Where do we learn?

The classroom is traditionally the place where learning takes place. This is, of course, not true anymore. But where does learning take place in this days and age, for the children at my school, ….

  • at home?
  • outside?
  • everywhere?
  • worldwide?

The answer would have been easier for me when I was still a PYP teacher. And even as a class teacher in Germany this wouldn’t have bothered me so much. But I’m wondering where my students really think their learning takes place. I often hear them say something along these lines:

  • learning is stupid
  • i don’t want to learn
  • I hate school

Which is not what I want to hear. For them, learning means school, and school means many challenges. But what about their learning outside these four walls they call the classroom? What about the experiences that we don’t officially count as learning? Why don’t we make them more aware of this?

Learning is everywhere and can be anything: Something to take back to school and beyond next week!



My own report card (part 1)

I started this post right after I finished the lengthy report cards about my 11 students in my class. And never posted it. Now I felt the need to scrap what I had written, and start over.

The report cards we write in the primary school contain the following sections:

  • Units of Inquiry
  • Language Development (English and Italian)
  • Mathematical Development
  • Music/Art/PE
  • Teacher Comment

So where have I developed this year? I will start with the “teacher comment”, a general section on motivation and other bits.

New things tried this year:

  • Gave over more control to students: I have really made the classroom a more equal place for the class community. I let students have a lot more input in what is going to happen and how. I still think I could work in this more, but as with the students who struggle with having this “freedom”, I think one step at the time.
  • More technology used: Despite the limited access to computers and other technology, I have used a lot of different technology. And I believe that, looking at the SAMR model (here on Tech Transformation), that I moved from enhancement to transformation quite a bit over the year.
    One of the tools I enjoyed using was Voicethread with my Grade 3/4 in Pisa, where they were able to share their work and developed a new culture of feedback. I also enjoyed using ToonDoo as part of the first unit in Modena. I found this to be a challenge, as students used new ways to express their ideas, and this required substantial rethinking on my part as well. The ideas expressed in some of the cartoons were huge, but too much time was also lost on it by “messing around”. and the time “messing around” made the students more comfortable with using technology and new tools like that! Lastly we used Glogster to create posters. The idea was simple at first – substitute the normal offline poster with an online version. But again, students were transforming the task much more, commenting on each others work, sharing ideas, embedding videos and creating much more than “just a poster”.
  • Making connections: Both in Pisa and in Modena, we made connections and flattened our classroom walls. We used emails and skype to connect with people around the world. We used Twitter to find experts and people who helped in disasters. There were many lovely people who were willing to help and connect with Grade 3, as they explored why people take action and help in disaster zones. The idea of resources being limited disappears with flattening classroom walls. Often in the case of the PYP, the units of inquiry deal with concepts that publishers don’t consider important for the primary years. This makes books a hard-to-get resource. Information on the internet can also be limited, so we need to rethink our resources and consider “user-created knowledge”, sharing ideas and connecting to people. It certainly made learning more meaningful in my class.
  • The five essential elements of the PYP: The IB defines the five essential elements of the Primary Years Programme as knowledge, concepts, skills, attitudes and action. This year I have tried to make the elements more visible in my classroom, so that I would pay equal attention to them. I found that it worked, on top of making the learner profile central to everything we do. I still struggle with the action component, and can definitely improve in the skills area, but I think it helps to make the areas you chose to develop during a unit explicit, and to develop them in all areas of the curriculum.

Independent, life-long learners

The IB sets out Standards and Practices that all IB schools have to meet, with special requirements for every programme, the PYP, MYP and DP.

They recently changed, and the Educational Leadership Team at my school is reviewing the changes and adapting the school’s action plan accordingly. Some of the changes were quite significant, one whole standard has been integrated into the others and generally the new document reflects learning from the previous year, as some practices are more defined (for example it now states that the classroom teacher needs to be responsible for at least the language of instruction, math, science and social studies – something which I have seen not happening before).

