The Hardest Pill to Swallow

Tonight I read a post by Taryn BondClegg about trusting her students. It is worth the read and I will imagine many (most?) of us will recognize elements of ourselves in her writing.

I posted an almost knee-jerk reaction to her post in the form of this comment:

I worry/am concerned by this issue and how it pertains to grit/persistence/stick-ability. So many ideas end up in the “too hard” basket when teachers step back and trust the students. I wonder: were they interested to begin with? what DO they stick with (i.e. have they a record of being able to stick with something?) what constraints/parameters/scaffolds have been present in their past that have not added to their ability to “do for themselves”? how might we create opportunities prior to Exhibition for this kind of agentic learning? And then 1000 x over: What am I doing wrong?! The tension keeps me motivated and at the same time, when I see children afforded SO much in terms of the education/schooling they are getting and the levels of apathy (despite/because of?) our intentions, I do become frustrated. Learner agency rejected has to be one of the hardest pills for me to swallow.

Sonya terBorg

The hardest pill to swallow.

Learner Agency rejected.

 

Despite my visceral ‘ramblings’ I do think there are some points worth fleshing out although to what end, I am not sure (yet!). They are questions I grapple with and, to be clear, they may differ from the questions that led Taryn to her original post.

How might we create opportunities for agentic learning throughout the PYP?

Are we starting with the learner in mind? 

What are we doing for kids that they can do for themselves? 

And more recently, I am wondering about the source of the apparent apathy when learning constraints are lifted and learners are part of the decision making process.

Next year, I am shifting focus from PYP to MYP. At my school, that means working with students during X Block. After an initial planning meeting with a focus on next year, we agreed upon this cycle by Kath Murdoch (with a couple of tweaks) from her book “The Power of Inquiry”. When posting earlier on Twitter about types of inquiry cycles, Jane Ross, an educator-extraordinaire whom I admire greatly for her work in STEM, STEAM, iTime, and developing a Maker Mindset, reminded me that “the cycle itself isn’t as important as a really great question.”

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Which has made me think about how important that initial “focus” portion of the inquiry is and the role we have in helping kids develop their questions that will lead to really deep and motivated inquiries. Cue Twitter (again) and a tweet by AJ Juliani: Crafting Your Own KADQ – a blog post by @GingerLewman on writing a kick-ass driving question.

There are no words to express how great this post is and I really hope it helps (as I re-read it multiple time) clarify the type of support and scaffolding I can work with kids on to help ensure that they are starting their inquiry at a point of entry that is motivating to them.

So, my initial wonderings and knee-jerk reaction to Taryn’s post, led me to reflect on what I am doing and hopefully, how I can do it better, thanks to the input of the Twitterverse. For anyone that doubts the power of the PLN…..that is yet another pill I will not swallow.

Exhibition, Design, Action!

My grade five learners are coming to the end of their self-chosen design projects. At the moment they are choosing how they want to reflect on their learning and what questions they want to be asked.

I am adding a question to their list:

How will this project inform your thinking for your work in the PYP Exhibition?

We have had a few false starts.

We have had a few failures.

We have had a few who have not used their time to best effect.

None of this matters, in my opinion, as long as this knowledge feeds forward into their next project. If they take what they learned, what worked, what didn’t, and they move forward in their learning.

So, to that end, we will be starting a new design project in a week or so in which they think about their Exhibition and think about what they are wanting to achieve. To that end, I saw a graphic on Twitter that was co-created by IB PYP teachers as a culmination of ideas from Twitter. I have recreated this graphic with some pictures to share with my learners. I want to support them in figuring out their purpose within the Exhibition and designing and creating something that moves them closer toward achieving that purpose.

Action

I like the idea of thinking about purpose and then creating and designing according to that purpose. Whilst doing this, I will be working with our IT Coach to look at how best to visually engage our audience by tapping into the work of Keri-Lee Beasley and her Design Secrets Revealed book on iTunes. This book provides a wealth of information about graphic design and effectively engaging your audience through the principles of design. It is a MUST for any teacher undertaking #pypx who can’t bear another presentation in rainbow colored Comic Sans font with ALL the transitions 🙂

 

If you are a single subject/specialist/integrator, how are you connecting with your learners undertaking the PYP Exhibition?


 

A note on student agency…

Recently, a new blog “Educator Voices” has started. A blog designed as “a place to share and celebrate how we are pushing the boundaries, shaking up the system and challenging the status quo.” It is a blog focused on making school different and there is a lot to say about student agency. I encourage you to check it out and engage in the comments on blog posts. This is a tipping point in education and in “school” as we know it. None of us have all the answers but if we keep sharing our ideas and championing each other, we are likely going to get closer to serving our kids in the best ways possible.

We(chat) Are The Champions

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In the PYP Exhibition we have mentors. How this plays out can look different from school to school. As the PYP Exhibition is a culminating experience of learning from the PYP program, it has been common practice in many schools to expect all teachers from the whole school to participate. To that end, I have worked in schools where each child had their own mentor. I have also worked in schools where we have one mentor per group of children.

