Monday, July 31, 2023

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

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