Examples of Student Voice

Last week I was in a virtual PD session with educators from around the world and in one of the breakout rooms the conversation turned to student voice. Many of the educators were sharing some of the issues and challenges their school was experiencing shifting the educational paradigm to one in which adults see and value the power, purpose and place of student voice within a school context. Listening to where they were in their journey, had me reflect where we are in our journey. And I was really proud to think of all the amazing ways student voice is honored, respected, encouraged and invited at the school I currently work at.

I thought perhaps sharing some of our examples could help schools early on in their journey get some inspiration. And, perhaps other schools farther along in their journey could provide us some feedback to help us continue to grow and improve.

So here it is… some examples of where I can notice and name student voice having space and playing a role within and beyond the classroom.

INPUT INTO PLANNING

These past few years we have been on journey to find ways to invite learners in as co-designers and co-planners of the learning.

Teachers have made the curriculum transparent to students and invited their thoughts, opinions and preferences about which outcomes to explore in upcoming units.

Teachers have invited learners in on identifying Learner Profile Attributes and ATL skills within Units of Inquiry.

Teachers have invited learners in on selecting key concepts and planning lines of inqiury

Teachers have invited learners in on coming up with the central idea.

Teachers have invited learners in on finding resources for the unit and planning next steps.

Teachers have invited learners in on deciding how, when and where to share their learning and ‘take it public’.

Teachers have invited learners into the planning of Exhibition; including the pre-planning as well as the planning of the gala event

INPUT INTO ASSESSMENT

This co-designing and co-planning has also included an intentional focus on how to invite and involve learners into documenting, monitoring, measuring and reporting on their learning in order to build their assessment-capability.

Teachers have partnered with learners to co-construct rubrics and other assessment tools.

Teachers have partnered with learners to monitor their progress throughout a unit.

Teachers have partnered with learners to have input into measuring learning upon completion of a unit.

Teachers have partnered with learners to report on their learning.

REFLECTIONS

Co-designing and co-planning units also means that learners are invited in on the final reflections about the units.

Teachers have noticed opportunities for reflections about initiatives or innovations, such as P.I.E.

FEEDBACK

Another important way we strive to respect and support student voice is by always looking ways for to collect and act upon their feedback.

As a school we have collected learners’ experiences, perspectives and suggestions on school wide-innovations like P.I.E.

This has included gathering data from learners…

Analyzing the data in macro and micro senses…

Sharing the findings with the community…

Currently, this also includes holding focus groups for learners who would like to sit down and talk about our PIE initiative. (Which has been AMAZING… blog post on this coming soon!)

Sample soundbite from the Grade 3 focus group:

This focus on feedback also extends to our school PYP Exhibition experience, where our Grade 5 teams collects data each week to understand how learners are feeling and what they need. This data allows the team to responsively plan next steps based on the data they collect.

EXPRESSION

Another important layer of creating space for student voice is to intentionally find avenues for student expression.

We are using RULER tools to help us make space for students to express their feelings.

Opportunities within and beyond the classroom for students to express themselves via the arts.

And opportunities for students to express themselves via play.

STUDENT LEADERSHIP

Another way student voice has a place at our school is with our Primary Student leadership team. Each year representatives from each grade are elected by their peers, and these representatives form what we call our “Learner Voice Board”.

The Learner Voice Boards gets together each week to deal with student concerns that have been brought to them from their peers.

They also collaborate with other groups, such as the PTA (Parent Teacher Association) and the Secondary School Student Leaders to co-plan and organize school events.

They are also given space to update the community on what they are working on. A great example of this is when our school director invited them to speak at the parent association meeting.

The Learner Voice Board will also play a big role in getting student feedback, and participating in decisions about next year planning; including the schedule, break times and structures, logistics of eating and planning, and refinement of PIE structures.

We are also very proud that our Learner Voice Board has been able to inspire and support other schools and students wanting to create more opportunities for student voice at their school.

INVITATIONS AND OPPORTUNITIES

These habits and practices of seeing and treating children as partners in decision making and problem solving extend beyond certain grade-levels and the Primary division, and are seeped into the culture of our school. Which means that opportunities are created and communicated to learners about how they can get involved in things that the adults are currently tackling.

