Bringing Parents into the Conversation

It’s no secret that the grade level I am involved in does things a little differently. Ok, “a little” might be an understatement. We are very different. And as a result, sometimes parents need support understanding and feeling comfortable having their children become part of our pilot program. With only a few months left in the school year -and next year right around the corner – this is one of those times.

Parents from the grade level below us started to share some worries and concerns with the school about next year, so we decided to get out ahead of things and offer an evening parent session for all of the parents in the grade level below us. Our PYP coordinator contacted the parents and invited them for an evening with us.

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It was important for us to collect their concerns, questions and worries to inform our planning for the session in response to their needs. So we asked them to fill out a short Google Form to help us gather that information.

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Then as a team, we analyzed their responses.

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After analyzing their responses, it was clear most of them were looking for specifics about how things work and what exactly happens on a day to day basis.

But jumping into hows and whats without investing first in the why is not really our style… and not something that we felt would help to build sustainable buy-in for the long run. We believed the overarching goal should be to bring parents into the conversation about education, to help them develop themselves as critical thinkers. To be able to look at the current paradigm and question it, challenge it – hopefully even criticize it! So we had to figure out a way to address what they wanted from the session with what we felt was important for the session.

We decided to frame the evening as “Starting the Conversation” with a heavy focus on the whys, followed by a brief overview of hows and whats – with transparency about our plan for continuing the conversation in order to ensure they felt their voices were heard.

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We had a great response! We had 40 families RSVP for the event.

And true to our collaborative approach, we had 10 representatives from our team there, each of whom took ownership over a small section of the presentation. It was important for us to show Who We Are in the way we work together in each and every thing that we do.

Section 1: Provocations

If our main goal was to bring parents into the conversation, it was essential to begin by poking and provoking their thinking about education. Both by ‘stepping in’ in order to connect with their own experience as a student and ‘stepping back’ to attempt to objectively look at the system of school from a distance.

We decided to use a chalk talk with a range of provoking questions to stimulate these types of thinking.

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Then we brought the whole group together to pull out the big ideas from each of the provocation chalk talks. At first the parents were hesitant to contribute, but once we got the ball rolling lots of great ‘noticings’ were shared.

We finished the discussion with what parents hoped for their childrens’ future, which acted as a great segueway to our next provocation about skills. Instead of telling parents what skills are currently valued, we wanted them to make those discoveries for themselves. So – in the vernacular of our students – we had them “search it up”!

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All the parents took out their phones and did a little research about what skills are currently valued in post-secondary and the workplace. After some inquiry time, we had parents shout their discoveries. Some began to make connections with responses from the chalk talk, which was an unexpected bonus!

Then we shared a provocation from the World Economic Forum to provoke their thinking about how rapidly the landscape of skills continue to change…

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Which walked them right into one of our main provocations….

If the nature of desired skills keep changing so rapidly, who amoung us knows exactly what will be needed by the time their child graduates in 2030?

Which helped us usher in AJ Juliani’s quote:

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Section 2: The “Why”

Investing a large chunk of time into provoking parents’ thinking, let us transition smoothly into talking about the “why”.

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We touched on that nature of the industrial model of education…

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We touched on the growing body of educators standing up to say that something is wrong with the traditional paradigm of school…

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And we ended with the need for a radically different approach.

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Section 3: The “Hows”

Even though our main focus was the “why” behind our approach, we also wanted to honour our parents and most of their worries and concerns were centered around “hows” and “whats”. So we made sure to briefly touch on some of the most important “hows” without going too deep into the details.

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We explained how our mission statement drives everything we do as well as the time, thought and energy that went into developing it.

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We explained how we have a broad view of “success” and how we make sure success in one area does not come at the expense of another area.

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We hilghted the importance of learning how to learning and how we use the PYP ATL skills to support that.

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We touched on how we use Dan Pink’s work on motivation as a driving force behind what we do.

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We explained how we work as a team with parents and students to ensure everyone’s voice is heard and perspective is valued.

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We shared how Learning Support, Challenge and Enrichment and EAL support works in our model.

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Section 4: The “Whats”

The one part of the presentation that the parents wanted the most, was the one part of the conversation that we chose to dedicate the least amount of time to.

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The majority of the worries and concerns that parents shared in the aforementioned Google Form were about ‘what’ exactly happens on a day to day basis. And although we wanted to honour their voices, we also wanted to be careful not to oversimplify this part or give off the idea that it is static and concrete. Because the truth is that the “whats” are constantly changing. So “what” a typical day looks like now, is not what a typical day looked like a month ago, and will not be what a typical day will like for their child next year. So we decided to acknowledge the whats, without committing to any specifics.

For example, we addressed the fact that our approach still includes transdisciplinary Units of Inquiry as well as stand-alone math and literacy…

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We explained that our approach includes many different pathways for learning…

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We acknowledged many of the nuts and bolts of our approach, but were transparent about the fact that even though the function of these elements stay the same, the specific form is constantly growing, changing and evolving.

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We were open about the role of our own reflections and action research as a vital part of what we do, and linked that back to our non-committal approach to explaining the “nuts and bolts”.

