“Trans-Articulation”: What if our POI can create a future world that works for everyone?

I woke up feeling electric. My body simply can’t take any coffee, so I made a cup of Good Earth herbal tea. Its tea tag contained the message:

Tag Your It Winner:

Good ideas are laughed at in the beginning. 

-Katrucha Huork

I’m not sure if this is an omen.

As a disclaimer, I’m not in the habit of reposting from my personal blog on this website, but I’d like to share some musings that are slightly edited from my personal blog post, Future Thinking: Evolving as a Part of Enhancing A #PYP Programme Of Inquiry  in an effort to open a larger dialogue around what it means to be a PYP school. Thanks for indulging my ideas and responding to how we might “evolve” the PYP curriculum.


Not everyone wakes up on a Sunday morning and sketches out ideas for a Programme of Inquiry (POI), but I’ve been reflecting for a while on my experience from last spring when I went to the IB’s headquarters in the Hague to help design sample POIs for the Enhanced PYP initiative (see the Teacher Support Materials that can be accessed in the MyIB section of the main page for those samples in PYP resources). During that time, our teams sat down and began to create POIs that were structurally synergistic, organized so that there was more conceptual coherence and personalized to the uniqueness of that school reality and age group. In the blog post, #PYP: What is a Successful Programme of Inquiry?, I articulated the intention that was foundational in creating those sample POIs, but I’m starting to consider this definition of “success” as my “first thinking” when I consider what it might mean to “enhance” something.

Probably all you English scholars know that the word “enhance” is a transitive verb, meaning that this verb is relational and influential. enhanced pyp I find it an interesting word choice by the IB in its re-branding effort. So their call to “enhance” our Primary Years Programme has got me lingering on what it is that we want to elevate in the learning experience.  Visually, “Agency” has now become the symbolic heart of the PYP’s graphic. I think many educators are painting a picture of what that can look like on this blog, with a multitude of examples of how teachers are pivoting towards an agentic pedagogical approach. Currently, I am enamored with Rick Hanson’s definition of agency from his book, Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength and Happiness , which I’d like to share with you:

Agency is the ability to look for ways to cause an effect. It’s a sense of internal freedom when you make something happen.

Hmm…..when I consider that interpretation, my eyes begin to widen its focus upon the outer ring’s message of this enhanced PYP graphic: “Building For the Future”.  Should we not, as PYP educators, be contemplating what sort of future we wish to build? We often undermine our influence of the big picture of how society and culture are developed over time through our educational paradigms. Educators have played a big role in creating the Millennial-generation, and we are helping to create the next generation of global citizens. We shouldn’t take these things lightly, and in fact, I think we should be much more intentional with our power and ability to transform our human experience and life on Earth. We should look for ways to cause an effect….because we have the freedom to make something happen. For example, it seems obvious to me that the intelligent and thoughtful people at the United Nation’s know this, which is why they have created a call to action with the #TeachSDGsmovement. Our schools should be seriously considering how we might achieve those 17 goals by 2030, because this is certainly one way to shape our schools’ POIs which is in alignment with the PYP curricular framework and values of the IB.

A Second Thought

As I reflect back to that Hague experience, I feel that this initial approach to considering what it means to “enhance” the design of the POI is still ongoing. If you look carefully at those Sample POIs, you would notice that they don’t really deviate much from each other. Because at the end of the day, whether we were using national curricular standards or the IB’s Scope and Sequence, the challenges with using either the standards-based vs. concept-based curriculum results in more similarities than exceptions when creating the units of inquiries. I think this a testimony to the strength of the PYP framework and transdisciplinary learning with how translatable it is to a variety of educational settings.  However, when I read books like Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari, The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future by Kevin Kelly and  How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed by Ray Kurzweil, I begin to wonder if our current POIs are teaching towards the past or preparing for the imminent reality of our students. Are we, as schools, engaged in future-building, with meaningful and forward-thinking POIs, or clinging onto industrial-age ideas.

I’m not sure how familiar you are with those books, so I’d like to share a quote that persistently plagues me from Homo Deus:

As human fictions are translated into genetic and electronic codes, the intersubject reality will swallow up the objective reality and biology will merge with history. In the 21st century, fiction might thereby become the most potent force on Earth…hence, if we want to understand our future, cracking genomes and crunching numbers is hardly enough. We must also decipher the fictions that make meaning in our world……Fiction isn’t bad. It’s vital. Without commonly accepted stories about money, states or coorporations, no complex human society can function. We can’t play football unless everyone believes in the same made-up rules, and we can’t enjoy the benefits of the markets and courts without simliar make-believe stories. But the stories are just tools. They should not become our goals or our yardsticks. When we forget they are mere fiction, we lose touch with reality.

Yuval Noah Harari, from Home Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow.

