Over the years I have seen many teachers implementing the PYP grapple with the concept of cultivating student initiated action. One theory that helps me conceptualise action is the idea of near and far transfer of learning, as described by David Perkins; for it is true that action can take on many forms. One common misconception I come across from time to time is the idea that student initiated action needs to happen within the tight 6/7 week frame of a unit of inquiry; however like the development of the learner profile, student action needs to be nurtured and given time to flourish. And, last week I was privileged to witness three students take self initiated action well after their UOI had finished.
Our grade 3 students have a unit called “people helping people” that took place back in March under the transdisciplinary theme of how we organise ourselves. The central idea of the unit (“people collaborate to find solutions to help those in need”) was really driven by using the related concept of sustainability. The substance of the unit largely involved students inquiring into the different NGO’s based in Bangladesh and learning how they create sustainable solutions for those in need. As a result of their collective inquiries a context was created for some deep evaluative thinking; the students developed their own criteria for taking meaningful action. As part of their summative assessment the students chose to publicise their work within the school community and persuaded our student council to adopt their criteria.
However, for a number of students the action did not stop there. They also wanted to apply the criteria for taking meaningful action themselves. On Saturday we took three students to a nearby school located in one of the slums of Dhaka. The students made contact with the school during the unit of inquiry when a French NGO working on supplying clean running water to the area paid us a visit. For their action the students creatively used their academic knowledge and communication skills to make a public information film and visual leaflets in Bangla about the importance of hand washing. The students even managed to procure a donation of soap tablets from “Lifebouy.” However it was the students attitude and motivation to make a difference that most impressed me.
I imagine the three students will remember this learning experience for a very long time; it was authentic and personalised. Nonetheless, in order for this commendable action to evolve the students needed… time and space to think, imagine and create, and the belief and commitment of their teacher and parents. I think one of the ways we can authentically nurture action is not to cram too much knowledge and skills into our units of inquiry, and not to consider action complete when the unit is over.