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Part 5: Next Steps

Before wrapping up the session, it was important for us to explicitly acknowledge the worries and concerns that came through the Google Form that we chose not to address in this first session. Again, we re-iterated that the session was just the “beginning of the conversation” and clearly explained our plan moving forward to ensure they knew that all of their needs would be addressed at later times.

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We also focused their attention on what specifically they could do now, in the interim, to prepare themselves for the experience of being a parent in our model next year. We hilighted the importance of having them join the current conversation about changes needed in education.

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In order to support them in this, we shared a resources document with them that included any source we referenced throughout the presentation, as well as other resources we felt might help them along in their journey to think critically about the education system.

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Overall, it was a really successful evening! The energy in the room was great – parents were engaged in the conversation, sharing stories, reflections, thoughts and discoveries. Of course there were a few parents that hung back to speak to us one on one about further worries and concerns – and we were glad they did! Our goal was to start the conversation, so we were happy to have parents engage further with it right away!

Sadly, I won’t be there next year to continue the conversation with this group of parents… but I hope one of my colleagues picks up the mantle and documents the rest of this journey!

How do you bring your parent community “into the conversation”?

How do you support and challenge your parent community to develop a critical thinking approach about the current educational paradigm?

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A week in the life…

A few weeks ago I was leading a workshop and one of the participants asked what a “normal day” is like for me. Although the easy answer is – there is never a normal day – the truth is, at this point of the year, we have settled into somewhat of a routine. However, just sharing one day wouldn’t make sense, because so much of what we do is part of a bigger system or routine. So I’ve instead decided to share what a “normal week” is like for me.

Friday Afternoon

A huge part of supporting our students to take ownership over their learning is helping them set weekly goals. Goals that are personal, relevant and meaningful to them. We spent months and months teaching them how to set goals – focusing on how to know you need to focus on something (using data to inform goals) and also how to know you’ve achieved or accomplished what you set out to (defining success criteria).

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We started off small at the beginning of the year having students set one personal goal for the week. Then as the weeks went on and their goal setting skills improved, we began to roll in other goals.

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Always partnering the expectation of setting a new goal, with instruction and support for setting a goal of that kind. We spent a lot of time discussing how to know what you need to work on, and how different sources of data can be useful in that process.

For a personal goal it may be your screen time statistics…

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Or feedback from a three-way conference…

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For a literacy goal, it may be assessment data…

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Or something from a personal learning plan…

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For math it may be feedback from a math conference…

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Or an online assessment tool…

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For UOI it may be from a unit plan….

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Or a backwards plan…

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Now at this point of the year, students are fairly independent at analyzing different sources of data to know what they need to focus on and establishing what success might look like for them for all areas of their learning.

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As partners in their learning, we still play an important role in supporting students to set goals. Sometimes we are co-planning their goals with them. Sometimes they plan independently, then conference with us face-to-face for advice and consultation. Sometimes they plan and request digital feedback.

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Another essential element, is keeping the parents involved in this process. After students have drafted their goals and received some form of feedback from an advisor, they share their goals with their parents. Both as a way to keep parents in the loop about what their child is learning; but also as a source of feedback to help them further strengthen their goal setting.

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Monday Period 1

Each morning I start the day by previewing the schedule with students to ensure we all have a shared understanding of the day.

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Then I go through our “ads”. The ads show the array of adult-led and student-led learning opportunities and experiences for that day.

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Then we look at the “MOSCOW” for the day. Typically the “musts” are always the same – achieve your weekly goals – but the shoulds, coulds, and wants depend on what’s happening that week or something specific we are focusing on.

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Then students plan their day. Each week we push out a day plan template via Google Classroom for each student.

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We also share all the advisors’ timetables to allow any students to sign-up for one-on-one conferences, guided groups, supervision etc. with any of the available adults.

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Support for students planning their day ranges from planning with an advisor, to planning independently then getting feedback from an advisor to planning independently and seeking feedback from a peer.

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Monday Period 8

When we come back together as a community at the end of the day, we have two main focuses: analyzing and reflecting on our day plan and updating documentation of learning.

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The first thing students do is colour code their day plan. As a class, we came up with a  system that made sense for us:

Green = completely stuck to the learning I planned for myself

Yellow = Mostly stuck to the learning I planned for myself

Orange = Kind of stuck to the learning I planned for myself

Red = Totally did not stick to the learning I planned for myself

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As a community we worked very hard to build a culture of honesty, not fear, when it comes to colour-coding day plans. Students feel comfortable knowing that they can admit to the times when they got distracted or pulled off-course without fearing that they will get in trouble. This culture of honestly lets students get to know themselves better as learners, and allows us as advisors to have some powerful, open conversations with them about what got in their way of learning and what they are going to do differently in the future.

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Once students are finished colour-coding their day plans they jump into documenting the learning and curating evidence from their day. Similar to the goal setting, they are fairly independent in this process at this point in the year. But that is a result of intentional focus on helping students see the “why” behind documentation, encouraging their exploration of different “hows” and supporting their awareness of possible “what’s”.

At this point in the year, some students curate their evidence using Seesaw

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Others use Portfolios (using Google Slides)

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Some prefer to blog

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Some are quite creative – like my comic maker who uses his love of comics to capture his reflections and evidence of learning each day!