I’ve been marinating in those words for over a year. Curious about what could be the “story” we are telling ourselves now about our future and how we can use it as a “tool”. I know that some feel that the book Future Shock is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. But what if we could choose another direction, one in which we meet the disruption that advancing technology will bring with creativity, grace, and intention. I believe wholeheartedly in that possibility, which is why I’ve been working on developing online courses for well-being in the digital age. I feel strongly that we should not resist technology but instead embrace it and use it to promote greater health and improve our relationships. That is the empowering “story” I wish to tell.

And today, I woke up, feeling alive, wanting to create a POI that was bathed in an over-reaching goal of developing well-being because I think that is the “fiction” I’d like to cultivate in the intersubjective (socially agreed upon) future reality of students. Here are the main 6 concepts that I feel need to be unpacked and gone into depth over the course of a student’s PYP experience within our 6 transdisciplinary themes.

  1. Sustainability (Production and Consumption):  because we need to shift from scarcity to ingenuity.
  2. Entrepreneurship: because we need to shift from profit-orientated goals to positive contributions in society.
  3. Computational Thinking: because we have to understand the algorithms of life and how we can co-evolve with exponential machine learning.
  4. Digital Citizenship: because online relationships and media are influencing us and our society. We need to navigate this reality skillfully.
  5. Social Emotional Learning: because attention and emotional awareness is vital to our health and is the new currency in our economy.
  6. Imagination (and Poetry): because creativity is the by-product of imagination, and we need to find more beautiful ways to express it.

I’ve started to create potential POIs that take these main concepts and build them out so that the overall force of the programme is one that develops well-bing: resilience, awareness, positive outlook and generosity. It’s really hard to translate these ideas into words without a fully fleshed out sample POI to show as a model but hopefully, the spirit of this quest has been communicated and I will have something completed soon that I can show as an example.

An Invitation

Now, whether you agree with me or not about what concepts need to be on a future-orientated whole-school POI isn’t the point but I do hope to open up a debate. I know in schools that are moving towards personalized learning culture, very broad and general central ideas are highly valued so that there is a lot of flexibility in the direction of a student’s inquiry. In my own experience, I am grappling with casting such a wide net with central ideas in the curriculum, uncertain if the overall outcome behooves the students and is manageable for teachers. But the purpose of this post is not to incite discussion around central ideas, but instead to provoke a re-examination of “the big picture” of your current school’s POI and reflect upon the future that you want to create through the curriculum.  Especially in schools that have authorized programmes, we need to be really challenging ourselves, moving beyond horizontal and vertical alignment and articulation. I’m beginning to have a new working definition of the Enhanced PYP: “trans-articulation”, which is less about ticking boxes and more about growing the future today, evolving consciously and actively within our curriculum approach.

As always, I hope you share your reflections, wonderings and concerns in the comments below.

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Those beautiful questions.

Last month Edna Sackson published a new blogpost, Liberating the Programme of Inquiry.

Some beautiful questions to drive thinking, to challenge norms and to stir up those creative juices in response the newly published, PYP Enhancement documents. Before the publication of the documents, there had been many rumours and wonderings gleaned from the drip-drip of information coming from the IB. The new long-awaited documents now provide more clarity on the direction of the PYP,

I was recently running a PYP workshop, when Edna’s blog post was raised in open discussion. Some saw these beautiful questions as a relief , a celebration and step in the right direction and embraced the possibilities.

Others were more critical – these beautiful questions were pipe-dreams, un-realistic, and pushed the boundaries of the PYP just a little too far.

Before responding, I paused to reflect and remember that as learners and educators we are all in different places in our ‘PYP journey’, working in different contexts, within different parameters and are developing our understanding through different pathways. So, although I wanted to react and respond to those that were more critical, I understand that some may see these these beautiful questions as just that ….’beautiful’. But I urged…. they are not impossible.

At International School of Ho Chi Minh (ISHCMC) , some of these beautiful questions are very much a reality.

Edna’s Beautiful questions: 

  • What if….whole school unit of inquiry, linked to our whole school focus?
  • What if we we have the same central idea for all the classes at one grade level, but each group of learners develop their own lines of inquiry?

Since 2015 ISHCMC have had a whole school unit of inquiry, under Who we Are. This unit was developed in response to a need in our school of a consistent approach to our understanding of  being a learning community and is the first unit for the beginning of the year across all grade levels and specialists. You can read about the ISHCMC journey developing this HERE.

In 2018 – our whole school Who We Are unit looks like this

wwa#1wwa #2

This central idea and unit was developed for a purpose, a need in the school community and relevant to the school and the needs of the learners at that time. Over the past 3 years we have grown as a school, we have changed as a school and our learners have grown and their needs have developed, so this year we will review our process, our central idea and ask ‘is the purpose still true.’  Our whole community teachers, learners and parents focus on this inquiry as a community and it sets the tone for our year ahead – an inquiry into Who We Are.

