Life in the time of Covid 19…

We were very happy with our success in culture mela. Every year we showcase our learning and understanding of different country’s culture. Last year we worked for our own country states. Our celebration day went very well we declared holidays for spring break with a nice staff photograph.

Never knew that was our last contact with our students, parents and colleagues, we are now under social distancing due to Covid 19.

Covid 19 taught us the new term, ”social distancing”. Isolation from our society. Our state Maharashtra is facing the highest cases of Covid 19 positive. According to the Indian Council of Medical Research and Ministry of Health, we have confirmed 519 active 40 recovered and 11 deaths. It’s really sad. Felt so helpless for the first time.

I was following my friend Kevin from SIS Japan, updating us on a regular basis since January. I was religiously following his updates on Covid 19.

I learned about Corona virus. I was wondering about e-learning and all.

I determined I am not going to give up in such a situation. Our state-imposed section 144 across the states till 31st March 2020. However, we started our e-learning mode on school reopening day that is 16th March 2020. Our Coordinator Ms Bushra Khan made us understand the current situation and train us how to go about it. And yes we officially started our e-learning on 17th Match 2020.

We successfully running our e-learning and my students started planning their own learning. They sent me how they want to design their learning which promotes agency, however technology sometimes hits us. My students sometimes unable to login due to poor connections, we sometimes get stuck in the middle of the discussion. But we are happy that we are coping well together. Nothing can stop us from learning. We are now planning for PYP e exhibition. I know we need loads of motivation and learning.

We really appreciate all those educational platforms and organisations such as Google, Microsoft, Toddle, ManagBac, Seesaw, Edmodo, flipgrid, padlet and many more for extending all the support. Can’t imagine learning without their support. I am thankful to my Twitter family Abhimanyu sir, Kevin, Levi, Devid, Devika for always sharing their resources and experiences. I am thankful to Twitter for always helping people with all their updates. And yes how can I forget my family who all are my strength. My husband is my biggest support at this point in time. Missing my students very bad, and hoping for better things to happen. I believe “as long as there is life, there is potential; and as long as there is a potential, there will be a success!”

My year of Agency

I haven’t felt successful in a while. I’m glad this feeling has come to me on a Friday afternoon knowing that I will ease into the weekend feeling like this has been a great finish. Starting this year off in Grade 5, a class I had never taught and adding the agency concept into the mix of it all is to say the least, overly  ambitious. 

My team and I started off the year in pretty great spirits. We were all on different journeys in regards to agency and we had our lives outside of it all. We were determined to empower learners to design their learning, plan their own trips and write their own budgets. We knew what we were doing and couldn’t wait to get on this exciting path.

Two weeks in and all hell was breaking loose(this memory still triggers me).We had thrown out the first unit and attempted to write the new unit from scratch. The biggest mistake of them all is that we had no systems in place that would keep us together before it could all come tumbling down. Those were the most stressful 7 weeks ever.

What I had not seemed to prepare myself for is that agency does test you as a human. Agency will force you to have the conversations you seem to be shying away from. You and your new found beliefs will be put to test. Like, Is your teaching really grounded in solid pedagogy? Is your image of the child really what you seem to think it is? Do you have agency as a teacher? Do you truly understand agency? These are all the questions I have had to dig through to find myself because at the end of it all, if I don’t know who I really am then the foundation from which I base my instruction is shaky ground.

It has been a rough 6 months from having many lightbulb moments to feeling like I was engulfed in darkness. To not writing at all and questioning whether I was in the right profession. From giving students choice workshops every Friday to trying to prove to parents that we have covered the different benchmarks and their child will be ready for middle school. From hoping to teach children to set and plan their homework to filling up their time with math problems so that I can prove that they have retained the knowledge dispensed to them. My journey had been a wrecking ball swinging from one extreme to another with the hope that I aim for something specific and feel successful at one.

