Exciting, Authentic, Connected…Transdisciplinary Learning!

As part of my professional inquiry for this year I decided to focus on student directed learning and student agency. The explanation of this is an entire blog post of its own (next one on my list) but in short I was looking at how I could play with my classroom logistics in order to stay true to what the school were requiring but still allowing the students to have agency.

Part of my process was to keep the parents of my class informed and aware of these changes. We are a team and it is important that there is complete transparency between us in order for the students to truly succeed.

Below is an edited blog post that I wrote to parents in December of this school year. The purpose of the post was to explain the changes that had started to happen in their child’s classroom. The response was extremely supportive and positive and resulted in many parents coming to visit and have a look.

PLEASE NOTE: the ideas that I have been implementing in my classroom are by no means my creation! I have adapted ideas received through observations of other amazing teachers and readings. The ideas are constantly changing as the students and I work together to make them the most successful for our class of learners! It is often messy and not always successful but there has been one constant result…learning!

Teacher to Parent Blog Post; December, 2017

At the moment in the education world, and specifically in the PYP, there is a big push for student agency and for educators to encourage students to be more in control of their own learning. The IB PYP is focusing on introducing student agency in a more focused way. They highlight the following advantages about increasing student agency as…

“Students with agency:

  • have voice, choice and ownership; and a propensity to take action
  • influence and direct learning
  • contribute to and participate in the learning community.”

As part of my own professional learning, I have been researching and looking for ways to create a learning environment that allows for greater student agency. For the last 4 weeks I have been introducing the class to new structures and concepts and giving them time (and a lot of guidance) as they learn what it all involves. This week was the first week where the students really saw it all come together, and I am so happy to witness the enthusiastic way that they have tackled the new approach!

Every morning the students come in to read an overview of what the day has to offer. Below is an example.

img_0633.jpg

 

IMG_2670An example of a completed weekly goals sheet that highlights not only the goal but also what success will look like and strategies to use to get there.

During the “Where We Are In Place and Time” unit of inquiry, the students did a range of tasks that were related to the unit but targeted specific math and literacy skills. They started to talk about their learning in terms of “I learned about… through the lens of math/reading/writing”. The content was focused on the unit of inquiry however the “skills” that they were learning were specific from the English and Math curriculum. At the end of the unit the students expressed that they felt they had a better understanding of the unit as they were looking at it from many different perspectives. They also highlighted that it allowed them to strengthen skills such as time management, reflection, cooperation and commitment.

IMG_7876An example of the Transdisciplinary Inquiry Journals that all students use to document their learning process.

img_0638.jpgThe list of Transdisciplinary Tasks students were required to do over the course of the unit, including a time management plan.
This week we have focused on developing our understanding of child rights, what they are and what they mean. Students have selected a range of tasks to undertake (each through the lens of either data handling, writing or reading) and began to work towards finding ways that they can take action towards to enable more children access to their rights.

At the beginning of each week they will reflect on their past week’s goals and look at how they are achieving them. They need to provide evidence of their learning and create their next plan of action, do they continue with the same goals or do they create new ones?

Snip20180331_2.pngCreating her weekly goals on Monday morning using her reflections to help her.

They then create a schedule for their learning. The class schedule is now broken into three sections;

  • student directed / transdisciplinary inquiry
  • whole class lessons
  • specialist classes
  • teacher and student led workshops on specific learning objectives

It is through the transdisciplinary inquiry that students get to take true control over their learning and achieve a level of learning that is authentic and connected to the wider world. They decide what they are doing when (with teacher guidance!) and sign up for teacher OR student led workshops or independent inquiry tasks. Their key focus is on what they need to do to deepen their understanding and to have a balance of reading, writing and math. I help them with gaining this self-awareness and guide them to understanding what their needs are, if I recognise that they have not signed up for a workshop that I believe they would benefit from.

IMG_0848.jpg Signing up for teacher led workshops and recording these sessions on his personal schedule.