Edna’s Beautiful questions:

  • What if units do not follow one after another, but rather overlap and intersect?
  • What if one unit incorporates two trans disciplinary themes? 
  • What if some units are year long, some short, some ongoing… depending on content, concepts, trans disciplinary possibilities and student interest?
  • What if we actively seek unexpected combinations of learning areas, like science and poetry? 
  • What if one unit incorporates two trans disciplinary themes?
  • What if we wait to develop the lines of inquiry till we see where the learners want to take it? 

At ISHCMC we have anumber of units that overlap, that flow into each other ( same central idea but different TD theme and lines of inquiry.  See our POI HERE across our grade levels.

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Early Explorers @ISHCMCIB  – POI  – 2018-2019

In Early Explorers this year, we have all four units of inquiry running simultaneously over the year, and are observing as learners are invited to provocations and learning engagements and we are noticing, naming, documenting and responding to learners and their learning.

In Kindergarten last year we had two units running parallel, How the world works and How we express ourselves. (Previous blog post on this)  It allowed for time, space, connections and inquiry to happen. It transformed 2 lots of 6 weeks of  ‘hurry-time’ into 13 glorious weeks of inquiring, curiousity, play and the ‘so what’. Now with the new enhancements this unit has been rolled into one under How we Express Ourselves – with an authentic focus on science and maths, bringing the awe and the wonder to how the world works and how we are inspired to create.

Our Grade 3 team this year have played with theit units of inquiry. That beautiful “what if…” and the culture of the ‘Permission of Yes’.  They have put the authentic needs of their learners first whilst  designing their year. They now have 2 year long units, one of which threads itself through all of the other units of inquiry, because learning is not a silo. They have one unit that re-occurs (because learning never stops) and 3 that now have more time to explore and inquire.

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Grade 3 @ISHCMCIB – POI – 2018 – 2019

Edna’s Beautiful questions:

  • What if we actively seek unexpected combinations of learning areas, like science and poetry?

We are forever trying to fit Arts, Music. PSPE etc into our classroom units….but transdisciplinarity in not a one-way highway…. learning is learning.

This year, our Head of PE & I sat and watched kids playing at camp. We observed individuals and groups. We observed who picked up sticks and stones, and what they did with them, who observed and interacted with nature, who created natural game zones and courts and who climbed, ran, sat and played.

This led to a ‘eureka’ moment for both of us. We marveled as we watched and chatted just how much authentic maths and science there was in this 30 minutes of outdoor play.  So… we wondered, why could the maths, science and arts not be integrated and taught through the PE units and lessons? And why could classroom teachers not take more advantage of  more classroom time to bring learners outside to explore maths and science concepts through PE and outdoor exploration?

So, with a stick, drawing in the dirt we started brainstorming and mapping possibilities and opportunities for data collection, measurement , and forces through the athletics component ot the PE unit whilst ensuring learning had multiple pathways as classrooms maths units incorporated athletics and swimming and games into their real ife math applications.

Edna’s Beautiful questions:

  • What if we wait to develop the lines of inquiry till we see where the learners want to take it?

We have a number of units where the first line of inquiry is the tuning in….and we wait.  If it is the learners unit, their inquiry and their learning, why do we insist on planning all 3 lines of inquiry at the beginning of the unit?

But, I wonder if maybe even writing the first line of inquiry is taking it too far?  What if the provocation is exactly that –  a provocation where we as educators observe and wait.  There is power in the wait. It creates that precious ‘think time’. So what if  we as educators also used this ‘wait time’ to observe, to reflect, to probe and to then discuss next steps forward?  (Found this mindful link that explores this idea) and we then bring all the student data back before we go next steps and respond to learners ….and plan which path to take for tuning in and true inquiry.

Edna’s Beautiful questions:

  • What if we analyse our program of inquiry in terms of the concentric circle model and check the balance between opportunities for self discovery and thinking beyond ourselves?

At ISHCMC we don’t have a concentric circle model – although we are watching and learning with interest what Edna and her team are developing and using with their learners at Mt. Scopus.

21st cent

Our Head of School (@rebelleader18)  provoked our thinking last year –  “What if all units focus not just on developing knowledge, understanding and skills but on developing human beings?”

So during our reflections we include the attributes of the 21st Century learner – how did this unit help to develop and contribute to building better humans?

Edna’s Beautiful questions:

  • What if every grade level has at least one unit that is individual and personal, student selected and student driven?

At ISHCMC, our Studio model of self-directed learning allows for complete learner choice and mapping of the learning through the studio.  Follow some of our educator blogs – Making Good Humans & Innovative Inquirers to learn more.

