As we finish this step together, I am floored by the learning energy that fills the room. I can literally see all the whirring and colours of the students’ collective understanding as little figurative light- bulbs brighten above their heads. The air is electric and the students’ thinking is charged! Students are now ready to try this on their own. They are asked to choose three topics from the charts that they are feeling passionate about and want to explore further through this lens. This will help to guide them at the start of week 3, as they make their decisions about what they want to explore for their exhibition.
Once students independently web three different concepts into possible issues, we poll the room and graph the issues they are passionate about. This gives us an indication of where different student interests lie and where possible groups might form. It’s a good visual for the students, as after they have the weekend to think and further expand on their webs, they will choose their top three issues, which will lead to the formation of their exhibition collaborative inquiry groups.
On Friday, I had the opportunity to listen to and participate in a Learner Profile focus group with Robert Harrison, a curriculum manager for IB continuum development in the The Hague at the IBSO annual PD day. Robert shared some sound but provocative thinking around the review of the Learner Profile and the challenges the organization is facing as the alignment of the 3 IB programs (PYP, MYP and DP) continues to evolve. The IB Learner Profile, originally called the PYP Student Profile is a set of 10 attributes that describe what humans could/should strive for if they seek to be an internationally minded citizens of the world. The 10 attributes are:
Since it’s inception with the PYP in 1996 the profile itself, while since being adopted by all 3 programs, has undergone very little change, even though the organization has grown considerably. The profile is the living, breathing manifestation of the IB Mission statement and at the heart of all three IB programs. All teaching and learning in the IB, including knowledge, concepts, skills, attitudes and action can in theory be born of the Learner Profile.
As with any review that takes on a truly reflective stance, questions start to arise, such as: is the Learner Profile truly an international set of attributes? Does the profile impose a set of western values on schools in the east? Where should the emphasis of influence lie if the Learner Profile is truly representative of global citizens who are in effect living without borders? Are there attributes that should not be a part of the profile? Are there attributes that are missing? Just how many attributes should define what an internationally minded, globally conscious citizen is striving to be? Is there an end to our growth within the profile? Is the profile in and of itself measurable if there is no end? Should we be measuring it? How? When? …
These are just some of the questions the IB is grappling with as it examines and reflects upon the Learner Profile across the continuum. I admire and commend their work. No, the Learner Profile isn’t perfect. But, it does ensure that how we are educating our students is at the core of what we do. For me, it keeps the calling of education to be something nobler alive. The Learner Profile is not just for students – it is for EVERYONE – we are ALL learners (or at least that is the hope!).
“I think it must be apparent to every thinking mind that the noblest of all professions is that of teaching, and that upon the effectiveness of that teaching hangs the destiny of nations.” ― David O. McKay
Do you have opinions and ideas you would like to share with IB as they continue collecting feedback? Do your students? I encourage you to take action by completing the learner profile global survey and by participating in the virtual focus group. Visit http://sgiz.mobi/s3/LearnerProfileReview before October 31. Don’t miss out on this great opportunity to be a part of the evolution of IB!