                    IMG_0583.JPGAn example of the workshop sign up sheet. Students have this information when developing their schedules and goals.

IMG_8552.JPGStudents deciding on the tasks they will undertake for the week ahead.

Overall, the classroom has become invigorated by the thinking that has been involved. The students are excited by the chance to shape the way they inquire into our classroom focus.

Snip20180413_43  An example of a planning document for individual workshop focus. Homeroom teacher (Mel), Teacher Assistant (Huong), EAL teacher (Nicole) and Learning Support teacher (Sara).

 

Advertisements

Studio 5- Too Much Too Soon?

I want to be a rebel, but I feel like things are getting a little outside of my comfort zone.

(UPDATE: I realise that being out of your comfort zone is probably what being a rebel is all about!)

Don’t get me wrong, I’d bite your hand off to be pushed to innovate as much as Studio 5 has done, but I want to ask a few questions to understand how far we should go.

  • Is the last year of elementary school too late or too soon for the level of student agency that Studio 5 is proposing?
  • Is it too much to offer this level of freedom outside the Exhibition?
  • Can we not still offer voice, choice and agency whilst following a programme which offers a balance of disciplines, ie. by following each Transdisciplinary Theme?
  • Is there not enough space within each Transdisciplinary Theme in the PYP for students to still take control of their learning and direct it around the breadth and depth that each theme offers without students having to create a unit from scratch?

I get it, they should have choice etc, but are we actually doing them a disservice by exposing them to the multitude of subjects that exist? Can we still provide space for student agency even if students are not all planning their learning from scratch?

I’ve been wondering about what agency means and if a ‘choose anything you want to learn about’ limits the possible options students can have access to. Can a student find their passion or talent unless they explore every element of language, art, mathematics, science etc.? When are they ready to decide what they want to learn? How long does it take to expose students to every strand of every discipline?

Of course they’ll develop interests away from school and these should be respected and we should be aware of them, but are we redefining school as a place where learning about the world, even though you didn’t choose that topic, is a considered a opportunity missed?

Should we be asking how student agency can exist in a programme that still offers a spectrum of opportunity to learn from a predetermined list of disciplines, or should students be able to choose to learn anything they want at any time?

I think we should try first of all not to create a system which provides too much structure and predetermined lessons which do little more than provide an opportunity to test comprehension. That’s obviously not helping anyone develop curiosity or maintain what was there to start with.

Let’s provoke, challenge, question and make space for our students to inquire about the world around them, and let’s take the opportunity as their guides to open their eyes to the wonders of the world whilst allowing them to bring who they are to the table, too.

I’m imagining something like this: take the theme How the World Works. We want the children to be scientists, to observe, to question, to experiment, to challenge themselves. What if we provide them with provocations, stimulating images, stories about the universe, information about scientists, about the different strands available to choose for their inquiries and then see where their curiosity leads them. Sometimes you don’t know that you’re fascinated by whale sharks until you discover them. Sometimes you can’t marvel at the power of nature until you see it in action.

My point is to offer them these options at each grade level instead of focusing on one in particular each year; that way they can still develop deep conceptual understanding about how the world works whilst developing knowledge in the area that fascinates them. There’s no need to necessarily teach natural disasters in grade 3 and biodiversity in grade 4, for example.

We can let their curiosity take the lead whilst sparking the fire.

Studio 5 has created something which challenges the preconceptions of the school model and taken it into the stratosphere, but has it also given the students too much freedom of choice too soon? Have the students explored enough to know what they want to do? Has personalised learning gone too far?

I’m just wondering, of course. Any thoughts and opinions would be greatly appreciated.

UPDATE: After sleeping on these thoughts, I have also realised that I’m looking for a way to go as far as possible towards what Studio 5 is offering students, whilst imagining an easy transition model for others to follow towards student agency within the POI that we currently use. I know full well that I need the support of school leaders to make my dream a reality.)