This year, Studio 4 and Grade 3 currently have incomplete central ideas (the ellipsis is our friend!) ….where learners choose how to complete the Central Idea – giving them ownership of the unit, ensuring accountability of their learning and giving them the opportunity to construct their own understanding and to have ownership of their learning.

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Grade 3 – Where we are in Place & Time

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Studio 4 – How we Organise Ourselves  & Sharing the Planet

Edna’s Beautiful questions:

  • What if we liberate ourselves from the traditional curriculum prison and explore new vistas? 

Yep….what if ?  What if we were brave and daring? What if we put learners and learning before curriculum and standards and paperwork – What if ? What if we asked more of these beautiful questions and turned them into a reality? What if?

I look forward to reading how others have turned beautiful questions into reality within their learning contexts and how Edna and her team approach their POI review this year – we will be watching , learning and asking more of those beautiful questions.

 

Student Agency Resources

Recently on Twitter I shared a Google Doc where I have been collecting and collating anything and everything I can find about student agency over the past few years – blog posts, videos, images, podcasts, slideshows, academic journals, articles and more.

Screen Shot 2018-08-19 at 4.16.28 PM.png

And I’ve received a really positive response from educators around the world, appreciative of the resources. Since I know not everyone is on Twitter, I thought I’d share the same resources here to hopefully reach even more educators wishing to deepen their understanding and practice of respecting and supporting student agency!

If you prefer the pretty, colour coded Google Doc click here. 

If not, check out the links below. 

Happy learning!  

Resource Categories:

  1. The “WHY” behind student agency
  2. Agency in General
  3. General “How To’s” – Strategies for Upping the Agency
  4. Students Setting Up the Learning Space:
  5. Students Planning Units:
  6. Students Planning their Day/Timetables:
  7. Students Owning Assessment:
  8. Student Voice/Democratic Process:
  9. Student Agency and Literacy:
  10. Student Agency in Early Years:
  11. Student Agency and Specialist Subjects:
  12. Student Agency and homework:
  13. Teacher Agency:
  14. Examples of Schools/Classes/Teachers Supporting Student Agency:
  15. Agency vs. school structures and systems:

 

  1. The “WHY” behind student agency:

Sir Ken Robinson – Bring on the learning revolution (Ted Talk)

Sir Ken Robinson – Do schools kill creativity? (Ted Talk)

7 Sins of our Forced Education System (article)

What works can hurt – side effects in education (academic journal) (and keynote speech)

The Future of Human Work is Imagination, Creativity and Strategy (article)

The role agency plays in happy children (article)

Who owns the learning in your classroom? (blog post)

Why is agentic learning important (article)

5 lessons on “learning” (blog post)

What kids need from grown-ups, but aren’t getting (article)

10 provocative quotes from “Deschooling Society” (article)

The case for the self-driven child (book review/interview with author)

The similarities between school and prison (comic)

Is real education reform possible? If so, how? (article)

Self-directed learning is the pursuit of happiness (article)

Why school is not ready for us (Tedx Talk)

What skills will employers value in 2020? (article)

Kids don’t fail school… school fails kids (article)

7 things that happen when students own their own learning (video) (and visual)

The difference between school and “real life” (sketchnote image)

WANTED: Professional Learners (article)

Are we ready for exponential change (video)

The Science of the Individual = The Case for Agency (compilation of research)

 

  1. Agency in General:

What is “agency” in the Enhanced PYP (graphic and short summary)

What is student agency and why should we care? (blog post)

10 questions in pursuit of learner agency (blog post)

The year of agency (article)

Developing student agency improves equity and access (blog post)

Student agency? Teacher Agency? School Agency? (blog post)

What is student agency (blog post)

‘Student Agency’ is not something you give or take (article)

#student agency (Twitter hashtag)

Making the shift from engagement to empowerment (video and blog post)

The art and science of developing student agency (article)

What is student agency? (Academic research)

The complexity of learner agency (academic research)

Don’t say agency unless you really mean it! (blog post)

Play at “agency” (article)

Misinterpreting Student Agency (article)

Traditional Approach vs. Agency-Supportive Approach (image)

What’s the difference between “engagement” and “empowerment” (visual)

Defining Learner Agency (blog post)

Choices for children – how and when to let children decide (blog post)

Learner Agency: Beyond the Buzzword (video workshop)

Living with Agency – beyond agency as a learner (blog post)

 

  1. General “How To’s” – Strategies for Upping the Agency

7 Ways to Promote More Choice in Compulsory Schooling (blog post)

5 ways to promote student agency (blog post)

Supporting Student Agency (blog post)

Supporting Student Agency – Take Two! (blog post)

Strategies for Supporting Voice, Choice and Ownership (Google Slides Presentation)

Let students teach (blog post)

How to reimagine schools (video series)

Opt-in lessons (blog post)

Learning to Self-Manage: Autonomy and Intrinsic Motivation (Harvard Article)

 

