What catches students’ attention?

If I knew the universal answer to this question, I would surely post it here, but alas, there are many things to catch students’ attention …. and many ways not to.

However, yesterday I covered in grade 3.a all day long and as their science/social studies teacher, I took the opportunity to start on our unit on experiments and the scientific method.

A simple provocation: A question!

What is an experiment?

I didn’t even expect the class to be as engaged as they were… they shared ideas, thoughts and wonderings. They talked about experiments they had seen, heard of or even tried themselves.

After the first session, I expected them to be eager to continue today but I was amazed by the enthusiasm displayed: Some students talked to adults and consulted books about experiments, took notes and collected questions at home.

I’m thrilled and I hope that many of my approaches will keep them engaged! I will keep you posted!

A quick note: I work at a special needs school for speech disabilities. The students are often delayed in their linguistic development, and display a lot of problems with reading, writing and often speaking as such. 


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!



Yesterday I was finally able to join #pypchat on Twitter after months and months of absence. The topic was provocations, and the chat itself was an incredible provocation for me.

As a PYP teacher at heart but not in real life, my planning time is often me, myself and I, or, occasionally, with a colleague (but there never seems to be much time for planning together). It saddens me, because talking about an upcoming learning unit always helps me to get started. 

Nonetheless, this post is about provocations, and I realized, that my life could use more of them again.


– are a good way to get students to think about an upcoming unit

– help students to reflect on concepts 

– can sharpen our senses in the middle of a unit, allow us to ask new questions or refocus

– can be simple yet super effective

– can be visuals, stories and pretty much anything else

– can lead to action


The chat itself was an amazing provocation and I can’t wait to return to the archives in due time to see what I have changed about my practice.

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.

Writing stories (in a different way)

As a follow-up to the post Perspective and Stories, I am going to tell you how I used the video of Frederick to facilitate story writing, to think about perspective and diversity. The current unit of inquiry is How We Express Ourselves and the central idea is “The arts help us to discover and appreciate diversity”. The lines of inquiry pre-define the arts as language, visual arts, dance, drama and music.

I used “Frederick” for the language elements, but instead of having all the kids write their own story, I made it a real challenge: Group-writing. This was the first group-writing experience, and the beginning was difficult. We had kids sitting back and not knowing the story, we had others writing the whole things, and we had a lot of fights. But with patience and discussion (and some reflection and guidance), we finally got there. Everyone shared their ideas and they melted together, really nicely.

Recently the students also used another story in music to create soundscapes together. They didn’t make much of a connection between the two, so I was wondering if I should have used the same story to start with.

But “Frederick” worked well. The stories were very different, but common in other ways. It really helped us to make initial art connections to the central idea.

Once the stories were written, we shared them on the interactive white board while the groups read out there stories. I was amazed that one group broke the sequence and moved back and forth in the video, creating an even more individual story. The experience was great, it took them over 6 hours to get there, but it was worth it!

Try it out with your students and tell me how it went!

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?



Inquiry is big, and it is one of my goals… appraisal goals or PD goals. It is something I’m curious about, and something I want to… inquire into.

So, with an inquiry into inquiry in mind, I left my appraisal goal-setting meeting last week some weeks ago. Since then, I have been reading some interesting articles, and sought out a few texts I really want to read on top of this. But what I find is that… it takes time.
First I thought it was due to the lack of initiative or structure, but I’m wondering if there is also time needed to take it all on.

Inspired (yet again) by Maggie, who posted about Kathy Short and Carolyn Burke’s Curriculum as Inquiry in 4 parts here, let me start with a reflection on previous learning and practice.

As a student at traditional university, most of my work was fact-finding and essay writing. I didn’t do too well with the “traditional” professors, and I loved learning, but not that much.
When I started my degree in Learning, Technology and Research, things were different. A work-based, online degree, with people from so many different backgrounds and in so many different occupations with so many different goals. All enrolled in the same degree. You would think it is difficult, but really, it was not. There were elements that were similar. Readings, for example, on reflection, learning and research. There were skills that we all had to develop, just like those enrolled in English and Science degrees. There was little “knowledge” that was part of it, but a lot of understanding of concepts, such as reflection! And as we moved through this degree, we all inquired into our own practice. 77 different action inquiries running at the same time, and yet we were able to support each other, give peer feedback and discuss the underlying concepts that were still there.

My first action inquiry was “an action inquiry into improving my facilitation of the reflection time through the use of a reflection model”. It came about in a difficult, but natural way. Deep and honest reflection on my work practices revealed areas of improvement, and through identification of tensions, I was able to identify a focus for this module. The literature needed for this, was identified by myself. The data was collected at school. My professors, or learning facilitators, supported me, but didn’t interfere.

Just writing this makes me aware of how I want my classroom to be. And this is where my current tension lies… how can I make my classroom and student learning this way? What is already there and what is missing? Questions upon questions.

I will come back to this another day, in another hopefully as honest reflection. Thinking about my practices with the help of a model maybe?