The standard C3 deals with the Teaching and Learning at IB schools, and in the 2005 version used to state:

Teaching and learning at the school empowers and encourages students to become lifelong learners, to be responsible towards themselves, their learning, other people and the environment, and to take appropriate action.

And I remember that this standard had me thinking about HOW I can design my classroom and class time to ensure that students become life-long learners who take responsibility for their own learning. Because even though it sounds like common sense, I have always found that students don’t want to do so. Or, lets put it another way, that students have learned it can be comfortable to just get by, and as a teacher is it quite a challenge to make them become more active and involved.

The new standard C3 definition is simpler:

Teaching and learning reflects IB philosophy.

A good look at the practices reveals the following two as the most important for the idea of “independent, life-long learning”:

  • Teaching and learning engages students as inquirers and thinkers.
  • Teaching and learning supports students to become actively responsible for their own learning.

What do we do to make sure our students become actively responsible for their own learning? Here are some things that I already do that I believe support and encourage the practice:

  • Students regularly reflect on their learning (on the HOW, on the WHAT and also on the WHY of their learning)
  • Students set themselves goals (and review them regularly)
  • Students take shared responsibility for their portfolio as a way to document their learning
  • Students are encouraged to follow their own curiosities: I try make time to let them follow and investigate their own questions and wonderings even when they are not related to our “set-out classroom learning”
  • Students are actively engaged in setting criteria for assessment or at least informed about the criteria
  • Students are regularly involved in self- and peer assessment

Recently, I have been taking some more risks when it comes to taking responsibility and making choices. It relates back to practices that we used at my school in Berlin, but unfortunately I wasn’t at the same stage then as I am now, and struggled with the implementation of such a progressive and amazing programme. However, now I am taking the elements I find useful back on board.

The idea of sharing learning goals and letting students work on them in their own time, is no rocket science. But still, a lot of teachers have timetables that make all students work on Math from 8.20 to 9.15 and then a quick switch to Art, then Language Arts, etc.
What I have tried recently, is letting the students choose what they want to work on. Surely, this could be better, in terms of more freedom, but lets look at yesterday:

I was doing a Math pre-assessment, so students could work on that independently. We had started to think about our central idea, and the word diversity was hard to understand for some students. So I encouraged them to find out what it really means, and what others think it means. They visualized their findings, some made mind-maps, others just wrote down quotes.
The third option was to reply to an email from Grade 1 at the ISZL in Switzerland.
The kids were engaged, busy and I had time to help those who needed it. But sometimes I was not needed at all.

What else can we do to make students more independent and actively responsible for their own learning?


You want to change me?

“He really needs to change his attitude.” “She needs to change her behavior!”

I’m sure you have all heard this before… no matter whether you are a student, teacher or parent. The idea of “having to change” students has been around since I can remember.

At school, my teachers would have loved to change me, and some really tried through grades, and their own attitudes. As a teacher myself, I have heard it from colleagues and been guilty of it too.
The need to “change” people and to make them “fit” us is fairly accepted.

I’m not saying that some behavior doesn’t need “changing”, but the point I am trying to make is… what happened to individuality? What happened to accepting someone the way they are?

I have 11 individuals in my class, and try to respect them and their needs at all times. It is not easy, but it means I am open-minded and accepting of them. I have grown more tolerant, and find that by accepting the students the way they are, they thrive much more! Its hard, but worth it!

Looks like… learning?

If you had walked into my classroom for the past couple of days, you would have seen:

  • Students “working” with Lego.
  • Students painting a variety of pictures (proper big paper, paints, messy!).
  • Students looking at books.
  • Students watching videos on YouTube.
  • Students working on a “model” of a city.

All of these things were clearly related to our unit of inquiry and our Math focus. It clearly looked like “children having fun” and I can guarantee there was a lot of learning!

