Change, Inspiration


One of the things I have read about is the importance of kids getting to talk in the classroom.  If it is an inquiry based classroom it stands to reason that the voices being heard should be that of the students. Our school is a PYP school that offers “guided inquiry” and it is the guided part that is really important.  The role of the teacher is ever-changing, yet one of the key tasks is to move conversations along.  To facilitate discussions, to guide inquiries.

The following guide is very comprehensive and offers loads of strategies that move (as opposed to blocking) conversations forward:

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The TERC also has a checklist that teachers can use to deepen the discussions:

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One of the best practitioners I have seen when it comes to kids talking is Tasha Cowdy. Tasha and I worked together at Yokohama International School.  She was a kindergarten teacher and like no other teacher I have ever seen before when it came to really listening to her children, moving them forward, and guiding their inquiries. I would love for everyone to see her teach to get a feel for what guided inquiry really looks like.  It is amazing. You can get a brief feel via her blog.

If I could sum Tasha up in one word, it would be:

Tasha responds to her students. She doesn’t try to get ahead of them in her planning but takes the time to listen while they talk and responds to them where they are at in their understanding.  She listens and she acts – but she is not reactive. Her actions are considered, measured, timely, and responsive. 

That is the key when it comes to creating discussion and dialogue in classroom.  The students have to feel like their is a point to their participation (not just to please you and give you the answer you want and already know). When classrooms are responsive and children’s conversations are key to moving inquiries forward, then we have a true inquiry classroom.

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’?

Creativity, Innovation

Taxonomy of Creativity

Sonya terBorg

I have been doing a little more research on the topic of creativity translated into a taxonomy and came across a really interesting paper written by Robert Stahl in April of 1980.  Titled: A Creatively Creative Taxonomy on creativity: A New Model of Creativity and other  Novel forms of Behavior, his paper was presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association in Boston, April 7-9, 1980.

In the paper, Stahl outlines his own ideas for a Taxonomy of Creativity.  What he does that I found really interesting, is that rather than focus solely on the physical manifestation of the creative process (what is produced), he looks at intent and purpose behind the act of creative thought and behavior (how it is produced).  I like that because I think it opens us up as teachers to keep our focus on the ‘bigger picture’. It would be easy to look at a taxonomy like the one Peter Nilsson shared and do what I was about to do which is start a pool of ‘activities’ that would fit nicely inside each category.  This is exactly the reason why (I have now figured out) the idea of a boxy taxonomy of creativity didn’t sit with me.  I am not saying I disagree with it, I am saying that I think like many things, it could be misused and perhaps stifle the very thing it is trying to promote.

Here is a graphic I created from the report that details the steps in Stahl’s taxonomy with the first step at the top.

Accident: Behaviors or products that occur by chance – when you drop the can of paint and end up with the paint splatters as your ‘art’.

Accomodation: Behaviors or products that are a result of typical, casual or routine adjustments one makes to ease every-day living – and in and of themselves are new, unique.

Reproduction: Working with the purpose of producing an exact replica of something, such as by tracing or photocopying.  Purpose is exactness of the reproduction.

Duplication: Differs from reproduction in that you are trying to copy without using direct methods (tracing).  This stage requires no knowledge of the purpose or meaning behind the work, just a desire to duplicate it.

Fabrication: Modifying or altering the surface features to give a new appearance.  Purposeful rearrangement, re-mixing or recombination of surface features.

Imitation: Model or replicate with some understanding of the principals, abstracts or guidelines represented by the original product or entity.   Following a set of instructions would be an example of this.

Transfersion: Applying principal or procedures in a setting somewhat removed from where they were first learned. I think of things as simple as someone who knows how to weave fabric or paper, then making a lattice pie crust in the kitchen.

Substitution: The intentional effort to manipulate parts of an original item, substituting some parts for ‘better’ choices, creating something with the same message or meaning but different features.  Think ‘iPads’ for this one.

Experimentation: The effort to combine, mix and use a set of guidelines or principals understood as abstractions, as well as the concrete entities they represent.  Being able to pull ideas and objects from different areas to create something new – think of writing a paper or preparing a dissertation.

Innovation: When you understand the intent behind a set of principals and utilize this meaning to create something that is different to how others have portrayed these concepts in concrete form.

Generation: Using two or more sets of ideals or principals and combining these to create a new set of ideals or principals that represent the “best” of the two previous sets.

After briefly describing each of these in his report, Stahl goes on to say:

The,above represent rather short descriptions of the categories suggesting
ways of looking at the mental processes leading up to different types of novel
behaviors and products for the individual. It does not describe the specifics
of the resulting products or behaviors since these are to be left to external
criteria. Classroom teachers and researchers are thus urged to pay more direct
attention to the types of thinking going on before the behavior or product
rather than to merely infer certain thinking activities from the products or
behaviors themselves.

I like that the job for teachers/researchers is to observe rather than to define the criteria for creation or to set creative tasks.  That was my stumbling block.  If the extent of ‘creativity’ in my classroom was going to be measured by how insightful and creative my own planning ideas were, I knew that I would be massively limiting the scope of what goes on in the room.  Cue in the Inquiry Based Curriculum!  If you are like me and teach in a PYP school, your job is to facilitate inquiry.  I think we throw this phrase around a lot and sometimes without knowing what it means or what that looks like.  It takes guts and restraint and preparedness and more restraint to become an observer in your own classroom!  If you see it done – and see it done well – it is amazing to watch!

I had the extreme pleasure in my last year at Yokohama International School to work with Tasha Cowdy. Tasha taught Kindergarten and I was teaching third grade.  At the end of the year, we taught summer school together for three weeks.  That year, I was blown away by what true, authentic inquiry looks, sounds and feels like.  She is a master at the art of facilitating authentic inquiry.  It is not about her, but about the kids in her class and how she can help them extend what they know, stimulating them when needed, providing additional resources or facilitating discussion.  It is remarkable.  And hugely inspiring. Check out her blog for more information on what inquiry looks like in her classroom.

Regardless of the taxonomy or how many steps, what has struck me as important is realizing that as educators, we need to:

  • be vigilant observers
  • look for ways to add to inquiries at the right times
  • mindfully integrate tools to support inquiries/creativity
  • communicate, communicate, communicate
  • encourage self-reflection on ‘knowing’ as a way of promoting further creative inquiry