PYP, Teaching

Teaching Without A Plan….What??

Earlier this week, I read an article by Eric Barker: 6 Rules That Should Be Guiding Your Career. Barker shares “the rules” as developed by Daniel Pink.

The Rules:

  1. There is no plan
  2. Think strengths, not weaknesses
  3. It’s not about you
  4. Persistance trumps talent
  5. Make excellent mistakes
  6. Leave an imprint

I know it says rules for career development, but what about classroom development? The first ‘rule’ might have some teachers breaking out in a sweat.  No plan?  What about the Planner for each unit of inquiry?

Rule One: There is no plan

Pink shares the number one thing people regretted on their death bed:

I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me

It is true that as teachers we need to have a plan. But there is nothing in the PYP that says that plan has to be a rigid one or doesn’t have to take into account all those “x-factors” that come into play when you are dealing with the human dynamic of inquisitve little people each day. When I first began teaching in a PYP school I quickly became confused by the use of a Planner. How could it be child-centered inquiry if teachers were planning out every minute of the six week unit? We began to use Design Thinking to plan ‘backwards’ – starting with the end in the mind.  As a group, we would think about the unit’s central idea – the big idea that was globally transferable, timeless, interesting, challenging and engaging.  With this idea in mind, we would then think conceptually about the lines of inquiry which we would use to begin to open this idea up to our children.  We would pick three concepts and create lines of inquiry based on a different concept. We would then move on to create an assessment task that would help students showcase their understanding of the central idea.

But what happened in between beginning the unit and the assessment?

In 2003, I was teaching in Bonn, Germany. We had an Inquiry Workshop at our school. During that time we examined loads of inquiry cycles and ways of ‘doing’ inquiry.  We then created our own.  The cycle I made has since been modified to include reference to ACTION – a part of the PYP that sometimes gets a little left out. I use this cycle with my class as a group, to show them collectively where we are in the life of the unit.  I have also used it individually and allowed students to guide themselves back and forth through the cycle over the course of the unit.

Inquiry Cycle (PDF= Click to download)

This is different to teaching without a plan, but it is a way to free the children up to inquire where they are drawn to.  It also frees the teacher up to observe, to help when needed, to question in order to move the inquiry forward. Tasha Cowdy, kindergarten teacher at Yokohama International School has a way of doing just this with her students.  Whilst some (myself) would consider her an expert, she would most likely disagree.  Her recent post on the shared inquiry blog, Inquire Within, paints a detailed story on what it can look like to create a classroom where student-led inquiry really does reign supreme and the challenges associated with balancing open, guided, or structured inquiry.

A more simple plan might be to tell students that based on the central idea, you are interested in learning more from each of them about:

  • What do you Know?
  • What do you Understand?
  • What can you Do?
  • What will you Say?

And then supporting them on their journey of learning.  The more we expose children to this line of thinking, rather than pushing them through the cookie cutter shapes of lessons we have planned for them, the more they will be able to really feel that school is a place for inquiry, not compliance.

How can you be more relaxed in your approach to following your plans?

How can you move your role as teacher from ‘sage on the stage’ to ‘guide on the side’?