This week started off a little shaky. Little did I know that this would help me unpack what agency truly is for me. One of my students was found using technology inappropriately which could have potentially escalated into cyber bullying. I decided to use this as a teaching point. We unpacked PYP concepts using this incident, I shared my twitter account and we talked about who we want to be on social media and how we choose who we want to be. My favourite part? Watching TikTok videos to get inspiration for PYPx. What was different about this week is that it allowed me to be human. I allowed myself to feel.I journaled.  I allowed my personal life into my work life.I’ve been vulnerable with them and tried to understand their struggles, and how I might be part of their problem. I’ve allowed myself to fail. I’ve made decisions without seeking approval. I’ve existed. From letting go and allowing myself to be, I’ve found who I was. I’ve made friends with my curriculum. I’ve read it over and over. I am making friends with benchmarks and my curriculum. I am letting my true self into my teaching because only then, can we truly be free…


Leaving it to chance

Instead of planning what writing units we’d work on after we finished our personal narratives and persuasive texts, I offered the kids a choice and, between 18 of them, they chose Stories, Poetry, Book Reviews, and Instructional Writing. The next two weeks went pretty smoothly as they spent time planning, drafting and revising their writing but then the Winter Concert loomed and our Food unit of Inquiry began. And suddenly we had a need for authentic writing to search for typical food around the world, writing recipes and scripts.

The previous personal writing choices had been put on hold as our focus shifted but they’re still available should they wish to pick up where they left off.

Collecting texts which naturally link to specific learning engagements with personal writing choices will ensure each student has a diverse collection of written work at the end of the year. (See IB PYP Language Scope & Sequence document confirming the objectives with a nod.)

In the past, I would have the genres laid out from start to finish but I was limiting the choices to ensure all kids were following the same guidelines, making my life easier. Or so I thought.

This year, after the first month where I followed my usual course of not walking the walk, I wanted to really let them loose and write because they had something to say, because there was a need. Not just because I had decided it should be done. And I’m seeing genuine dedication to their learning, a desire to tell a story connected to a recent read aloud or unit of inquiry concept, a means to teach others about a personal passion, or just a curious desire to try something new.

(I suppose you could say that the Food unit and concert caused them to follow guided writing genres again, but the need to find out about food around the world and learn how to cook were their choices, and not all kids chose to write and perform a play.)

Leaving it to chance is another way of saying that I’m trusting them and respecting their choices, safe in the knowledge that they want to write because they have something to say. Safe in the knowledge that exposure to a multitude of texts through reading and sharing passions and interests naturally leads to new discoveries and maximum exposure.

And now it’s nearly Christmas and they’re writing each other letters and cards and I didn’t plan anything!

Revelations about team teaching

A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to attend the Future of Education Now conference at the Western Academy in Beijing. For me, one of the most exciting revelations of the conference is about team teaching.

If you’d asked me before the conference if I was involved in team teaching, I would have said “of course!”. After all, our team plans units together, we design and share resources and we help each other think about the learning going on in each others’ classes. Of course we team teach!

Except we don’t…

And here is the revelatory slide:

What we actually do is franchise teaching. Yes, we work together on the planning and take an shared interest in the learning of all of our students, but when we step away from our collaborative meetings and into “our” classrooms, we’re on our own. And the students are on their own with us.

I’m not saying this model is bad. Teaching is so personal, it’s great to have the flexibility to implement a unit in the way we think it’s best done for our students. However, we’re missing so many benefits of team teaching. 

See exhibit B from the conference, WAB Middle School’s Learning Lab and their approach to team teaching math:

Essentially, what they do is combine three or more math classes and set a common, differentiated math challenge. Students can then choose how they want to approach this challenge by going to a certain learning space. One space might be teacher-led, like a more traditional classroom set-up. Another might facilitate small group work on the challenge and one space might allow students to withdraw into a “cave” and think on their own about the challenge. Each space is supported by one or more math teachers.

As the video explains, this empowers students to make a choice about their learning, giving them ownership even when the learning objective is prescribed. And, dare I say it, choose to work with the teacher with whom they feel they have the best connection. Again, teaching and learning are personal, and we need to accept that some teacher-student relationships are stronger than others.