  1. Students Setting Up the Learning Space:

Preparing for students to set up the classroom (blog post)

Example of students setting up their classroom (blog post)

Teacher spaces vs. Student spaces (blog post)

Students setting up their own learning spaces (podcast)

Gleanealy School flexible learning spaces (video)

The boards are down (blog post)

Creating Spaces (blog post)

What an agency-supportive first week of school could look like (blog post)

 

  1. Students Planning Units:

Inviting students to teachers’ planning meetings (blog post)

The blank unit planner project (blog post)

Involving students in planning the lines of inquiry (blog post)

Involving students in planning for inquiry (blog post)

Student-led development of lines of inquiry (blog post)

Encouraging students to plan a unit (blog post)

Agency and the UOI (blog post)

Student-Planned UOIs (blog post)

Student-Planned UOIs: An Update (blog post)

 

  1. Students Planning their Day/Timetables:

Who should be writing the day plans? (blog post)

Student Written Day Plans (blog post)

How and why we let students create their own timetables (blog post)

Students making their own timetables (video)

Students Design their own school days (video & article)

Clear my schedule! (blog post)

Handing timetable reigns over to students (blog post)

 

  1. Students Owning Assessment:

Assessment done with students, not to students (blog post)

Should students be writing their own reports? (blog post)

Forced feedback vs. found feedback (blog post)

Co-constructing success criteria (blog post)

Rethinking exams in MYP (blog post)

What happens when students design their own assessments (article)

Student Written Report Cards (blog post)

Choice Boards – A Shift in Ownership (blog post)

Learning – Who gets to define success? (blog post)

Agency in assessment (blog post)

 

  1. Student Voice/Democratic Process:

Report Cards for Teachers (blog post)

School – a more fair and free place to learn (blog post)

How democratic is your classroom? (blog post)

What do we mean by “student voice”? (collection of short videos)

Continuum of ownership (image)

Student Voice – Our School’s Most Underutilized Resource (blog post)

When students have real power (blog post)

Respecting and Responding to Student Voice (blog post)

Continuum of Ownership (Sketchnote Visual)

More Agency in Student-Led Conferences (blog post)

 

  1. Student Agency and Literacy:

Student agency vs. reading instruction (blog post)

Reading “rules” we would never follow as adult readers (blog post)

On reading tasks (blog post)

Can I just read now!? (cartoon)

 

  1. Student Agency in Early Years:

Agency in Early Years (webinar)

Supporting Learner Agency in the Early Years (blog post)

Inside the world’s best kindergarten (article)

Promoting agency in early childhood (pdf newsletter)

Early Years Learning – Agency in Practice (pdf)

A sense of agency in early years (PDF)

Involving young children in decision making (PDF)

Respecting Students’ Agency and Rights to Participation (Academic Journal)

Engaging with children’s voices (article)

Promoting independence and agency in early childhood (brochure)

Examining learner agency in your setting (list of criteria)

Simple Moments (blog post)

Unstructured Play is critical for kids (article)

 

  1. Student Agency and Specialist Subjects:

Student agency in PE (blog post)

Personalized learning in PE (blog post)

Agency – a paradigm shift in the role of the library (blog post)

Voice, choice and ownership in the art classroom (blog post)

Agency in Visual Arts (blog)

Technology isn’t necessary in personalizing learning (blog post)

Launch Cycle – A framework for design thinking (video)

Examining learner agency in your setting (list of criteria)

 

  1. Student Agency and homework:

An inquiry into homework (blog post)

Home Learning – Student-Led Debate (blog post)

Student-Led Homework (blog post)

 

  1. Teacher Agency:

10 ways for leaders to encourage agency (blog post)

5 ways to increase teacher agency (blog post)

#teacheragency (Twitter hashtag)

Self-directed PD (blog post)

Personalized Professional Learning (blog post)

Personalized Professional Learning Take 2 (blog post)

Born to Learn – Moving beyond school reform to educational transformation (website)

Some thoughts on PD about agency (blog post)

Ideas for more agentic PD (blog post, podcast, visual)

How to lead an evolution through inquiry-based leadership (blog post)

Agency-Based Professional Development (blog post)

Agency As and For PD (blog post)

School Leaders… knowing when to follow the rules, bend the rules, break the rules (blog post)

Leading like a robot, or a rebel? (blog post)

Evolution Starts Here: Inquiry-Based Leadership (blog post)

 

  1. Examples of Schools/Classes/Teachers Supporting Student Agency:

Building Agency (video)

How schools develop student agency (blog post)

A year of supporting student agency (blog post)

Example of agency within units of inquiry, literacy and math (webinar min. 23 – 50)

Summerhill School (website)

Windsor House School (website)

Supporting Student Agency Take Two! (blog post)

Project Planning Paralysis (blog post)

Templestow School (video)