  • Students making connections to the concept of adaptation
  • Students applying what they have learned about how humans respond and adapt in zones continuously affected by change (such as changing house structure)
  • Students exploring their forms of natural change by painting and talking about it
  • Students exploring measurement of the need for standard units of measurement

I like to think of myself as a very “open” educator, someone open for new ideas, and a risk-taker. I found that letting things flow challenged me though, that giving up so MUCH control was making me uneasy at times, and it makes me so much happier to see the outcomes of those days.
Students were becoming more and more independent. Students were collaborating in a huge variety of ways. Students talked about their ideas and wonderings. Students applied learning. Students had fun!

What's been happening?

I have been BUSY!

Just before the holidays, Grade 3 (that includes me!) were working hard on developing an understanding of the Earth’s form (What is it like?), by looking at its structure, and of how the Earth changes. Before we knew it though, we went on half-term break. To stay connected students were to follow the news for any changes of the nature of the Earth that might occur. And a lot happened during those 10 days we enjoyed off school!!!

Following a rather pleasant break, teachers arrived back for a workshop on Assessment in the PYP (and also the MYP). The workshop was great (I love workshops! Esp. PYP ones) and challenged a lot of my thinking. But most importantly, it made me learn a lot! A lot of gaps I had before were bridged! I took an Assessment in the PYP workshop online before, which was a different experience, and a year later, the similarities those workshops had helped me move on considerably.

There were portfolios, which I am trying to make as relevant and meaningful to everyone in the classroom. Seeing them as a way to RECORD data or evidence of learning was making SO MUCH MORE sense to me than seeing it is a reporting tool, which seemingly I had done before.

Another important learning step was planning for learning for understanding using the Six Facets of Understanding. Using those helped me to think of meaningful learning experiences which would be recorded on the PYP Planner. Those of you reading my blog who are PYP teachers will know the space limitations on those planners! The boxes are small. But approaching the planning process this way, I think I will be able to be MUCH more concise. Fingers crossed.

Looking at the connection between assessment strategies(The way to collect data) and assessment tools(the way to evaluate data), I realized ways to improve my assessment practice. In order to be more “accountable” or more evidence-based, I will need to find ways to RECORD more data in the future. Also, in conjunction with this, I found the process of Planning for assessment -> Assessing / Collecting data -> Recording data ->Evaluating data very helpful.

Overall, a wonderful workshop, fantastic learners alongside me, enjoyable and meaningful exchanges.

Since Wednesday the students were back at school. We dived straight back into learning, focusing on our unit of inquiry, assessing and developing measurement skills, inquiring into explanation texts and more. It’s Friday, we achieved a lot this week!

Have a lovely weekend!

Concept-driven curriculum

The PYP has five essential elements (knowledge, attitudes, skills, concepts and action) and the one I want to look at closer today are the concepts.

In A Basis for Practice, the IB states:

The PYP provides a framework for the curriculum, including eight key concepts as one of the essential
By identifying concepts that have relevance within each subject area, and across and beyond the subject
areas, the PYP has defined an essential element for supporting its transdisciplinary model of teaching and
learning. Expressed as open-ended questions, the eight key concepts provide the initial momentum and
the underlying structure for the exploration of the content of the whole programme

A recent blog post by Maggie @ Tech Transformation about Teaching for Understanding inspired me to reply, and while I was replying, I made an interesting connection between assessment and key concepts.
In addition to that, I have been readingĀ Seven Practices for Effective Learning by Jay McTighe and Ken O’Connor in preparation for our assessment workshop on November 1/2. All this had my mind tuned into assessment and my current assessment practices.
The statement I made at Maggie’s blog was simply the thought that, ultimately, summative assessment is also a form of formative assessment and that, while it is defined as assessment OF learning (and formative assessment is seen as assessment FOR learning) and usually summarizes the learning at the end of a unit, we cannot just STOP there. And we don’t. Traditionally in Math, even your summative assessment will inform your teaching and learning, same goes for other disciplines.

However, units of inquiry do end. The transdisciplinary themes reoccur every year, but the central idea that focuses the learning during a unit, will “stop”. This is when I realized the importance of the eight key concepts, and saw that they are REALLY the focus. We assess the understanding of the central idea, but what underlies here are the key concepts. And so we assess the understanding of those as well, and they will reoccur, usually more than once a year.