PYP Bad Words

There is no denying that teaching and learning looks and feels different in an inquiry-based classroom compared to a more traditional classroom. With that, comes a collection words in an educator’s vernacular that no longer have a place or purpose. Here are a few words commonly used in traditional education, that really don’t belong in a PYP school.

Work“Finish your work.” 

If we truly value learning in the PYP, then why would there ever be a need to talk about work? Here is a great post by Edna Sackson that explores this issue and asks the question of whether our classroom time is being spent more on work or learning. 

Cover. “We didn’t have time to cover everything we wanted to.”

If the PYP is all about inquiry, discovery and exploration then why are we still talking about covering standards and content? The notion of covering something gives way to the ‘checklist’ mentality where we as teachers have a collection of things to teach and we can tick them off as we go. This leads us down the dangerous path of “I taught it, but they didn’t learn it.”

Test“Tomorrow we have a test.” 

If we truly believe that PYP students should own their learning and have a voice in how they share their learning with others, then why are we still giving tests? Tests are usually created by teachers, behind closed doors, without the voice or input of students. Tests often measure if students’ know what their teacher thinks they ought to know. Not to mention they are often closed, detached from real-life, assessed quantitatively and heavily dependant on reading ability. Why can’t we invite students to choose how they are going to share their learning? Here is a great blog post about how to open up summative tasks.

CopyCopy this definition into your notebook.”

As PYP teachers, if we truly value thinking and creativity, then why would there be a need for students to copy something down. Whether it’s a definition, a list of attributes, or instructions for how to do something, doesn’t the act of expecting students to copy down whatever it is we are looking for steal their thinking? If learning is all about making meaning, aren’t we missing an opportunity to have students construct their own meaning if we are expecting them to copy down someone else’s meaning?

Worksheet“I just have to print off this worksheet.”

Oh, worksheets. I have shared my feelings about worksheets before (especially commercially made worksheets). If student questions are meant to drive inquiry in the PYP, how can pre-made, one-size-fits-no-one worksheets contribute to a student’s exploration of their interests and curiosities? I often am met with the argument of “skill practice” in defence of worksheets. However, aren’t skills embedded in context and purpose in the real world? So I often wonder the purpose of isolated skill practice. Even if you can convince me of the value of “skill practice”, aren’t there better – more differentiated ways – to help 22+ students practice the skills that are relevant to them in ways that require true thinking, not just “watch and do” procedures? I hope so! Here is a great post that compares worksheets to candy… some food for though!

Cute“I found this on pinterest. It’s so cute!” 

Beware of cute at the expense of thinking. Before you call something cute, ask yourself if it is based on students’ questions, promotes inquiry, and is driven by deep, conceptual understanding. If so, then go for it. If not, then you may want to reconsider. I’ve read many IB publications providing guidance about making the PYP happen in your classroom. I have never once come across the word cute in any of those documents. Here is a great post about how many cute things on Pinterest have  “glitz and only the appearance of learning”.

Activities“Can we plan our activities for the unit?”

“What a great planning session! We have 10 weeks worth of activities all mapped out.” is something Kath Murdoch claims true inquiry teachers never say. Activities give the impression of something that is done to students. But learning can’t be done to students (or for students). Learning is something students need to do for themselves. Activities also give the impression of a one-off event or experience. If we want inquiries to allow students to generate and explore their own questions, they shouldn’t need a string of disconnected activities chosen by teachers. Instead why not use these guiding questions from Kath’s inquiry cycle to structure each step of the way. Do you really need activities when you can ask “What do you already know about this?”, “What do you want to know about this?” “How are you going to find out about this?” “How are you going to sort out the information you have found?” “What else do you need to find out before you share your discoveries?” “How are you going to share your learning with others?”  “Now that you know what you know, what are you going to do about it?”

These kids. “Inquiry works, just not with these kids.”

In the video What Does it Mean to be an Inquiry Teacher? Kath Murdoch clearly states that one of the defining features of a true inquiry teacher is someone who sees their students as competent, capable, curious, partners in learning  and someone who acknowledges that there is always something in each and every child that makes them intrigued and makes them light up. If we believe this to be true (and who can argue with Kath Murdoch when it comes to inquiry!?) then there would never be any reason to use the phrase “these kids” pejoratively when it comes to learning… regardless of the type of school, the age, the country, the community, the language, the culture, the personality. There are no “these kids” that true inquiry doesn’t work with.

Think about the conversations you have with students, parents, colleagues and administrators about teaching and learning:

  • How often do you find yourself using these PYP bad words?
  • How do the words you use reflect your beliefs about teaching and learning?
  • How can you shift parts of your teaching practice so you no longer have to use these words?

What do you think?

Do any of these words have a place in a PYP teacher’s vocabulary?

What other words do you hear or say that should be considered “PYP bad words”?


10 thoughts on “PYP Bad Words

  1. WanderLaur January 15, 2016 / 2:45 pm

    Fantastic post!! I really enjoyed reading it. I’m not sure about the activity part, though. Could an inquiry not be a type of activity? An activity that is shaped as a structured, guided, or open inquiry? Or an ongoing inquiry could be a set of activities… Structured and guided inquiries seem to be activities…. Just not in the traditional, teacher-created, teacher-led, one-off kind of way. What do you think?


    • tbondclegg January 29, 2016 / 8:58 am

      Thanks Lauren for the feedback and pushing my thinking even further! It’s funny you brought this up, because a few hours after publishing this post I was talking to Mike about an “activity” I was planning to do with the staff! Busted! So I think you are right. I think it’s not so much about the word activity, more about the current meaning and understanding of the word activity – something done to students as opposed to with students. I think if we re-purpose the word to mean structures and systems to help support students asking questions, finding information, sorting information, sharing discoveries and reflecting on learning, then we are in the clear!


      • Olwen March 31, 2016 / 10:58 pm

        The shift from ‘activity’ which is planned and has an end point, to a ‘learning engagement’ that is opened ended and based around a provocation to support learning is really powerful. Always hard not to slip into ‘old language’


      • tbondclegg April 2, 2016 / 6:35 am

        Yes! I agree “learning engagement” is much more open-ended and based around a provocation. The more we are aware of what we say and how it reveals our beliefs about teaching and learning the more we can start to change our thinking and hopefully our practices! 🙂


  2. hannaluong February 2, 2016 / 4:46 pm

    Hello Taryn! Thank you for all your posts. I’ve been following your blog for a while now and they are super insightful and I always leave feeling inspired.


    • tbondclegg February 2, 2016 / 5:22 pm

      Thanks Hanna! Writing my blog is my best form of reflection while trying to navigate the world of inquiry and PYP. You are very missed. Hope you both are well.


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