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While students are updating their documenting myself and my co-advisor have one-on-one meetings with students who benefit from additional support to reflect on their day plans or generate and analyze evidence to support their colour-coding.

Monday after school

After the students head home I sift through their colour coded day plans (which is made so easy by Google Classroom!) and make decisions about what type of support each student needs for the following morning based on how their day went.

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If a student seemed to have a difficult time carrying out their plans I might have them plan with me or another advisor so we can have long, uninterrupted conversations about their choices and what they plan to do differently. If the student had only one or two areas of difficulty then they will likely plan on their own, but pop by for a conference with an advisor where we could have a quick check in on that specific area of need. If a student had no difficulty sticking to their plan, and is on somewhat of a streak of “green days” then they are trusted to plan and seek feedback from a peer.

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After I’ve finished going through their day plans, I sift through their documentation for the day. To help myself stay organized, I have a document where I keep track of where they keep track of their evidence of learning. This allows me to easily find and browse through their documentation as another way to plan support for learning and conversations about learning for the following day.

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As I am going through their colour-coded day plans and their documentation of learning, I usually keep a list of talking points for students I am planning with or conferencing with the following day (just to help me stay organized, and maximize my time with each student).

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Tuesday

Rinse and repeat.

Wednesday Morning

Mostly rinse and repeat… but since Wednesday is the halfway point in our week, we use it as an opportunity to check in with progress on goals. At the end of the day students use a colour coding system that we created as a class to see which goals they are closest to achieving, and which goals are farthest away from completion.

Green = goal achieved; success criteria met; evidence of success complete

Yellow = goal achieved but need time for success criteria and evidence

Orange = progress made, but more time and support is needed to achieve success

Red = not progress made YET

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This routine gives them really strong data for making informed choices the following day about what areas of their learning need the most time, support and additional strategies.

Thursday

Mostly rinse and repeat… but during our planning meeting and conferences in the morning we use the colour-coded goal data to drive our conversations about the students’ day plans.

“I noticed your UOI goal is red, but you haven’t given any time to it today. Can you tell me about that?”

“I see that your math goal is green, but you’ve scheduled a block for math today. What was your thinking behind that decision?”

“I noticed your literacy goal is orange. What time, support and strategies do you need to get it to green by the end of the week?”

Friday period 1

Mostly rinse and repeat… but the focus during period 1 is on evidence and documentation, thus slightly changing the “musts” to really highlight that focus.

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Friday afternoon

Before students set new goals, we always build in time to reflect and analyze their goals from the current week. Students re-colour code their goals, based on the action they’ve taken since Wednesday and use that new data to decide which goals need to be carried over into the next week and in which areas of learning they are ready for a new goal.

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Then we repeat the goal setting procedure I explained at the beginning of this post.

Friday After school

Similar to the other days of the week, I spend my time after school browsing through their stuff to help me figure out how to move forward. I scroll through their finalized goal colour-coding, their day plans, and their documentation to make informed choices about what level of support might be best for each individual child the following week.

I also take this time to not only focus on the needs of specific students, but also trends that point to larger areas of need for groups of children and sometimes, the whole class. This could be anything from screen time, support with goal setting, taking math learning deeper, stronger documentation, choosing learning locations etc.

If I notice a larger need, I block out my time table to address those areas of need the following week with the specific groups of students struggling in that specific area.

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Monday Morning 

The whole thing starts all over again!!!!!

TWO MASSIVE DISCLAIMERS:

1. This blog post is a snapshot of what a ‘week in the life’ looks like for me right now. But it is such an organic, iterative, ever-evolving process, that this is not what a week would have looked like a month back, and will definitely not be what a week looks like one month hence. As a team, we are constantly reflecting, tweaking, analyzing, taking new risks, letting go of old risks.

(As an example of that, this is a current brainstorm from a recent team meeting of what we feel is currently “working” and “not working” at the moment.)

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2. This is what makes sense for me – based on my philosophies, my comfort level, my context, my constraints, my resources, my students and my team. So, as much as I am happy to share what I’m doing, it’s also important for me to urge you to figure out what makes sense for you– based on your philosophy, your comfort level, your context, your constraints, your resources, your students and your team. As tempting as it may be to transplant, my best advice is to grow your own innovation. 

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I’m still very much at the beginning of my journey. Constantly reflecting on my own why, rebuilding my repertoire of how’s and experimenting with many different what’s. This post is simply a snapshot of what a ‘week in the life’ is like for me right now. I have no idea what my “normal” will be in the future…

But I hope it continues to get me closer and closer to my goal of respecting and supporting student agency.

What is a “week in the life” like for you?

What are the nuts and bolts of attempting to support your students’ agency?

What are the routines, structures and systems that help you make the best use of time, people and resources your students have?

Taking It Public

Sometimes my team and I get crazy ideas. Like having 120 students share their 120 personalized Units of Inquiry, 8 different ways, 3 days after the winter holiday.

It always seems like a great at the time. We hold hands, jump in with both feet, happily submerge into new waters… then we pop back up to the surface, catch our breath and look around.

What is first excitement, soon becomes panic.

