Monday, July 31, 2023

Learning progressions in the PYP - next steps

This post is a follow on from the last one and is looking forward to what can be expected in schools that are involved in the progressions trials that will run up to December this year.

First, a quick recap for anyone who did not read the previous post.  In April this year a Learning progression development report was published.  It stated that most curriculum is divided into standards that are chunked into discrete year levels, rather than showing connections over time.  The idea of the PYP progressions is to give explicit support to teachers so that they understand not just what learning looks like, but also how it fits into the picture of what has come before and what students will engage in later.  The aim, therefore, is to identify the transferable skills that can be developed through the subjects.  For example we talk about IB students being inquirers, so the aim is to describe what inquiry looks like in each subject, what skills are involved, how to develop them, and how to monitor and evidence the progress of these skills.

Subject guidance will be published next year and will include the following (Fig 2, taken from the above publication)

One question I'm often asked when I go to visit schools, is how explicit does the teaching of the Approaches to learning (ATL) subskills need to be.  The skills have now been grouped to indicate different behaviours of inquirers.  For example learning through play, investigating with purpose, expressing themselves using multiple representations, interacting with others, and reflecting on themselves and their learning.

Let's take a closer look at how these subskills for investigation can be identified for each subject:
  • Language skills can include identifying purpose and context, perspectives, evaluating, questioning and challenging ideas and information.
  • Mathematical skills include finding patterns, data collection and evaluating and justifying conclusions.
  • Arts skills include exploring tools, processes and materials.
  • Science skills include predicting, hypothesising, designing and interpreting data
  • Social studies skills include posing and refining research questions, utilising primary and secondary sources, timelines and sequencing, and considering the reliability of evidence sources.
  • PSPE skills include identifying, refining strategies and reflection.
I am more than excited to be part of the team working on this trial in schools.

Image by M W from Pixabay

Learning progressions in the PYP

As a number of my readers will know, I've spent the past couple of months working with the PYP Curriculum Managers on the learning continuums that will eventually replace the current scope and sequence documents.  It has been an interesting and exciting time, and the next stage of this looks like being school-based trials of the materials being developed.  But before we start on that, let's step back a little to think about learning progressions themselves and how we have got to the place we are in now.

A little over two years ago, the Learning progressions research report was published.  This report was a literature review that would provide the direction for the development of the PYP learning progressions.  In fact over the past 20 years there has been a lot of research done into this area - with some of the research referring to this as progress maps, continua, competencies and learning trajectories.  What all of these have in common is that they reference the skills, understandings and capabilities that students acquire in different stages of learning.  This enables teachers to identify gaps in skills and knowledge in order to plan for next steps in learning.  It's very much a future-facing approach to curriculum development and moving students forward - but as there has been no agreed process for developing these progressions to date, it provides the PYP with a great opportunity to develop these progressions for itself.

At this point I think it's important to be aware that assessment needs to be integrated seamlessly with instruction:  this includes checks for understanding throughout each and every lesson, the designing of rigorous engagements for students, and observing and monitoring student performances.  As stated in the report, "learning progression[s] strengthen the connection between curriculum and assessment."  This is an enormous help to teachers who traditionally have had difficulty in determining next steps in learning and the feedback they need to provide that will move the learning forward (feedback to feed forward).

The term "backwards by design" is one that has been used regularly to describe both the PYP and MYP curriculum planning.  This involves using the curriculum to set goals/outcomes and then deciding how the learning will be assessed before choosing the instructional methods that will support the learning acquisition.  In this way "All activities are seen as assessment tasks".  However learning progressions focus more on a "forward by design" process which allows teachers to design tasks beyond what is currently being taught in order to identify if learners are achieving past what is taught.

Of course many PYP schools have to deal with national or state standards, assessed by standardised assessments that measure the educational requirements for a particular grade in each subject area.  Often student learning outcomes and success criteria are proscribed; in these cases the focus is often more on the accountability for outcomes rather than in improving instruction.  Again, many schools deal with mandated scope and sequence documents, which do not recognise that learners in a particular grade and subject are starting at different points and learning in different ways.

Learning progressions are very different from these approaches!  They are focused on longer time periods (not just one academic year) and the acknowledge that students will lie at different points along the progression - hence the vital importance of differentiation.  Learning progressions, therefore, do not reference age or year levels, but instead present as a continuum showing increasing expertise.  In this way they provide a reference for establishing where each student in in their learning and for monitoring their growth over time.