Studio 5: Breaking Down Moulds (podcast)

Already Breaking Moulds – Studio 5 (Learning2 Talk)

Studio 5 – What have we just walked into? (blog post)

Studio 5 (website)

Be the change you want to see in High School – article

How students create motivationally supportive learning environments for themselves (academic research)

Templestow High School (podcast)

FLOW21 – Western Academy of Bejing (website)

Voices of the alternative education movement (video)

Unschooling movement (written interview and podcast interview)

No Grades. No Timetable. Berlin Schools Turn Teaching Upside Down (article)

Examples of learner agency in early years (padlet)

Gleanealy School (short video)

Studio 3: Skills first approach (blog post)

Student Agency, Change and Pushing Boundaries (blog post)

Futures Academy ISB (article)

Innovation Institute SAS (website)

Purdue- Trying to upend the traditional highschool model

My pragmatic journey to voice and choice in the high school classroom (article)

Elon Musk Tinkers with Education (article)

 

  1. Agency vs. school structures and systems:

Who is the God of Curriculum and what does he/she have against student agency? (article)

Learning targets (blog post)

Flexible Scheduling (article)

Standards – Why realizing the full potential of education requires a fresh approach (article)

Breaking the mould of assemblies (blog post)

Timetables – the enemy of creativity (blog post)

Feeling backwards about backwards design (blog post)

The untouchables (blog post)

Breaking away from the homeroom mould (blog post)

2018 – A great year for taking risks

It’s getting close to that time of year again (for many of us around the world anyway) – a fresh start, another chance, a do-over… aka a new school year.

For some of us it’s already here. For others it’s just around the corner. For some it’s still a few weeks away. But regardless of which, it’s coming.

And for some reason the start of this new school year feels different, it feels special. It feels extra hopeful and extra full of possibility!

It feels like the perfect time for all of us educators to be risk-takers and do something truly significant to shift the paradigm of what education is to what education could be.

But what’s so special about this year?

Here are four reasons I can think of (although I’m sure there are more!)

1. The momentum from last year. Momentum from last year really started rolling within the IB community in March with the annual World and Heads conference. There was a collective buzz, a sense of joint purpose and a burst of energy towards truly making a change in education.

2. The start of a new school year. Even though there was a palpable momentum that percolated last spring, taking a risk with only 3 months of school left can seem daunting, and for some pointless. So this new year presents the perfect time to harness that momentum from the conference last spring, but at a time where everything is new, possible, and malleable.

3. A growing community of support. Something that was able to take hold at the end of the last school year was an amazing community of like-minded educators, dissatisfied with the current state of education and willing to take a risk and swim upstream in order to reimagine education. There are currently 170 authors from 35 countries on this blog who share ideas, struggles and reflections with one another, in a challenging yet supportive online community. Swimming upstream when you feel like you are the only one doing it can feel lonely, scary and frustrating. Swimming upstream and knowing you have the encouragement and support of hundreds of educators from all over the world feels completely different.

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4. The release and launch of the Enhanced PYP. A common deterrent for taking risks can be the fear of getting in trouble from a supervisor or administrator who may have a different philosophy or a less developed understanding of progressive pedagogy. The launch of the Enhanced PYP this fall will definitely help with this. Swimming upstream is a whole lot easier with programmatic backing! Being able to explain, justify and defend risks will feel completely different now that the PYP has slapped the word AGENCY in big, bold letters in the center circle.

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What risks shall you take?

Some people know exactly what they want to do, but have just been waiting for the perfect time. Well now is your time – go for it!

Others may want to make a change but are unsure of what to do.

Here are some ideas:

Start with your own why. If you start by focusing on the what or how of the risk, you’re missing the most important part.

“I’m going to try X this year!”

“Why?”

“… I don’t really know. I heard about someone else doing it so I wanted to try”

Transplanted risks and innovations are usually the ones that flop and fail. Innovations and risks need to be contextual to the school, the country, the students, the teacher. Here are some tips about how to grow your own innovation.

Identify opportunities for growth in your own teaching practice. If you’re having trouble growing your own innovation, a good starting point is self-reflection. Find out what areas of your teaching practice already support student agency, as well as where there may be space for more student agency. Here is a link to a questionnaire I created to help educators find their own areas of growth.

Seek guidance from experts. If you are set in your why and know the areas in which you need to grow, but aren’t sure exactly what first steps to take, try consulting this blog post from Kath Murdoch where she offers 10 tangible suggestions that up the voice, choice and ownership within the first weeks of school.

And if you’re still not sure now is the time to take some risks, read these encouraging words from the wise Sir Ken Robinson. We are the system, so only we have the power to change it.

To wrap things up, I’ll leave you with a quote that my Head of School shared with our staff a few days ago:

What risks are you willing take this year to try and create a more happy, healthy, humane, relevant and significant year of learning for your students?