“What were we thinking!?”

“What have we done!?”

“How do we get out of this!?”

Then the realization hits us. The fact that we are constantly asking our students to:

– think big

– take risks

– leave their comfort zone

– do something that scares them

– embrace failure

So in order to avoid being the world’s biggest hypocrites, we commit to our crazy idea, get all hands on deck and continue full steam ahead.

Here is the story of how we muddled through our first attempt at supporting students to “Take Their Learning Public”

As always, the idea came from a long and heated chat. This time, about how to wrap up the students’ first personalized Units of Inquiry. We all agreed, there needed to be some way in which they shared their learning with parents and the school community, but we wanted to ensure it was as authentic and student-driven as possible. So we settled on the idea of having all students “take it public” but in a way that made sense for what their unit was.

As a team, we brainstormed all the possible ways student could take their learning public, and because we’re crazy, we thought… “Why not have them all happening on the same day!?”

And because we’re even crazier, we figured “Why not the Friday after they return from winter holiday”.

So then we introduced the idea to students, as usual starting with the “why”. We talked about how regardless of what someone is working on, learning about, or pursuing, there typically comes a point where that person takes their journey public. It may be when a fashion designer puts on a show. Or when a scientist publishes their findings. Or perhaps when an inventor showcases a prototype at a trade show. Or even when a musician performs a new song.

So since they’ve been working on pursuing a purpose for the past 6 weeks, it was time for them to take their learning public and share it with others.

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Then we shared our plan for “how” we were going to help students to make this happen.

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We shared our plan for support.

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We shared our plan for time.

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Then we shared our thinking about “what” ways they could take their learning public. For each option, we shared stories and photos from previous years to help students understand and visualize what that might look like for them – hopefully helping them more of an informed choice when it came time to commit to one of the options.

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Then we had all student complete a Google Form to give us the data we needed to plan our support for them.

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We analyzed the data in order to make decisions about groups and adult allocations. We looked for styles of taking it public that could be grouped together (like Ted Talks and live performances; gallery and showcase) and we also took into consideration our individual strengths and preferences for which group we felt we could best support.

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Then we shared this information with students…

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and had our first meetings with our “TIP” groups where we able to get to know the students (since they were made of mixed groupings) and begin to co-construct a vision for what success would look like.

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These “Take it Public” (or “TIP” as it came to be known) groups would continue to meet at the beginning of each day, so the adult responsible for the group could support the students to create to-do lists and day plans in order to prepare and meet again at the end of each day to support students in reflecting on progress, challenges and next steps. Many advisors also set up TIP Google Classrooms to help with the logistics, organization and communication.

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At this point, we also knew it was important to communicate with parents to let them know the “why, how, and whats” of Taking It Public, so they could make arrangement to hopefully come in and be part of it. We decided to be completely transparent with the parent community, and position ourselves as risk-takers, hence the name “A Friday of Firsts” – both for students and ourselves.

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Then, the next few days were full of:

Researching…

Building…

Rehearsing…

Designing…

Practicing…

Preparing…

Memorizing…

Organizing…

and lots and LOTS of conferencing!

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Many of us used a variety of approaches to track the students’ progress and find out what support they wanted from us. This helped us stay involved with what they needed and the amount and level of support that made sense for them.

Some of us collected this data with small check-in Google Forms at the end of each day:

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Others took anecdotal notes, or had one-on-one, regular check-ins with the members of their group.

Regardless of how we collected this data, we all made sure to use it in order to inform our planning for the following day.

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We also paid attention to planning the logistics for the actual day. Taking into consideration what is happening when, who is involved, who is supervising whom and who is available to come an observe/participate.

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The morning of the event, students did their final touches and preparations…

And then…. ready, set, GO!

Ted Talks

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A Marketplace

A showcase 

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A gallery

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A catered “Food Friday”

Workshops for younger students

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And read alouds

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Photo credits: @puglifevn @juouelle @hktans @ms_amandaromano 

Reflections:

  • All in all it was a successful day – there was a palpable energy amongst students, advisors and the parent community, as well as feelings of pride, success and accomplishment
  • There were a few difficult conversations between parents and students, but we welcome and encourage that as part of the learning process from students first attempt planning and directing their own Unit of Inquiry – it’s all about failing forward and learning from mistakes 
  • As a team, we were glad we took the plunge and tried something new and scary – we left our comfort zone, and magic really did happen!
  • It was SO great to work with a mixed group of students and continue to build relationships with students across the grade level
  • It was surprising how smooth the transition was from winter holiday, right back into TIP preparations – we were shocked and provoked at the idea not necessarily needing to wrap up one thing before a break, and the unexpected benefits of having something familiar to jump right back into

 Future Thoughts:

  • next time it would be great for us to acknowledge the students that “took it public” on their own accord at some point throughout their unit, as we had a few students point out that they had already hosted a workshop, catered an event, participated in a market at a more authentic time in their journey. Maybe this teacher-led “take it public” does not need to be for everyone, but could be more for those students who missed this part of the process on their own
  • it would be great if we could figure out how to break this “taking it public” out of school-land, beyond parents and students, and support students to share their learning and accomplishments with the wider community

 

How do you support your students to have ownership over taking their learning public?

