Sunday, June 7, 2020

What's new and different: Action in the PYP

I started this series of posts at the beginning of this year.  I think one of my motivations to do this was that when I visit schools or conduct workshops I'm often asked about what is new in the Enhanced PYP, and I wanted to have a clear idea in my own mind about what is truly new and different, and what is simply a deeper emphasis.  Of course events in the past few months have overtaken us - all my workshops and schools visits were cancelled from March onwards, and I found it difficult to motivate myself to continue with this task.  However, I'm back on track again now and am planning my next few posts on action, agency and assessment.  This post is about action.

Traditionally action was often seen as something that was "done" at the end of a unit, sometimes even linked to a summative assessment.  Now it is viewed much more as an integral part of the learning process and something that can happen at any time.  It's an important aspect of international mindedness as well because "through action, students develop a sense of belonging to local and global communities.  They understand and recogise the interconnectedness and interdependence of issues and consider these from multiple perspectives".  When considering these different perspectives it's important to reaslise that students may consider the consequences of their action and then in fact make a responsible choice and decide not to act, if there may be a negative impact on others.  The emphasis here is on making a positive change.

Action doesn't have to be big:  in fact it can be as simple as changing your mind about something.  It can be individual or collective, and may well take place outside the school and may not be immediately visible or impactful.  When I think about this, it reminds me of reading about how Greta Thunberg started small by taking action in her own family at the age of 8 after she first learned about climate change.  Initially she persuaded her family to lower their own carbon footprint and impact on the environment by becoming vegan, upcycling and giving up flying, and only later, when she was 15, she started spending her days outside the Swedish parliament calling for stronger action on climate change, which of course then grew into a worldwide movement.  Another great example of an action that started in a small way is the Bye Bye Plastic Bags campaign started by 2 girls at the Green School in Bali.  Melati and Isabel Wijsen, who at that time were aged 10 and 12, noticed that plastic was littering the beaches and roads of Bali and started an action campaign on the island.  This has now grown into an international movement, yet it started, according to the girls, after they were inspired by a lesson in school about people who took action to make a difference, such as Nelson Mandela, Princess Diana and Mahatma Ghandi.

How about our youngest students?  Well in this context action can start simply as small adjustments in their own behaviour, how they interact with others, and in making appropriate choices.  The important thing is that action makes a difference in the life of the student and also, potentially, in the lives of others both within and outside the learning community.  Although the action is initiated by students, it can be supported by others in a collaborative way. 

I really like the way that in PYP: From Principles into Practice it describes the different forms that action can take.  Let's look at these and consider some examples:

  • Participation - this means being actively involved and contributing as a member of a group and can take the form of school and community projects as well as taking action with peers and family.  It can involve taking part in decision making for example in class or school meetings.
  • Advocacy - this is publicly supporting positive social, environmental or political change.  Again this can be very small scale such as sharing ideas with others, or it can be larger such as being part of a campaign and arguing for positive change.
  • Social justice - this form of action involves human rights, equality and equity.  It involves exploring issues of fairness from different perspectives as well as challenging assumptions and generalisations.
  • Social entrepreneurship - this is supporting positive change by responding to the needs of different communities through identifying and addressing challenges and opportunities in innovative, resourceful and sustainable ways.  It could involve such actions as establishing a recycling system or a garden club to grow vegetables.  It may involve connecting with local businesses and organisations.
  • Lifestyle choices - this means making positive lifestyle changes, for example in the area of health and wellbeing, or the sustainable consumption of food, energy, water and materials.
Since action is student-initiated, what is the role of teachers?  Teachers can support student action in many ways.  In PYP schools teachers can plan for inquiry that will support students making informed choices and create opportunities within the units of inquiry for action to happen naturally.  Teachers can also help students to develop the skills they will need to take action.  Teachers can also engage students in dialogue about what action is, acknowledge the various forms of action they see taking place, allocate time for action and collaborate with students to help them to plan and carry out action, for example through contacts with the local communities.

When thinking about action, and in particular the changes in the Enhancements, it's hard to think about these separate from agency.  Since the emphasis is now much more on student-initiated action, this can only happen in connection with student agency, where students feel empowered to link their learning to real-life issues and to initiate change as a result of their inquiries:  "When students see tangible actions that they can choose to take to make a difference, they see themselves as competent, capable and active agents of change." (Oxfam).  I'll be writing about student agency in my next post.

Photo Credit: mrsdkrebs Flickr via Compfight cc

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