Thursday, December 23, 2021

Transdisciplinarity in the Early Years

The word transdisciplinarity is probably the hardest one for teachers new to the PYP to wrap their heads around.  It is a word that is unique to the PYP and even now as I'm writing this post the word has shown up underlined in red as it is not in the dictionary!  It's important to understand that the PYP is not a syllabus for students to follow, but instead is a curriculum framework.  There are scope and sequence documents for language, maths, social studies, science, the arts and PSPE which give the overall expectations for each subject and age range, but we acknowledge that learning does not fit neatly into separate subject categories and so it is important to link the subjects rather than isolate them.  In the case of Early Years learners, a transdisciplinary framework is highly relevant because young children are not aware of different subjects - they naturally explore all their questions through play and discovery.  A well designed programme of inquiry, therefore, ensures that students have a balance of subject specific knowledge, concepts and skills, while at the same time promoting the development of the learner profile attributes.

There are six transdisciplinary themes, however for Early Years students the requirement is that they study four of these units per year.  They are cognitively and developmentally appropriate for 3-6 year olds because they have enduring importance and learners can identify with them.  The learning is deep because it will be revisited throughout the primary years, and it is relevant because you can draw on current global events.  In each unit, knowledge, concepts and skills are drawn from the several of the six subject areas, but they are combined in a way that goes beyond the individual subjects.  Each unit encourages students to draw on their own interests and to develop the attributes of the IB learner profile.  Because of this, collaboration across the learning community is vital:  everyone including the single subject teachers and the support staff, collaboratively plan for transdisciplinary learning prior to the start of each unit, during the unit and at the conclusion.

Teachers new to the PYP often think that all learning has to take place within the units of inquiry.  This is not true:  there needs to be a balance so that learning can take place both within and outside of the programme of inquiry.  The learning environment should be set up to promote investigation and research that will build understanding.  People and places are important - experts including parents can be invited in to enhance a unit, and visiting places in the community will also reinforce the inquiries.  

Another thing I'm often asked about during workshops is how guided the units need to be.  Of course there is no hard and fast rule for this, but in my experience Early Years students are often engaged in more guided inquiries, moving onto more student-initiated inquiries later in primary school.  While units in the Early Years may be more narrow in focus, perhaps related more to the local community, later on students can begin to engage with more global challenges and opportunities, planning and designing their own learning, until in the final year of the PYP students are able to completely lead their own PYP Exhibition inquiries.

Photo Credit:  Cherylt23 on Pixabay

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