As well as this, learning progressions are rooted in Vygotsky's zone of proximal development, and they encourage learner agency as students can make decisions about their own learning and next steps and teachers and others in the community can use them to make decisions as to how better to help.

It's important for educators to realise that the PYP is not a syllabus, but a curriculum framework.  Although the progressions will describe the skills of an IB learner and what they can do, they are better seen as a skeleton from which schools can design their own scope and sequence documents.  Some of the progressions will be subject based and others will be skill based - thereby making the approaches to learning visible.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Monday, July 24, 2023

Harnessing the power of AI in education


In April I led a workshop about the role of ICT in the PYP in Kenya, and we were introduced to some AI tools by the participants such as ChatGPT for report writing and Copilot for lesson planners.  We could immediately see the potential of these tools and how they could save a teacher hours and hours of planning and report writing time.

Moving forward I also hosted a webinar in June with Ali Hassan in the IBSCA PYP Communities.  He also shared a number of different AI tools that would be useful for education.  These included:

  • DeepL translator - better than Google Translate (which I also love) as it is able to rephrase sentences to express nuances.  It also allows you to upload PDF, Word and PowerPoint files for translation.
  • - to record audio, writes notes, capture slides, and generate summaries.  Brilliant for Zoom, Teams and Google Meet.
  • Brain FM - generates music that is scientifically proven to increase focus.  This is a paid app but you can try it for a limited time for free.  
  • Jasper - a content creation tool - again this is a paid tool but you can also try this one for free.
There is also a great AI Educator site which will help you find and explore more tools.

And then today there was the Toddle AI launch .... follow the link to watch the live YouTube event.

Things are moving very fast in the area of AI in education and I'm definitely excited to see how these tools can make teachers' lives easier and save loads of time.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Thursday, July 20, 2023

Why IB educators are different

Over the course of the past four of five years, since leaving full-time work in a school, I've visited many IB schools in Africa, Europe and the Middle East (probably between 80 and 90 schools).  These visits have been verification visits to authorise schools, evaluation visits and making visits as a consultant to support schools in the candidacy phase.  I've also visited schools to lead in-school workshops, including some virtual visits when it has not been possible to actually travel to the school in person. Each time I learn something new - and each time I marvel at the difference an IB education makes to students, their learning, their families and the educators I meet.  

Today I was reading through a publication about adult learning, and I came across a section based on a research study of IB educators: what sets them apart is a love for teaching and learning - and of course it is easy to build on that as a workshop leader because all teachers are also lifelong learners themselves and eager to learn more and improve their practice.  

We are told that IB educators:

  • teach students to think globally through examining a variety of global issues and encouraging an awareness of and respect for other cultures
  • are open to new ideas, new experiences, new cultures and changing teaching approaches
  • are flexible and exercise professional judgment to meet student needs and align with the iB philosophy
  • use pedagogical approaches that are based on concepts and inquiry in authentic contexts.
  • collaborate in planning instructional activities and sharing resources and reflections on teaching
  • care for the whole student
  • demonstrate love for learning and teaching
(Bergeron and Dean, 2013)

And once again, today, I have reflected on how fortunate I am to have been in the "right place at the right time" in  my own educational career, and that I was blessed to be encouraged to take on new roles by the school leaders I encountered in those international schools.  

Photo Credit:  Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

School visits and appreciative inquiry

Over the past 6 months or so I've done a lot of school visits - some in person but mostly still virtual visits at this point.  It's been a real learning journey for me, as we have been using the new IB 2020 Standards and Practices, and our approach to evaluation visits is now totally different from before.  Gone are the commendations and recommendations, and instead we are using appreciative inquiry.  For me (and for the schools) this has made a huge difference in the general "tone" of the visits - it is much more positive, much more of a conversation about the unique context of each school, where the school is on its journey and where it aspires to go next.  Because of this I decided I would do a little more research about appreciative inquiry and its benefits.

One term I use a lot with schools is "action research".  I think appreciative inquiry is very much like this as it promotes change.  We ask questions to help schools see some of their challenges in new and innovative ways.  At the heart of appreciative inquiry is the understanding that something works well in all school contexts and our aim is to discover what this is, what energises all stakeholders in a school, and what is it that they care about and that motivates them:  everything here is a positive assumption or affirmation as opposed to the previous approach which was more of a deficit model to find and analyse issues or problems in order to help a school move forward.