How do you model and experience taking risks and facing failures alongside your students?

PYPx – Beyond Poster Boards

Google “PYP Exhibition” and you’re likely to find many images of students standing beside a poster board that tells what they’ve learned about over 6 week period.

Our school’s approach to PYPx is a little different…

Firstly, we believe that PYPx is more than having students share what they’ve learned about, and should be an opportunity for students to share what they’ve learned about themselves as learners during their time in the Primary Years Program.

Secondly, we believe that it’s a much more deep, meaningful and powerful process to have students show what they’ve learned about themselves as learners rather than tell it.

Thirdly, we believe that the PYPx is not a presentation, but rather an invitation to a conversation where the learner is able to engage with their visitors, share their stories, respond to questions and also ask questions.

This approach became even more essential last year when we decided to empower Grade 5 students to plan all of their own personalized Units of Inquiry. Which meant they didn’t have one 6 week block of a personal inquiry to share, but rather a year’s worth of experiences, successes, failures, discoveries and life lessons.

Here’s a glimpse into how it went:

Introducing the PYP Exhibition

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Sampling symbolic representations

To help students make an informed choice about how best to symbolically represent their journey as a learner, we led them through an inquiry where they got to “sample” many small tasting of different symbolic representations: colours, sounds, images, symbols, movements, shapes etc.

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After students had sampled all the different types of symbolic representation, we helped them reflect on which modes of communication allowed them to express themselves most effectively in order to make an informed choice about their PYPx symbolic piece.

Co-constructing success criteria

Before beginning to plan their symbolic piece, we took the time to co-construct what success would look like.

We used the VTR Growing Definition to allow each students to start with their own criteria, then moving to synthesize with a partner, then a group, then the entire class.

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This list of criteria became a constant point of reference for reflections and feedback during their planning and creation process.

Planning their vision

To support their planning of creating a vision we used a few optional tools to help students identify the modes that help them best express their journey and the skills and talents they already have that they can use to create something.

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Creating

Once students were committed to a vision, they jumped in with both feet! Thanks to many years of experiencing voice, choice and ownership in their art classes with @annadeibisu  and @NaomiFeil  the students were empowered, dedicated and resourceful creators.

Some chose to represent their learning journey through music…

Others through film…

Or paint…

shapes and structures…

words and fonts…

video clips…

Images…

Fabrics and textures…

Objects…

Maps…

Movement…

Even a Rube Goldberg!

Support from each other

Even though each student had their own symbolic piece, it was beautiful to watch the way they took interest in each other’s creations and offered guidance, support and feedback.

Support from adults

Throughout the creation process, it was all-hands-on-deck and we were lucky to have so much support from adults within the community – specifically connecting with students and sharing their personal interests and areas of expertise.

We were also fortunate to have art and music teachers who were comfortable collapsing their timetable for the Grade level in order to create a open “studio-style” schedule where art and music spaces, people and materials were open throughout the day for students.

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Ongoing Feedback and Reflection

Throughout the creation process we continually worked with students to provoke their thinking about the symbolic piece in hopes of deepening the layers of symbolic representation.

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This process also included helping students think through the lens of the Learner Profile, PYP Attitudes and ATL Skills and how might those layers be represented in their symbolic piece.

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Artist Statements

Since we knew there would be times throughout the Exhibition when students wouldn’t be standing next to their piece, we wanted to make sure students were still able to share their story with any visitor at any time. So we supported them to create “Artist Statements” to allow for members of the community to understand what they had made, why they had made it and how it represents their PYP learning journey.

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Staging and installation

Once the pieces and artist statements were complete (or almost complete!) it was time to stage the exhibition!

We started with our multipurpose room, added some cloth, lanterns, lamps, wires, walls, boxes and stands to set the mood…

Then students began to move their installations into the space and made their final adjustments to their pieces.

Finally the PYPx staging was complete!

There were 80 unique symbolic pieces to represent 80 unique PYP learning journeys!

An invitation for a conversation

As mentioned above, we strongly urge our students away from thinking about PYPx as a presentation where they memorize a spiel and repeat it over and over again. Instead, we support our students to think of it as an invitation to a conversation where they are able to engage and interact more authentically with their visitors.

To help prepare them for this we offered optional workshops on conversational skills.

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Sharing with the community

Then it was time to invite parents, teachers, students and community members to celebrate our learners’ journeys!

Feedback

The response from the community was overwhelmingly positive. Everyone was proud to see how confident, creative, reflective, self-aware and articulate all the students were.

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Moving Forward…

This was my first PYPx experience, and although it was an amazing experience I am always looking to reflect and improve. So as I head into the final half of our school year – knowing another PYPx is just around the corner – I’d love to hear your thoughts:

What is your school doing to innovate and push the boundaries of the typical approach to PYPx?

What feedback do you have for us to make our process more student-centred, learning-driven and agency-supportive?

What blog posts out there have poked and provoked your own thinking about PYPx?

The Magic of a Student Designed Studio

We have 120 Grade 5 students.

We have 10 learning spaces in our Grade 5 hallway.