In thinking about authentic connections and about student agency, I am thinking about how we can help kids during the exhibition connect with people who can help move them forward. This may be their mentor, or it may be someone else who can offer fresh ideas and expertise.

At One Stone – an independent and tuition free high school in Boise, Idaho – they have Champions. Anyone can be a champion – just join their Facebook group and you’re in! A champion is there to do just that: champion the learners. Cheer them on, bounce ideas off, listen, offer feedback, critique, provide expertise. You don’t have to do anything until you see or hear something that catches your eye, sparks your interest. And then you’re in until…well, until you’re out. Sometimes they need champions to listen to pitches for a few minutes, give feedback on presentations, offer help with translations, or just bring sandwiches. Your commitment lies in your willingness to say yes when an opportunity pops up that you connect with.

How might we harness this protocol for #pypx?

What about a WeChat group of PYPx Champions?  You join because you want to help but you don’t want to commit to a certain time each week on the off chance that what you can offer meshes with what the kids need. You join because you know a lot about a bunch of things but not really enough to consider yourself an expert on any one thing. You join because you love learning and you hope that someone wants to share their learning with you. You join because you’re a teacher and you can spare 15 minutes to listen to some song lyrics and give feedback but can’t spare the time to be a mentor on a weekly basis.

What about a Human Library? We have floated the idea of human libraries before. Having a bank of human resources from within our community that our kids can “check out”.  This requires the big humans “checking in” first and classifying their expertise and is a lot of work for something that might not be used.

What about seeking Feedforward? Sam Sherratt recently shared on Twitter:

I checked with Sam, and the papers are “a printout of a google doc students use to capture their latest thinking and that “consultants” can leave feedforward in. Also links to their blogs.”

I like all these ideas, to be honest. But then I think about them in the context of student agency. And even as I type this, I think: “Am I confusing agency with intrinsic motivation”? To explain: the first option, that of WeChat Champions, seems most geared toward agentic learning. A call goes out, people respond and join the group, and then things only move forward if the kids reach out to people in the group. No one needs to alphabetize the humans in the library, no one needs to print the google docs. But will all kids be served by this model? Will some slip under the radar? Will only the intrinsically motivated reach out to the group for support?

OR, do we need to scaffold by having the library or printing the google doc? Perhaps, like most things, it is about balance, about having options, and about trial and error and figuring out what works for your particular cohort of kids in this particular moment?

How do you support your kids during #pypx or within other units to connect with people who can help move their ideas forward?

 

A note on student agency…

Recently, a new blog “Educator Voices” has started. A blog designed as “a place to share and celebrate how we are pushing the boundaries, shaking up the system and challenging the status quo.” It is a blog focused on making school different and there is a lot to say about student agency. I encourage you to check it out and engage in the comments on blog posts. This is a tipping point in education and in “school” as we know it. None of us have all the answers but if we keep sharing our ideas and championing each other, we are likely going to get closer to serving our kids in the best ways possible.

 

12 Ways to Practice

Today on Twitter, I came across a tweet from @growthmindset1 with a link to an article: Wynton’s Twelve Ways to Practice.

This caught my eye because the tweet said the rules applied to “anything”.

Today, our kids in G4 were scheduled for Creative New Undertakings – an NIS remix of the popular “iTime” or “Genius Hour”. A couple of kids I am working with had pitched an idea in the previous session, spent one CNU day on it, and then gave that idea up because it was “too hard”. They were preparing a new pitch and I could see that “lack of a teacher” (which was their reason for their previous idea being too hard) was also going to apply to their new idea. And, the idea of them giving up didn’t sit well with me.

With me. 

Yes, I am aware that this is not all about me, but there was something in the ease of giving up that I didn’t want to encourage. The students had spent a lot of effort thinking about their idea, researching it, pitching it to a mentor teacher, getting their idea approved, and now dismissing it. They probably spent more time preparing than they did in actually trying the idea out.

But why did it bother me so much? Cue the article about practicing. A lot of what is mentioned in this article are the very reasons we take on ideas like CNU. We want our kids to choose something and practice it, play with it, solve problems, create products, and make connections. We want them to learn more about themselves as a learner and what it means to persevere and have grit within a context of their own choosing.

I haven’t shared this with my students, yet. They spent the last part of their day pitching their new idea to our Pitch Leader and have decided to split their time between the two ideas between now and the end of the year. I am really happy with this outcome and really appreciate the collaborative approach we have taken as teachers when working with our students. Today, as a teacher, I felt supported and validated, and I felt that we did something good for these two students. Whether or not they become experts is not the point. For me the point is that they learn a little bit more about the type of learner they can be.

How would you have handled this? Did we deny their voice and limit their agency or have we listened and guided them? Is there value in letting them choose to give up so quickly into a project?

Here is a graphic of the 12 Ways of Practicing. I love to draw but I was drawn to playing with the shapes options in Keynote so have done this one digitally. If your students have Keynote, the built-in icon library can be customized really easily – a short cut version to using the Noun Project for icons. For more ideas on Keynote take a look at this amazing post from Tricia Friedman at UWCSEA,

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PDF Download: 12 Ways to Practice

Inspiring Action

Action.