As I plan for each of the meetings on a visit I draw heavily on my skills as a cognitive coach - asking the right questions is important!  I always like to start with the successes or strengths that the school have already identified, and to acknowledge their achievements and existing good practices that have developed over the past 5 years since the previous visit.  Of course we do acknowledge the challenges they have faced as well - every single school I have visited recently has spoken about the impact of Covid and school closures on students' communication, social and self-management skills.  A focus on what they have achieved despite these difficulties creates a feeling of enthusiasm and hope, and helps people to expand their thinking into what could be possible.  

The model of appreciative inquiry has sometimes been called the 4D model:

  1. Discovery - exploring "the best of what is"
  2. Dream - articulating and discussing "what might be"
  3. Design - working together to develop "what might be"
  4. Destiny - collectively experimenting with "what can be"
Just as in cognitive coaching, appreciative inquiry focuses on what people think, not on what they do.  The idea is that change comes from discussing new ideas and collaboratively creating new knowledge.  If there are challenges that need to be discussed, then being open-minded and sensitive to different ways of seeing things will encourage people to consider possibilities that may address the problem.  In this way problems are not seen as threats:  instead the focus is on what is working well and what more needs to be done to make it even better.  

When an IB team visits a school we have just 3 days to collect a picture of the learning and teaching there so it's really important to focus on building relationships right from the start, so that there is a sense of trust and safety in all our meetings and classroom observations.   We ask curious, non-judgemental questions.  I often use sentence stems like, "Tell us a little more about ...." or "Help us to understand ..."  These questions encourage people to talk about the things that matter to them, and also to share some of their hopes.  In our meetings I also like to ensure that all voices are heard - so that all perspectives can be considered.  For example if there is a teacher who isn't saying much I might ask the question, "What does this look like in your classroom/subject/section of the school?"

At the end of our visit we have a Conclusion Meeting where we share our thoughts and give some suggestions the school might like to consider as opportunities for future development.  We stress these are considerations, not recommendations like before, as the school needs to feel agency and ownership of their own next steps.  One thing I'm always looking out for in this meeting is that the schools recognise themselves in the strengths and opportunities we are sharing.  Often people will say "You've only been here a few days but it seems like you have a real understanding of what we have been through in the last five years."  When I hear this I always feel that the school feels acknowledged and that they recognise their strength and existing good practice and now know how to build on these in order to grow and change. 

Image Credit:  Peter Durand on Flickr shared with a Creative Commons licence

Monday, May 30, 2022

Making a PYP Playbook

The next book we are looking at in the PYP Coordinator's Book club is The Instructional Playbook by Jim Knight.  This could well be a very interesting collaboration, but first of all I need to find out more about what an instructional playbook is.   Judy explained that the purpose of an instructional playbook is to...
  • Help educators identify the highest impact teaching strategies
  • Lead to a deep knowledge of teaching strategies
  • Build a shared vocabulary
  • Reduce stress and overwhelm
  • Foster teacher hope and confidence
In The Instructional Playbook Jim Knight explains that improvement can be difficult as to improve we need to face our current reality.  Sometimes this involves recognising what we are doing well - and to improve we need to do more of this.  Sometimes it involves taking already existing knowledge and integrating it into what we do .... hence the need for a playbook.

He writes that instructional coaches help teachers learn and implement strategies that teachers want to implement to help their students hit powerful engagement or achievement goals, and that a playbook is a tool that helps coaches to firstly develop the deep knowledge they need to be effective and then secondly to use the collection of tools to support teachers to learn, implement, refine and adapt practices to meet their students' needs.

What is an Instructional Playbook?
It's a concise, precise document that summarises the essential information about evidence-based teaching strategies that instructional coaches use to support teachers and students.  It's an organisational tool that coaches use to help them focus on high-impact teaching strategies and then explain those strategies to teachers.  Playbooks help instructional coaches to be more successful with teachers, which in turn help teachers to be more successful with students.

Looking at the bullet list above, the final point is to foster hope and confidence.  Here's the thing:  when people have hope they have a goal that describes where they want to be and what they want to accomplish.  If you have hope you also have agency because you have the belief that you can make things happen and that your actions will help you to reach your goal.