And to start the year we believed that those 120 students should have the trust and ownership to collectively design and set-up those 10 learning spaces.

So they did. And it was pretty amazing.

Before Day 1

As usual, our team started with why. With the help of our PYPC and instructional coaches, we talked as a team to ensure we were all on the same page about why having students set-up their learning spaces was essential to starting a year full of respect and support for their agency. From there we were able to move onto possible hows and whats , but we knew that most of the planning would be in response to what actually happened each day, so we started small, with one first step – “unsetting up” the space.

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We knew that in order for students to be able to truly own the space, we would need to provide them with a blank canvas – essentially undoing any thinking, decisions or organization from us. We also knew it was important that students could easily see and access all the furniture, resources and materials that we had as a grade level, so we decided to collate it all into separate areas. We put all the tables in one area, all the couches in another area, all the shelves in another area, all the baskets/bins/organizers in another area, all the consumable materials in another area and all the learning resources and manipulative in another area. We also ensured every wall, shelf, cupboard, and bin was completely empty.

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We also knew that is was essential to keep parents informed and involved. So we sent them this email a few days before their child’s first day of school:

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Day 1

On day 1, we pretty much just said “Go! Set-up your studios!”. We wanted to prevent too much guidance and ensure our thinking wasn’t accidentally seeping into their thinking. We also wanted to use this as a cold diagnostic – to see who they are and what they currently think and understand about learning and school. Since there were lots of big, heavy pieces of furniture we did have a safety briefing to talk about how to lift and carry furniture and how to ask for help when needed.

Then they were off…

And it was incredible to see the action, initiative, thinking and teamwork right out of the gate!

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 Immediately we started to see creativity and great ideas:

A table for adults to drop of forgotten lunches….

An indoor handball court…

A welcome sign…

We also started to see different types of learning spaces emerge:

And by the end of day 1, students had successfully set-up 7…. classrooms.

Day 2

Although students did an AMAZING job with their first attempt of setting-up, it was clear that many of them were still in the mindset of “doing school” – a paradigm we knew we wanted to challenge immediately. So in small advisory groups we all facilitated a guided brainstorm activity to get them thinking about the concept of a studio.

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Once we helped students organize and unpack their own thinking about the concept of a studio, we asked them a challenging question.

“Yesterday we told you to go set-up your studios. Looking at the people, places, materials, and purposes from your brainstorms this morning…. did you actually set-up ‘studios’?” – Us

“No….” – Them

“Yesterday, what did you set-up?” – Us

“Classrooms” – Them

“Do you guys want some more time to try again?” – Us

“YAASSSSSS!!!!!” – Them

So they tried again. And it was just as – if not more – amazing! We started to see spaces emerge that would support authentic and purposeful pursuits and endeavours.

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But we noticed students weren’t really considering the purpose-built spaces. We have two small rooms with doors, one large room with doors, 4 medium rooms with 3 and 3/4 walls and two large open spaces. Yet students weren’t matching the purpose of the space to the unique features of the space. So we broke into small advisory groups again to push their thinking further. We analyzed the features of each space and debated what type of studio would be most appropriate in that space. Obviously there was no clear right or wrong answer, so we ended up with several, equally good options.

Day 3

We took the most popular options that arose from discussions within advisory groups and synthesized them into 3 main floor plans. Then students and advisors analyzed the floor plans and cast their vote.

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It was clear that “option B” had the majority of votes, so that is what we went with.

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Next, we had students commit to a team that they felt motivated to help with.

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Then we let them go again to bring “option B” to life in their new teams.

We started to see the space take shape, but noticed they were focused mostly on the big things and not yet thinking about the smaller details. So we pulled them together and provoked their thinking further with these 6 questions.

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Then we really started to see the spaces take shape.

We saw more thinking and action connected to organization…

We saw more attention to aesthetics…

We started to see signs and instructions…

We saw more thought into what was needed in each space and how to get it…

Day 4

Since all the spaces will be used be all 130 of us, it was important that the teams responsible for each space were considering and using the ideas and opinions of people who were not on their team. So we gave students the opportunity to “tour” each space and then leave feedback for the group responsible for designing that specific studio.

Then teams had time to analyze the feedback and decided how they were going to take action to honour the ideas and concerns of their peers.

Day 5

At this point spaces were starting to shape up, but we noticed that most students (with an exception of a few) weren’t looking beyond what they already had in their space. So we poked their thinking further into what else they might need, where they could get it and, of course, how we as adults could support them in that process.

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Day 6,7,8

At this point in the process, we noticed a plateau. It seems that students took themselves as far as they could and weren’t sure where to go next. So that was a big clue for us, that it was time to jump in and help them go beyond where they could take themselves. So we had one adult join each of the teams and act as a coach. Each person had their own style of how they supported their group, but we all shared the common theme of helping support students’ thinking and organization towards their next steps.

We noticed that this support helped students go further and begin to think about the smaller details within their space.

Even MORE cool ideas began to emerge!

Day 9

Then, finally, the spaces were “done” (knowing that there is always opportunities for reflections, refinements, new ideas and changes throughout the year!)