The Untouchables

Sometimes the things that need to be questioned the most, are the things we feel we’re least able to question. The parts of the education system that carry the guise of being ingrained, natural, and untouchable. Things that have “always been” and things that will “always be”.

Like:

– grade levels

– curriculum

– assessment

– reporting

– timetables

– units

– classes

– classrooms

But if we really want to pursue more agency for students and shift the current paradigm of education, then maybe these are the very things that we should be critically questioning, challenging and re-imagining.

Sometimes this is difficult to do because these human-created systems have seemed to almost calcify overtime to the point where it’s hard to figure out how to remove them, or change them.

But if we ask ourselves George Couros’ famous question…

(Image source – Principal of Change Blog)

… with the intent of creating a place that respects and supports each student’s agency as a learner and a human being and supports the processes of learning as they naturally occur… would those elements and structures be part of the design?

How can we stop seeing these elements as untouchables and start having critical conversations about:

the purpose they serve, or perhaps don’t serve…

the way they support learning, or perhaps inhibit learning

the way the help students flourish, or perhaps prevent students from flourishing

the impact they have, or perhaps their unintended side-effects...

I’m not saying that they’re all bad (or that any of them are bad) I’m just saying that making an informed choice as an education community about the structures and systems we choose to have to support learners and the process of learning, is very different than passively accepting elements of the educational paradigm that have been passed down, or passed off as “untouchable”.

Which “untouchable” elements of the current education paradigm do YOU think need to be critically questioned?

What’s worth learning?

Recently I gathered a group of volunteers from Grades 4 and 5 to help me look at our strategic plans for the coming year. We had identified three areas of focus (space, community, engagement) and I asked the students for their ideas, suggestions, questions, wonderings, thoughts and opinions for each area. There were so many inspiring and thought provoking statements that have caused me to pause and reflect. But today I’d like to look at one line of comments they wrote down, “we always have the same subjects… more variety/options.” I asked our learners what they meant by this and they asked me why school is always about English, Math and History? They wanted to know why couldn’t they learn about other areas like Psychology, Design, Carpentry, Mechanics, Video Games, Robots and Statistics.

I’ve been thinking about these questions and statements over the past few weeks. And I am stumped. Why can’t we learn about these other areas? Why do we tend to focus on just a few subjects? Do our units of inquiry allow enough breadth? How do we know what we need to learn and teach? Is it still relevant for today?

What is worth learning?

As I thought about this I saw a Twitter post (with linked blog post) by Eric Sheninger that made me think further about what might be worth learning:

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The skills listed refer to jobs of the future as outlined by the World Economic Forum: “advanced robotics and autonomous transport, artificial intelligence and machine learning, advanced materials, biotechnology, and genomics.”

Are skills what is worth learning? Is that what we should be really focusing on? Then what about knowledge? While I can see the math and science within each of these future jobs I do not see the point of learning these subjects in isolation. Should we be looking at more opportunities for transdisciplinary learning?

And so once again I return to the question posed by our students, what about other areas of study? And therefore what’s worth learning? I am beginning to wonder what are we teaching? And do we focus too much on what we think should be the learning?

Sugata Mitra said in his TED Talk, Build a School in the Cloud, “I think we need a curriculum of big questions… but we’ve lost sight of those wondrous questions. We’ve brought it down to the tangent of an angle.” Are we focusing too much on the “facts” that need to be learned and not enough on the passion of learning?

The Teacher Questions in a PYP Unit of Inquiry are often written last and many times as an oversight. But without really good questions where is the inspiration for curiosity? We have determined what should be learned and we have the scope and sequence (or curriculum objectives, standards, benchmarks) to back us up. But have we considered what’s really worth learning and what will inspire our learners to think creatively and discover their passions?

When we plan our Units of Inquiry we write Central Ideas and Lines of Inquiry as statements of what we think our learners should understand and inquire into. These inquiries have to fall under one of six Transdisciplinary Themes. Is this too confining, is it really all that is worth knowing? Does it allow for voice, choice and ownership?

Can we forget about the scope and sequence, the planned units and focus instead on wondering, questioning, discovering? Can we accept that children will learn even without adult intervention and curriculum objectives? Aaron Browder suggests in his article, “Can we stop obsessing about learning,” that we can and I am inspired by this idea.

But I also wonder how our learners will discover what they don’t know? How will they learn if they are unaware of the options for learning? If we never introduce them to multiplication will they figure it out, if they do how much time will be spent on the journey, is it worth it?

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From: https://dojo.ministryoftesting.com/dojo/lessons/not-sure-about-uncertainty

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From: https://poststatus.com/known-knowns-known-unknowns-and-unknown-unknowns/ 

So if the purpose of school is not to teach bits of knowledge that can be found through any good Internet search, is it to teach subjects that would never be learned in isolation outside of school? Or is school a place of wonder, where we discover ? A place where passions are born and students learn how to learn? Sugata Mitra said it best:

“It’s not about making learning happen. It’s about letting it happen. The teacher sets the process in motion and then stands back in awe and watches as learning happens.”

