For those of us who work at PYP schools, we are all too familiar with the “POI Review”. Some schools conduct it yearly, others every few years, some only when an evaluation visit is looming. But we all do it.
A typical approach to a POI review usually involves an analysis of horizontal articulation (balance within a grade level) and vertical articulation (balance across the grade levels). This usually consists of identifying, tallying and cross-referencing concepts, skills, sections of the TD themes etc. all in order to guarantee that there is balance in what is being taught each year.
I think if you are at a PYP school that creates a POI based around teacher-planned Units of Inquiry and then never changes that POI… then this traditional approach to vertical articulation makes sense.
But if you are at a school that is constantly reflecting upon, changing and evolving your Units of Inquiry; planning in response to learning; building units after getting to know your students; co-planning UOIs with your students; and eventually supporting your students to plan their own personalized UOIs… then a traditional approach to vertical articulation presents a few significant challenges.
I work at school that is much more the latter, than the former. So when I sat down today with a team of colleagues to analyze our vertical articulation, we ran face-first into many of these challenges.
Challenge #1 – Personalization
We noticed that as our students move through their PYP journey at our school, they become more involved in the direction their learning takes within a Unit of Inquiry. So when we got to the grade-levels with purposefully open-ended central ideas, we found it difficult to tally the concepts, knowledge and skills because we knew that different groups of students had taken their learning in different directions. It became even more challenging when we got to the grade-levels where students are planning their own personalized Units of Inquiry, because that meant all 120 students had branched off in completely different directions, multiple times throughout the year. And although there have been efforts made within those grade-levels to track the balance of their learning, we realized it became difficult to bridge those systems of articulation with the other systems of articulation that made sense for ensuring balance across teacher-planned UOIs.
So how can we build one coherent system that can track balance regardless of whether a UOI is teacher planned, co-planned or student-planned?
Challenge #2 – Constant Change
We are a school of risk takers and reflectors, which means we are in a self-perpetuated, constant cycle of re-working our Units of Inquiry: to grow and change as we grow in our understanding of teaching and learning; to grow and change as the world grows; to grow and change to attempt to better suit the needs and interests of the current cohort. What we end up with it a constantly changing POI. Which is a GREAT thing! But definitely presents a challenge when it comes to vertical articulation analysis. Because even if you can show that the current POI is vertically balanced – that specific POI is not static, and not necessarily representative of the learning for that group of students from the year before, or the year before that. So what we’re doing is ensuring balance at one point in time for students in all different grade levels, but we’re not necessarily ensuring balance for one group of students over time.
And we have to be careful not to let the tail wag the dog and stop reflecting upon and changing UOIs, just to ensure that vertical balance that we were able to tally and track at that one moment in time. It’s not static and it shouldn’t be static.
So how can we ensure vertical balance in our students’ learning in a way that grows and changes as our UOIs grow and change from year to year?
If we are re-imagining ways to approach the planning of Units of Inquiry that make up our POI; then we should probably also be re-imagining the ways we analyze and track balance within that POI.
A POI was personalized to each student.
A POI followed the students through their PYP journey.
A POI was more focused on what was learned, instead of what was taught.
A POI wasn’t impacted every time a UOI changed.
One idea my colleague and I had was a more adaptive, personalized and emergent approach to ensuring there is balance within a students’ PYP journey.
We had an idea that stemmed from a system we use within our grade-level to help students reflect upon balance within their learning over the course of the year. We have students pause and capture the different sections of each PYP Theme they have explored so far, to help them notice their own gaps in their balance. This data is then used to stimulate conversations of where they might take their next unit.
We had the idea to take this approach and imagine what it could look like across ages and grade-levels, to create one synthesized, coherent, but personalized record of vertical articulation.
In grade-levels where teachers are planning the Units of Inquiry, teachers could hi-light the parts of the TD themes that the students explore.
Then, that same document can move up to the next grade with the students and their new teachers can update their new learning, by hilighting new elements of the TD themes that have been explored over the course of that year. Then even if the grade below them changes the unit the following year, the learning from the unit that actually took place for their current students would be tracked and documented.
Then for the grade-levels where students and teachers are co-planning Units of Inquiry, editing access could be shared with students – made simple by programs like Google Classroom that allow you to take one document that already exists and push it out to all individual students to modify.
That way students can accurately reflect the learning that took place in their unit, even if it was different from other students in their class. It would also provide great data for students and teachers to be able to work together to notice gaps in balance to inform their co-planning.
Finally, when students reach the stage of completely planning their own UOIs they would take over responsibility for tracking their balance and using the data that represents their journey as a learner so far. Regardless of whether the learning came from a teacher-planned UOI, a co-planned UOI or a self-planned UOI. They would have ownership and access to a document that had a complete record of their learning over the full course of their PYP journey.
Obviously, this idea is very new – and very raw and undeveloped. We realize there are many complexities and nuances that would need to be thought through before launching something like this.
What about new students?
Could new students not update the knowledge they gained from their previous schools on to this record?
What about specialist-subjects?
Could specialist teachers not also add to this centralized document?
What about “repeats”?
Could we not think of a way to code parts of the TD theme that are revisited at different times in different ways?
What about concepts, skills, etc.?
Could a second slide be added for concepts? A third for skills?
What about PYP evaluations?
Could there be a way to display and explain this approach to articulation that still adheres to and satisfies their Standards and Practices?
There are also the difficult discussions about whether balance means “equal coverage” or whether pursuing a balanced POI trumps students following their own motivation… but these are important discussions for all schools and teams to be having, regardless of how they are ensuring articulation in their POI.
I’m not sure if this is the answer (I think it would be pretty interesting to try though!) but I think there must be ways for us as a PYP community to re-imagine our approaches to ensuring balance in a our students’ learning in a way that better reflects our emergent, organic, adaptive and co-constructed approaches to planning.
What are your “what ifs” for the POI review process?
What challenges do you see with horizontal and vertical articulation?
How else could we evolve our approaches to tracking and ensuring balance?