We ended up with a book nook…

An art and design studio…

A recording studio…

A science and maths lab…

A town hall space…

A drama studio…

A fitness studio…

A digital production studio…

And a “chillax” studio…

At this point it was important to take time to pause and reflect in order to look for learning. We challenged the students to think about the last 9 days and notice and name the attributes of the IB Learner Profile, PYP attitudes, ATL skills, strands of math and stands of language that have been embedded within their experience designing and setting-up their learning spaces – even if they didn’t realize it at the time.

We then displayed their reflections for the community – to help parents, other grade-levels and visitors to our school understand where the learning has been during the first two weeks of the year.

Day 10

Now that the studios were fully set-up it was time for all of us to explore and use the amazing spaces!

It was also time to show and share the spaces with their families. So during Back to School Night, students gave their families a tour of all the learning spaces in our hallway. We invited parents to leave their feedback so we could include their voice in the process.

Here is what they had to say:

Reflections

  • It was such an enjoyable first few weeks of school
  • It provided great diagnostic data about our students’ thinking, initiative, teamwork, problem solving and creativity
  • It established a really strong sense of community
  • It set the tone for a culture of initiative, not a culture of permission
  • It helped students understand the spaces, resources and materials they have available to them this year
  • It challenged us all to break down our “homeroom” mentality
  • It showed students we are serious about respecting and supporting their agency as learners and as a people

I feel extremely lucky to be part of a team of fellow risk-takers who were all on board to jump in with both feet. I also feel extremely lucky to be at a school with a parent community who trusted us and tried their best to understand our approach and how they could be part of it. I also also feel extremely fortunate to be at a school where our leadership, admin and even Head of School not only understood what we were trying to do, but supported us and even publically shared and celebrated our approach.

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If you want to involve your students in setting up their learning spaces, but happen to be at a school where your team, leadership, admin and/or Head of School are not on board (yet), take comfort in the fact that the Enhanced PYP has your back!

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How do you involve your students in setting up their learning spaces?

The Documenting Dilemma

This is a story of hypocrisy and empathy.

If there was a voice recorder in my classroom this year, more than anything else, you would hear me urging my students to document their learning.

At the beginning of the day…

“Don’t forget to document your learning!”

Throughout the day…

“Are you documenting your learning?”

“You should document that!”

“You’re missing it! Something awesome is happening… capture it!”

At the end of the day….

“Did you document your learning today?”

“Did you capture what you did? How you did it? How you felt about? What you learned? How you learned? How you felt about your learning?”

I had workshops about stronger documentation of process and growth

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We developed success criteria for strong documentation of learning

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I shared exemplars of strong documenting of learning

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I was obsessed with having them document their learning. And, I would bet that I am no different from any educator who is striving for more learner agency, yet still working in a fairly mainstream system. There seems to be some unwritten agreement that – yes, we will transfer ownership of learning back into the hands of the students… but only as long as they document it all to prove that it is happening. 

And then it happened… hypocrite moment #1

We were all sitting around at a weekly team planning meeting at the beginning of March and realized that we had neglected to document our learning journey. The blog that was set-up with the specific purpose of allowing us to capture what we were doing, how it was going and what we were learning from it… was blank.

Even though we knew about it.

Even though we all saw value in it.

Even though we had weekly reminders to document and capture our journey.

Blank.

This really got me thinking! It wasn’t that learning hadn’t happened. We had all experienced so much personal and professional growth. And it wasn’t that nothing worth capturing had happened. The previous 7 months were full of risk-taking, new initiatives, testing out new ideas, reflective conversations, multiple iterations….

It just wasn’t “documented”.

And there were perfectly acceptable reasons as to why:

We were busy.

It wasn’t the top of the priority list. 

We we’re so “in the thick of it” it was hard to step back from it to document it.

And here comes empathy moment #1. As I reflected on the reasons we were identifying for our lack of documenting, I realized these were likely some of the same reasons my students had for their lack of documenting.

Then came hypocrite moment #2

At the beginning of the year we were sent out a Google Slides template with 12 slides based on specific professional criteria. We were told to document our professional learning and growth throughout the year, by populating the slides with artifacts and explanations.

We were reminded to continuously update it.

We were reminded to “capture” our growth and progress.

And 3 days before my end of the year appraisal meeting with my administrators…. guess what? Completely blank.

Again, it wasn’t that I hadn’t experienced any professional growth. It wasn’t even that I hadn’t documented it somewhere. It was just that I hadn’t documented it there.

And there were perfectly acceptable reasons as to why:

I already had ways that I captured and documented things that were meaningful and relevant to me.

I was already comfortable with certain platforms (my blog and Twitter) that I updated on an ongoing, organic basis

I was more internally motivated to document and capture my journey for my own reflective purposes, rather than for an external source of accountability. 

Again, all perfectly acceptable reasons. Again, likely the same reasons my students hadn’t been documenting either.

(I got it done, of course. I did what I’m sure my students do when their documenting is “due” for review. I went back through and filled it in retrospectively.)

These two moments, connected to my own practice of documenting learning – when I document, how I document, why I document, how often I document – really gave me some food for thought about how I was approaching documenting with my students.

Everyone knows the philosophical conundrum:

If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

I wonder if a similar question holds true for documenting:

If learning happens and it is not documented, did it happen? Does it count?

