Saturday, September 4, 2010

Planning how we Plan

Over the summer holidays I was thinking about our planning process and I wrote a post called Start with a Blank Planner.  I was really pleased that our first Curriculum Leaders meeting on our return to school focused on the planning process, not just what we do but on what order we do it.  Together with our PYP Coordinator, the team drew up guidelines as to the best way to plan our PYP units of inquiry.  We talked about what in our experience worked and what did not and I was pleased to see that the at the end of the discussions we came to agreement that we needed to start with the central idea, the key concepts and the lines of inquiry but that the rest of the planner should be blank.  Of course it's good to have a copy of the previous year's planner so that we can refer to it to see what reflections were made, but essentially the first meeting should be one with all the teachers in that grade level and all the specialists too so that the specialists can have input from the beginning as to how they connect to the unit, and should not just be a recount and re-hash of last year's activities.

In my last school, based on the work of H. Lynn Erickson on generalisations, we defined our central ideas as 2 or more concepts stated in a relationship (see graphic above).  Our central ideas are the enduring understandings we want our students to get out of the units of inquiry.  They are the big ideas and the answer to the "so what" of study.  The central ideas need to be broad and abstract, universal in application, timeless and represented by different examples.  We discussed the fact that while concepts remain timeless, generalisations may change over time because they are the interdependent variables in the relationship.  Our central ideas help us to summarise the conceptual relationships, but their timelessness must be tested continually through analysis of contemporary, factual examples.  This is why, right at the start of the planning process we need to be focused on the central idea, the key concepts and the learner outcomes.

After we have agreed the central idea, concepts and outcomes, our next stage in the planning process should be the summative assessment, using the UbD principle "start with the end in mind".  While last year I got rather frustrated by the fact that there tended to be just one way all the students were assessed, this year I'm really pleased that as a result of our discussions we are focusing on different ways students can show their understanding.  Obviously the assessment criteria are the same, however the assessment may look different in the different classes in a grade, or even within the same class.  I'm really delighted that we are all on the same page with this, as in our department we have discussed that we would like our goal this year to be differentiation and choice, supporting students who wish to demonstrate their knowledge in different ways using technology (or even not using it!).

Lines of inquiry and the teacher questions are the next stage in our planning process - generally there are up to 4 lines of inquiry that clarify and support the students' understanding of the central idea while defining the scope of the inquiry to focus the research and deepen students' understanding - and then we start talking about the actual learning experiences planned in response to the lines of inquiry that will allow the students to access the content and explore it in depth and that will develop the skills the students need.  These learning experiences are developed collaboratively with all the teachers involved including the specialists.  At this point we will talk about formative assessments that allow us to plan and differentiate our instruction and that provide us with records of what the students understand and can do.  The assessments need to focus on the quality of the students' understanding of the central idea and the breadth and depth of their responses to the lines of inquiry.  In order to support the learning experiences and the inquiries being undertaken, now is the time to consider what resources are needed.

Finally at the end of each unit it is time for reflection.  How effective was the unit, were the students engaged in their inquiries, what transdisciplinary skills were developed and were the PYP attitudes developed?

My reflection on this planning how we plan process is extremely positive.  I feel we have a great team this year all looking in the same direction and involved in professional dialogue about what is best for our students.  I am hopeful and optimistic about the impact this will have on student learning throughout the coming year.

Credit:  The image used in this post is taken from a document called Concept-based Curriculum and Instruction for the IB Classroom by H. Lynn Erickson


  1. It looks like you have a bright start to the new year! Every school and team should follow your lead and start from a blank slate.

  2. OK, Maggie. Time for you to be a workshop leader. I'm sure you'd be way better than some of the ones I have experienced :)

    The PYP planning process is really clever and logical, isn't it? I wonder if non PYP teachers ever plan this way.

  3. really nice , can i use it in my workshops for reading?

  4. Hi Saba, feel free to use this if you find it useful. Good luck with your workshops.