How is a Playbook created?
The first thing to create is a table of contents - this is a list of the most common goals that teachers identify during coaching and all the possible strategies to share with teachers to achieve those goals.  This is shortened down into a one page list of powerful evidence-based teaching strategies.  Following this a One-Pager is created for each strategy - this captures the most crucial information people need to know about a teaching strategy and gives teachers a resource that supports them in classroom implementation of the strategy.  Creating a playbook "is fundamentally an editing process to distill the most relevant, clearly explained, and high-impact strategies for teachers to use to hit goals for students."  Working together as a team to create a playbook is more manageable and effective than creating one alone.

Beating the Imposter Syndrome
During the week I had a discussion about the Imposter Syndrome with one of my mentees in The Coach programme.  Many of us worry that we do not know enough about a topic to share it with others.  This is an important concern as if coaches can't explain the important elements of a strategy, then it won't be possible to implement it.  Creating a One-Pager might help with this as it involves describing:
  • What the strategy is about
  • What its purpose is
  • The research that supports it
  • How teachers use it
  • How students use it
So here we go .... a great summer project in collaboration with other PYP coordinators I think!

Wednesday, May 4, 2022


Change ... this is a big topic.  The past few years have seen so much change - we've had a global pandemic, schools have closed, lessons have shifted online, some of us have had to deal with hybrid teaching with some students in school and others at home.  And we have survived .... but for some of us only just!  We are tired.  Change has sapped our energies.

Some change is welcome, some change is not.  Some change happens instantaneously, some is much slower.  For me there have been times when I've chosen change - a new job in a new country - and other times where I'd much rather have stayed but circumstances were pulling me in different directions.  One of the hardest changes for me was to leave my school in Amsterdam and to move my entire family to Thailand.  I think I cried almost every day for the last year I lived in Holland.  I knew it was coming - after years of free tuition I was counted as local and needed to pay for my children's education at the school, which I could not afford on a teaching salary - but gosh, it was hard.  And yet ..... it turned out for the best - I became an international teacher. Having made one "tough" move, I knew I could (and did!) make many others.  This led to opportunities that I'd never thought possible before.  Fast forward many years when circumstances again made me move - this time from India to the UK to take care of my mother after she was diagnosed with dementia.  Everything was uncertain:  no job, no home and so on .... but again tough circumstances led to me setting up as an independent consultant to schools, and again the impossible became possible.  My Indian friends told me it would all be OK in the end - this sense of karma - and it was, though it wasn't always easy.  As Elena Aguilar writes, "the key to resilience is learning how to get back to the surface when a ferocious wave knocks us over, how to ride those waves and perhaps even how to find joy when surfing the waves."

There's another kind of stress associated with change too - the stress we feel when we feel change is too slow.  I identify with that too.  I remember being at a school - a school that had employed me to bring about change - and then being blocked from changes I wanted to make.  Learning to navigate these obstacles, challenges and setbacks is also important.  Learning to deal with feelings and responses when things don't go as you want is also important.

I like the model of The Spheres of Influence that Elena shares in Chapter 11 of Onward.  She writes about what you can control, what you can influence and then everything else which is outside your control and influence - and therefore not worthwhile spending time and energy on.  I know that even when I could not to control or influence a situation, I could certainly decide how I felt in those times and how I responded to adversity.  It's all about deciding where I want to put my energy.  And even when times are really bad, we can hang onto the hope that we can emerge from these times stronger than before.  For example teachers around the world have told me of how their students have gone backwards in social skills, self-management skills and even communication skills during online learning, and yet they also tell me some students have thrived and they have noticed an increase in agency.  I think we need to be open to different outcomes - to have a growth mindset and be flexible and adaptable, to be able to manage our uncertainty and to live with the unknown.

Change causes a lot of fear.  I know now that when I got impatient at the pace of change that was unreasonable, because teachers had spent years becoming the teachers they were and here I was, a newby, asking them to become different teachers.  I think they felt threatened - perhaps they felt that I thought they were not doing a good job.  I think, looking back, that I did try to develop more of a culture of learning but it wasn't until I became a coach that I realised that if we want people to do something different we have to change their beliefs - because all actions emerge from our beliefs.  Looking back I think I could also have been more patient (something I'm not very good at).  I should have been more fully present for people.  Elena writes:

In order to cultivate perseverance and tenacity, you must look beyond short-term concerns and toward long-term goals.  You need to put off immediate gratification and manage your impatience.  You also must venture beyond your comfort zone and take on challenges of different sizes so that you can learn and can increase your confidence .... you'll have to view setbacks as opportunities for growth.

The truth of it is that I had a lot of growing to do.   

Photo Credit:  Elias Schäferle on Pixabay