Having multiple teachers allows each one of these spaces to be well supported (if a single teacher tries to differentiate a classroom like this, they inevitably leave one or more groups to their own devices for at least part of the session). Furthermore it allows teachers to play to their strengths. Are they best in a more structured, teacher-led format? Then supervise the teacher-led section. Are they great questioners? Then maybe the small group area is the best for them.

My school isn’t blessed to have the amazing learning spaces seen at WAB (my colleague and I did seriously consider taking a sledgehammer to the non-load bearing walls between the classrooms – that’s the thinking you get when you cross 14 time zones in 6 days), but team teaching is something many schools can easily implement. 

For example, we’ve always griped about classes in the same subject being blocked with each other on the timetable: if one teacher is away, it’s very difficult to get a subject specialist to cover the class. But this structure means that two or more classes can be team taught straight away, simply using the different classrooms as the different zones.

And there are lots of different ways to use the different teachers and spaces, not just for the style of learning. Thinking from a Global Politics perspective, we could offer 2-3 group case-studies on the same concept, and allow the students to choose which is most interesting and relevant to them. During revision time, we could set-up the room based on different revision needs – one room looking at the human rights unit, one at peace and conflict, and one at exam technique – again dividing the rooms between our areas of speciality as a teacher.

Sometimes the most simple ideas are the best and this is certainly one we’ll explore further. And who knows, maybe one day I’ll be let loose with a sledgehammer.

Lesson 3 from a year of self-directed learning: give them a stage!

In September 2018, we established a program that enabled a group of MYP students to direct their own learning for a year. In these blog posts I share three key lessons from that year.

Lesson 3: Give students a stage

So far, this series of blog posts might have given the impression that there were more failures than successes in our first year. But that’s definitely not true! I saw some extraordinary things last year. A 13-year old, new to English language and literature, writing, producing and promoting on her own Broadway-style musical. Students overcoming deep-rooted fears of public speaking and math. A debate between a group of 12 to 15 year olds about the merits of liberalism, Marxism and anarchism that wouldn’t have been out of place at a university. 

“You’re Next: The Musical”. One of the most extraordinary student achievements I’ve ever seen.

A common factor in each of these successes is that the students had a stage on which to demonstrate their learning. In the case of the musical, it was literally a stage, but in other projects it was simply running a workshop for peers or sharing learning at a student-led conference. 

A flipside of handing students ownership over their learning is that we teachers also lose a lot of control over the learning process (read: deadlines!). We tried to negotiate mid-point review and final deadlines with the students, but it often happened that when these approached, the students would make the case for extending the deadline; just a little more time for some final research, another day to do the final touches. Anyone who has written a dissertation will know the feeling. 

By giving students an authentic stage, we take away the possibility of extensions. It forces students to reflect on their learning and bring it together in a final product for their audience, be it their peers, parents or wider community. Furthermore, we don’t have to play the bad guy by refusing to give deadline extensions and can instead coach the student through.

For example, early on in the year we had a student working on a project about anatomical drawing. He was interested in Da Vinci and, with our arts and science Learning Guides, was developing his drawing skills and knowledge of muscle groups. For many weeks he sat quietly by the window sketching away, telling the Learning Guides he needed a bit more time to achieve his goals. As time went on we grew concerned about how he was progressing. Was too much time being spent on this project? When would the final product emerge?

We decided to give him a stage by asking him to give a workshop to the group the following week. It certainly caused some anxiety. The sketching became more frantic and on the morning of the workshop the student asked to postpone his session. But it had been advertised on the schedule and there was no backup plan, so he’d need to go ahead! We talked through how the workshop could be delivered and encouraged him onto his stage.

What followed was a session that any teacher would have been proud of. The student was able to teach us those techniques he’d spent hours practicing, all the while talking us through the different muscle groups and cheering everyone up by telling us that we all actually have six packs…somewhere! His knowledge and expertise shone through and was contagious. So much so, the group asked for another workshop the following week to continue their drawings. 

A lesson any teacher would be have been proud of.

Speaking to the student afterwards, he admitted that he’d begun to tread water with his project. He had put so much time into it, he didn’t know how to bring it together and was worried about what he’d do next. The workshop gave him the incentive to face these challenges and critically consider what he’d learned. Furthermore, the “buzz” of being an expert in front of peers was something he wanted to feel again.