It is one of the core components of the PYP and yet it is often something teachers seem to struggle with – inspiring action in their students and helping grow authentic action from inquiries.

Thankfully, there are a lot of really great resources out there to help us in our quest to help kids take action. I have posted about a lot of these, but in light of the fact that it is “Exhibition Season” for many PYP schools, I thought I would do a little roundup of some oldies-but-goodies from the Post Archive and a new graphic that I created last week on the heels of a quick photo posted by a friend of her kids in Singapore working in their classroom.

Speak to Inspire Action

This is the title of a post and of a download by Simon Sinek with 11 “tips to help you speak and present in a way that will inspire others”. It is a great resource and is accessible to fifth graders as well. Check out the blog post about this resource.

Six Ways of Taking Action

This post was sparked by one I read by an Aussie educator, Richard Black, who had broken “action” down into six ways of being, doing, thinking, saying, feeling, and having. I took his words and turned them into a set of posters to help kids visualize what it means to take action. The post also includes links to playlists of inspirational videos for kids and teachers to get them fired up for making a difference.

Action Pyramid

I was tagged in a tweet by my friend Jocelyn, who teaches in Singapore. (Side note: Jocelyn is an amazing educator, please follow on Twitter – she is so generous in her sharing and creative and thoughtful and inspired in her teaching practice). As I flicked through the photos, I saw an action pyramid. I loved it. And I also knew I could feed my addiction to The Noun Project if I took her picture and ramped it up a bit with some iconography.

Here is the visual or here is the PDF of the Pyramid

Pyramid

I really like this as a conversation starter for kids. I think it breaks things down really nicely, having them look critically at what is happening, hypothesise why this might be so (and even research to make sure that is true), reflect on the impact their own actions could make, think creatively about solutions, and DO IT!

How do you build a culture of action taking at your school?

 

Together Everyone Achieves More!

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One of the main facets of the PYP Exhibition is the ability for students to work collaboratively. Teams of students are asked to work together with a common goal, heading toward a common goal.  This is not always easy for students (or adults for that matter!) and it could be really worthwhile to spend some time having newly created groups or teams come together and figure out how they are going to work as a team.

One part of this could involve having the students design their workspace. Giving the students the chance to create a learning space and have a dedicated wall space and learning blog may help them figure out their roles and purposes as a group.

Another way, would be to dedicate a few minutes each day for the first weeks of Exhibition to some team-building time. While looking at the Destination Imagination website, I saw these team building exercises.  They are pretty standard exercises that you may be familiar with but they also come with the reminder that time for reflection needs to be built into the exercise and they offer these suggestions for post-exercise evaluation:

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Here is the link to the PDF download of instructions and exercises.

Pictures Pack A Punch

If you are ever in the market for an infographic for kids, go to Pinterest and do a search for “infographics” “kids”.  Find one to use was no easy task – there were so many great ones to choose from!

I am a little one-track minded at the moment with the PYP Exhibition about to start at our school. With that in mind, I decided to pick out a few infographics to support the Exhibition – but for different reasons.

1.To showcase what might be going on with our students

The exhibition can be stressful for us as teachers, but also for kids.  I liked this infographic because it identifies potential stressors, offers kid-tested solutions for resolving the stress (and reminding teachers to integrate opportunities for things such as movement, music, and time outside during the school day), and it gives parents some tips on supporting their child.  It is fairly accessible, graphically, although still contains a lot of text which could be challenging for those without English as a first language. 

2. To show how infographics can be created in “real life”:

This is from a Portuguese website in which ‘real life’ photographs are taken and edited to become infographics.  I really like this idea of mixing the concrete materials with the data visualisation.  This is accessible for kids and a great way for them to showcase statistics that they have gathered over the course of their inquiries. 

3. To show how two things can be compared

Many times, the students will end up comparing two different things. I really liked this infographic that uses direct comparison and photography to showcase the data.  Again, I think that the ideas in this infographic are ones that could be replicated by our students in order to share their own data.  I liked that for this example (owning a cat or a dog) it was an idea that was accessible to the kids at their level while still be sophisticated in design and depth of information shared. 

4. To show how to use everyday objects to visualize data

I really like this idea of taking something like Lego or other toys and using them to convey a message.  The possibilities for arranging legos and photographing them (or just displaying them during the exhibition) are endless.  This is definitely something that I think if you shared this picture with kids, they would very quickly and very easily make up their own designs with the information they have from their research. And they look cool too! 

5. To show the key points of Infographic design in an infographic.

This little set wouldn’t be complete if there wasn’t a ‘how to’ infographic! I like this one for the clear and simple way that it outlines the key features of a good infographic and gives a few pointers about fonts and colors.  I also like that it references adding the sources from where you got your information.  This isn’t perhaps the MOST kid-friendly but I think it does a good job of outlining some of the key points – until you get one of your expert infographic groups to make their own Infographic on Infographics!