Let’s look at how we can set the process in motion, how we can inspire and provoke and question. How we can show our learners their unknown unknowns? Let’s reconsider what’s worth learning

Accept a piece of homework, even if it’s 10 years late.

This post was originally posted in my blog Ser y Estar.

I started teaching when I was 22 years old. I used to teach EFL in Mexico, and many times, as I was getting my class ready, I was asked if I knew were the teacher was. I moved from teaching EFL at language institutes to teaching Foreign Language/Language B/Language Acquisition and later on Language and Literature at a bilingual school in 2002. At that time, I also collaborated in a Cultural Radio Station, and was doing theater. This is the first time I ever write about my journey in a blog entry.

I used to teach in High School, and was one of the youngest teachers at the school where I used to teach. I used to think that being young was what helped me connect with students. Then I started thinking that being involved in the radio and in theater and always having something to talk about is what helped me bond with them. But it was later when I stared developing the pleasure of listening to my students’ stories and dreams when I think I started shaping the form of the teacher I am now.

It was 2006; at school, discussing the book “Memoirs of a Geisha” and making comparisons with the movie was a ‘hot topic’ with my students, especially when I introduced them to a telenovela that was popular when I was a child: Oyuki’s Sin, a Mexican Telenovela based in a Japanese context- those were the days of real creativity. The best part of our discussion emerged from looking into “what may happen when a foreign context (Japan) was used to give life to a story whose characters were very Mexican?” I don’t think I was even aware of the word ‘inquiry’ at that time, let alone interdisciplinary learning, but it just felt so right to do things that weren’t necessarily just about ‘language’ in a traditional conception.

Thus, we started talking about how we could use one of our favorite stories originally written in Spanish and use Japan (since we were talking about a lot) as a context. The objective was to write a theater proposal for a group of potential sponsors, in the hope that they would agree to finance our play. The exchange of ideas was great; students were speaking without my constant reminders. It was noisy, but it was meaningful. Questions navigated the waves of energy in the classroom: What colors would we use? What language would characters use? How could we choose the best names for our characters?

I invited a few Art teachers and a few others from the school of Marketing to serve as the potential sponsors, and my students presented their projects to them. Needless to say, my students were petrified, but they knew what they had to say so well, that once they felt how their ideas impacted their audience, they gained confidence and managed to get the fictional aid they were aiming for. I was proud of them, but I was partially unhappy for one of my students was not able to present. He had not finished his proposal and decided not to go to school that day.

I had read descriptions of this student had and seen illustrations of how he envisioned his stage (See below). When I checked my email and saw his apologies for not being in school and asking me if he could submit this task later, I could not say no. We had invested so much thinking and energy in making this happen that everyone deserved to show their work. Sadly, due to work of his father, they had to leave the city a few weeks later. I had not yet received “his homework”. I left Mexico in 2007, and I never saw what this student of mine could have produced.

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The incomplete homework I received via email in 2006.

I had resisted joining Facebook, but gave in when I found it practical to help me connect with my friends and family in Mexico. I soon started connecting with past students of mine too. Obviously, I connected with this student I have been talking about as well. We never discussed that homework again. Our passion for music, cinema, and literature remained the main topic of our conversations.

Then all of a sudden, a few months ago, as I was reminiscing on my experience doing theater, and as he shared how he has taken the short films he’s made to films like San Sebastian and even Cannes, that legendary homework came up and he said: “I actually have to show you something; it’s not red; it’s not Japanese… But there is a Japanese face, and it has a Japanese title (Tomoki= Wise Tree)”. A deadline that was not missed, and a late submission have never been more welcome. He had done this 2 years ago, and I was seeing how his life experience had transformed what he did with paper and paint into a beautiful universe of light, movement and image.

I had to wait 11 years for that incomplete moment to come to a closure, and the wait has been so worthy. As I reflect on what I value in my journey as an educator, relationships always comes as a high-ranking value (maybe the highest). I believe that a lot of the ideas I come up with and the journeys I design make sense and HAPPEN because they are designed for the students I have at that moment, they are never replicas of something I did before.

In 2006 I used my blog to write about my theater journey. However, here is one of my very first blog entries about education. I remember that I started to write a reflection about one of the female characters in the play I was participating in and could not conclude it. I changed the content of the blog and wrote a note of appreciation for my students. In retrospective, I think that the day I wrote the blog post linked above was that day when I realized I wanted to be the educational version of Peter Pan: I wanted to stay a learner… I wanted to stay curious and full of possibilities at heart… Rebel at heart.