We now try to ensure student’s are always given a stage for their learning, be this a one-off performance or exhibition, a workshop for their peers or a student-led conference with their family and friends. It doesn’t mean the end of their learning: just an authentic checkpoint.

Lesson 1: Democracy doesn’t work

Lesson 2: Traditional paradigms of education are difficult to escape

Dismantling Benchmarks

My inspiration this week came from Bob Marley’s, “Could you be loved” unusual right?

Don’t let them fool ya

Or even try to school ya

Oh, no

We’ve got a mind of our own…

These words of wisdom led me back to student agency and honouring the learners. Here’s how;

Step 1: Think of your pre-assessment as an inviting and thought-provoking experience rather than a test.

Step 2: Their perspective of themselves matters. We set up different stations where students went and took part in the set activity and using the “Solo Taxonomy from a Student’s Perspective “, reflected on what they had done and where they want to go next.


Step 3: Listen to them. Find out what they need. We later used that perception of themselves to start a conversation on what they would like to work on for the rest of the week. They talked about why they chose that benchmark, and most importantly what they wanted to use that knowledge for.

Step 4: Be an ally. I found as many resources as I could about shapes. Some spent the whole lesson recreating buildings using shapes, some created patterns and inquired into tessellations and another spent their lesson in the maker space using his knowledge of shapes to create a house

Step 5: Cheer them on. Rather than instructing and talking at them, I spent the lesson researching and documenting, sharing ideas and reminding them of the goal they want to achieve.

Step 6: Celebrate. You beat the system. I saw different personalities shine through, engaged and meaningful conversations happening and most importantly, transcending a restrictive and prescriptive benchmark, breaking the barriers, finding meaning beyond our four walls…


Inquiry in the Classroom

“A good education must expose knowledge gaps and increase the hunger for further inquiries.” To understand this quote one must understand what is an inquiry, how it look like, feel like and sound like. The literal meaning of inquiry says investigation. However, it`s an approach for teaching and learning. That is what a new born baby does when he sees the world for the first time and he tries to experience it. He grabs every possible thing to investigate and that is how he learns.

It`s very important to know why inquiry, before we understand an inquiry classroom. Inquiry promotes learning, it motivates learners to explore things on their own thus promote self- management skill. Students take the ownership of their learning. It helps us to feel engaged where we take the learning ahead and we decide how much we will learn and how we will plan our learning. An inquiry teacher never bothers about what she wants to teach but rather she prioritizes student questions, ideas, and analyses. She makes sure students make the connection between their real-life experiences and learning. They are able to reason out topics and are skilled enough to give justification.

Inquiry in classroom looks like: Inquiry classroom looks like everyone is engaged in learning through experimenting, talking, investigating. It has flexible seating arrangement, display boards are reflective in nature not with beautiful teacher`s display.

Inquiry in classroom sounds like: Kids discussing with each other using visible thinking routine. Often teacher sounds like co-learner rather than a teacher. It sounds like someone presenting their learning. It sounds like the teacher providing feedback.

Inquiry in the classroom feels like: An inquiry classroom feels like kids might use what they have learned to contribute and make a difference. Here learners are valued and respected. Teacher asks open-ended question rather structured.

Few examples of inquiry in the classroom are: ➢ Students are engaged in experiential learning ➢ Lesson becomes project-based learning rather than a lecture ➢ More room for discussion ➢ Encouraging wonder wall ➢ Students use participation ladder to reflect an enduring understanding ➢ Classroom have inquiry table ➢ Student reflects their understanding through visible thinking routine or strategy, rather than the worksheets ➢ Evidence of uses of multiple intelligences ➢ Use of differentiated instructions ➢ Student reflections are authentic rather than teacher driven

Last but not the least an inquiry classroom provides you an opportunity to know your students better and it helps to build a strong relationship. As someone rightly said “No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship.”

MLSI/2018-Inquiry in the classroom Drafted by Chandrani Roy Banerjee