The more I got thinking about this, the more I was reminded of a tweet that I saw a while ago from @AnneVanDam1996

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So, before we ask (force?) our students to document their learning, I think we first need to ask ourselves:

What is the purpose of documenting learning?

Who is it really for? Who should it be for?

Does everything learned need to be documented?

How often and in-depth am I documenting my own learning?

How different does it feel to document for my own purpose versus when it is mandated by someone else?

… and what might this all have to do with what we are asking of our students?

I have no answers. Just lots of questions. And lots of empathy….

Student-Planned UOIs: An Update

A few months ago I shared with you our crazy idea to have student-planned UOIs and I left off at the part of the process where students either decided to “pivot” or “persevere”.

So here is what has happened since then…

The “Pivot-ers”

Right after some students decided to “pivot” I pulled them all together to help them reflect on their purpose, motivation and success from their first student-planned UOI. I used the continuum of purpose and the continuum of motivation to help ground their reflections and think about what they might do differently next time.

Then I had a whole guided activity planned to help them go back to step 1 (brainstorming potential purpopses) using our “purpose planner” and thank goodness I thought to ask if any of them happened to have a new purpose in mind… because every single one of them did! None of them needed me to walk them through the process of tuning into a new purpose – a process that had taken most students weeks the first time around! But now they were all much more intune with their own interests and curiosities that they could skip right over that part and jump right into designing their unit! Not to mention that they advocated for the opportunity to try to plan their unit independantly, before sitting down with me for some feedback, instead of planning their unit with me, like they had done before.

It was great to see that students were supporting one another to design their UOIs – pointing our transdisciplinary connections, suggesting possible resources, consulting on strong success criteria.

Once their new UOI planner was complete there were lots of other visible changes with regards to the motivation and success for this group of “pivot-ers”:

When they arrived to school it was the first thing they worked on

Two friends making scoobidou key chains

Walls were broken down about what kind of learning is school-worthy

Learning new card tricks

Developing cutting skills

It was clear they were in their flow

Sketching multiple perspectives of a car

They spent time on their purpose at home

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Ordering a sticker making machine

They were more confident to break away from their friends

Independanlty working on a page for the yearbook

They chose to take their purpose public

Selling his hand-made sushi to the class

Selling his hand-made sushi to the entire school community

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Sending out an order form for personalized stickers to teachers and students

Overall, the “pivot-ers” knew themselves better, felt more confident, understood “learning” in a broader, deeper way and took more risks.

The “Persever-ers”

Just as their was undeniable growth and progress with the “pivot-ers”, there was just as much with the “persever-ers”.

They challenged themselves and took themselves to the next level 

Increasing the complexity of a first design

Moving on from drawing by hand to digital drawing

Working on a bigger, more complex model

Assinged herself a 30-day drawing challenge

They took more action

3-D printed, personalized designs

Hand-made board game

They moved themselves along the continuum of purpose towards more service to others 

Student-led afterschool activity 

Student-led assemblies for younger grades

Teaching KG students how to use new and improved rock climbing wall 

Changing original purose to be more sustainable and environmentally friendly

Producing and selling personalized bamboo straws

Using a love of drawing realistic animals to inspire discussion about endangerment 

Providing photography services for Grade 4 poetry exhibition 

They chose to venture out of their comfort zone

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Student-planned field trip to a shoe factory

Preparing music set to be played at monthly school market

They developed mastery 

More sophisticated cooking supplies and set-up

Greater attention to detail and craftmanship of dollhouse

Professional quality water colour materials 

Using a laser-cutter to personalize bamboo straws

Focus on accuracy and percision of measurements

Increased curation of learning resources and materials

TInkercad playlist to support with 3-D shoe design

Specific wood needed to make a cubby organizer

And although there were some noticable differences between the groups, there were also lots of similarities regardless of whether they had pivoted or persevered.

What we noticed about all students

They wanted to teach others and share their learning

Photoshop “Master Class”

K-Pop workshop

Helping a friend with Ukulele skills

Many organic collaborations formed

Botanists and entomologist working together in the school garden

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A sushi business owner hires an artist to design his logo

Two friends build a bath bomb business together

Organic mentor relationships developed

Grade 3 teacher shares her love and talent for sketch noting 

Working with our permaculture consultant to develop our school’s composting system

Studio 5 advisor shares his passion for photography

Learning with our IT integration coordinator to film experiments 

A budding artists connects with a TA who also loves to draw

They actively sought out feedback to improve

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A feedback document designed to collect and organize feedback from multiple sources

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Request for feedback on part of her advertising campaign

They had stronger documentation of their journey

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Some have digital process journals

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Some have Weebly blogs

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Some have WordPress blogs

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Some use SeeSaw

 

Some sketchnote

 

They continued to show interest and curiosity for one another’s purpose

They improved their ability to evaluate and articulate their learning 

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So where does that leave us?

Overall, we’re surrounded by happy, free children, comfortable to be themselves and follow their own journey – but together.

We still have a long way to go in refining this process… but we’re enjoying the journey along the way.

(Photo credits – @puglifevn@PhuHua, @makingoodhumans)