Perspectives on PYP Practice

I am always excited when I see teachers pushing the boundaries of curriculum in the pursuit of empowering learners to think deeply about their learning. When this happens students can become the co-constructers of the taught curriculum and in turn, offer valuable evidence of the impact of the written curriculum. An example of this kind of curricular innovation has been happening in one of our grade 3 classes this year.

The teacher has created a pattern of engagement around unpacking units of inquiry that is quite distinct: After the initial  tuning in provocations, the students are presented with a question to elicit further deep thinking – “What do you think the essential elements should be for this unit?”  Using this guiding question the students select the two concepts, two attitudes and one or two learner profile traits (basically, the same number as the teachers developed) that would be most important for the unit. Each group of students presents and gives reasons, justifying their choices. Finally, the students come up with a central idea and lines of inquiry. The outcome is often so closely aligned to what the teachers came up with in their pre-unit planning, it is quite profound. Is this just an exercise in pedagogical pretence? I think not, and here is why…

Through their collaborative discussions the students begin to think more deeply about the unit of inquiry; they engage in conversations about the language of learning by sharing their projections about what might be the important content of learning and which dispositions would be valuable for authentic inquiry. It is a great example of learners constructing meaning. Importantly, these conversations and engagements play a valuable role in nurturing learning relationships; promoting a greater sense of ownership of learning, sharpening metacognitive awareness and paving the way for the development of effective criteria, feedback and self regulation throughout the unit.

When I was in the classroom, I sometimes told students that my goal as a teacher was to make myself redundant to the point where I would not be needed any more, this often provoked looks of confusion. However, enabling students to be self directed learners is a very worthy quest.

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8 thoughts on “Perspectives on PYP Practice

  1. Hi Gareth.. Thanks for this – a good read! I read a blog a couple of years ago and I think it was also discussed on PYP Chat – “Should Central Ideas be displayed in the classroom”? It followed a similar process as to the one you have described and then at the end of the unit the kids come up with the Central Idea based on what they had been engaged and inquiring in over the previous weeks.

  2. This is great thanks for sharing!

    If the kids choose different attitudes and concepts, does the teacher renegotiate the original plan? Does this exercise lead tho different feeling units than originally planned? Is it democratic?

    So many ideas. Thanks for getting me thinking!

    • Hi Craig,
      Thanks for the questions, I actually referred them to the teacher and this is her reply…

      “This is our third time doing this activity, but the second time we did add an attitude that the students felt strongly about. It was added to our Unit board but not our planner officially. The situation within the unit arose when students chose an attitude they felt needed to be included in the unit (respect), but as we looked deeper, the students came to understand the relevance of our identified social skills and how aligned they were with the attitude of respect.

      It’s interesting, but by using the organizing theme the students thoughts about the unit are very similar to that of the teachers. It reinforces that students are capable of thinking of their learning and make the same sense we do. Sometimes the students contribution does make me as the teacher pause and recognize important aspects that were probably overlooked. I then try to see how to incorporate this into the unit.

      I post students central ideas and lines of inquiry along with the set outline by the teachers. The process the students go through to figure out the attitude and concepts is democratic because they work in groups to decide on these things. This practice is in its’ early stages and every time I do it with my kids we add a new aspect to the process. I’m hoping this process will lead to the point where my lines of inquiry and concepts will be negotiated with and decided upon by the students, but maybe that is a curricular line that cannot be crossed. Or, I can look at it as the preparation for the exhibition where this kind of practice is required.”

  3. I am wondering how you brought students to create their own central idea that is aligned with the outline set by the teachers.

  4. We too, are just beginning to find workable pathways for students to develop their own inquiries and really connect with elements of PYP. There has at times in the past , been a tension between teacher “unit” and student inquiry. Your process is concrete,, requires much thinking on behalf of the student (always a good thing) and also really makes them connect to the units. Its always interesting to see how great ideas are echoed around the world at the same time.

    • Hi, I presume from the email address you must be Edna’s sister 😉 Nice to hear from you! Your comments are very interesting and resonate with me. In my experience, developing authentic student driven inquiry is the area of PYP teachers struggle with the most, understandably, it is not easy. However, sometimes student driven learning is perceived by teachers as an all or nothing thing – “either they are doing it or I am,” instead of being viewed as an interdependent arc of learning that never ends. It is a symbiotic process that is ultimately best nurtured by a belief in the students we teach.

      The PYP is a great framework for teaching and learning, but it is not the curriculum itself. In order to innovate and learn more we as educators must be creative and have the courage to take risks. Some of the riskiest territory for teachers lays in sharing control of their classrooms with their students.

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