A great example of this is the Sustainability Committee at our school, which has reached out for student representation to participate in the committee. And has invited them into the current problem them are tackling of setting up a school-wide recycling program.

Another example would be inviting learners to solve problems as they arise. One example of that is getting learners to help us solve the logistical puzzle of sharing play spaces this year.

STUDENT-INITIATED ACTION

One of the amazing bi-products of being at a school that intentionally tries to cultivate and grow students’ voices, is that we start to see more and more student-initiated action because learners come to understand that their voice, their ideas and their perspectives matter and have a place at school.

An example of this is six Grade 3 students coming to me to request a meeting to go through their business proposal for cactus-related products and their needs for space and supervision to have their business meetings, product production and storage.

Another example would be when a group of Grade 2 learners approached our school principal to sit down and talk about what could be done at school to support those impacted by the war in Europe.

Another example would be the group of learners who initiated and pitches a grade wide book club.

I am proud to be a PYP Coordinator who works at a school where student voice is respected and supported. Like all PYP schools, we are on a journey and we know we still of lots of room to grow and improve in this area. However, I also feel we have lots to celebrate and share in this area!

How do you invite and involve student voice into planning, decision-making and problem solving at your school?

What feedback do you have for us about how we are trying to invite and involve student voice at our school?

Growing a School-Wide Innovation

On Friday, our amazing Primary School faculty supported learners from Grade 1 through Grade 5 to plan their own full, rich and balanced day of learning as part of something we have come to call “PIE”.

“PIE” is a home-grown innovation that stands for “Personalization, Intervention and Extension” and has been implemented school-wide, from Grade 1 through Grade 12. The implementation looks and feels different in the PYP, MYP and DP to allow for consideration such as of age of learners, divisional structures and programmatic differences. However we all share a common goal: empowering learners to understand themselves in order to make choices and take action within a supportive community as a way to continuously to grow and improve.

PIE is an initiative that grows out of our unique context. It is unlike other eduction innovations I have been part of at the other PYP schools at which I have worked – which is a good thing. One of the messages I try to give when I am consulting with PYP schools around the world is that innovations should be grown and not transplanted. And that is exactly what has happened with PIE.

PIE has grown out of:

  • our understanding of the new IB Standards and Practices
  • our school’s unique Mission and Core Values
  • our community’s philosophy and understanding of curriculum
  • our commitment to being a Professional Learning Community
  • our working towards using the Response to Intervention approach

Considering these different ingredients – the different dimensions to our identity as a school – has led to an initiative that allows us to bring all of these elements together in divisionally-appropriate ways.

The Middle School and High School have been implementing this structure for a few years, and the Primary School was excited to roll it out to our younger learners as well. In the past, the Primary learners and faculty have engaged with the concepts of voice, choice, ownership, needs and wants as a learners as well as personalization in different ways, but we were excited this year to approach those concepts through a shared, school-wide structure.

We had a little bit of a curve-ball thrown at us when we found out school was starting online, but the teachers quickly pivoted the face-to-face implementation plan to allow for a soft-start while learners were still at home. As educators, we know there are specific skills, approaches and pedagogical moves needed to support learners to make choices for themselves that can be difficult to expect from parents or caregivers supporting their child with online learning. However, we still wanted to build the momentum of learners making choices for themselves, but in a way that we felt was more manageable while they were at home.

But once we had learners back on campus with us – we were ready to launch the full implementation plan!

Here is how it went:

PREPARING

Working with Faculty

Starting the year, we were ready with a fully developed implementation guide that was built the year prior and collaboratively fine tuned with the input of teachers across different grades and subject areas. Once we heard that campuses were closed, we adapted the implementation guide to a fully online context and from the start of the year were supporting teachers with this modified, online implementation plan.

Once we heard the government decree that campuses were allowed to be re-opened, we were ready to switch over to the face-to-face implementation guide and continue to take the next steps with the faculty of how this would work on campus. We prepared all the background documents into one Google Classroom post, and allocated a faculty meeting to go through all the systems, structures, tools and routines specific to being face-to-face.

We also made sure to create additional support opportunities for the teams and teachers who needed it.

Many teachers and teams took us up on these additional support offerings. During my weekly collaborative planning times with teams I was able to support them in small groups to figure out what made the most sense for the age and specific needs of their learners. Together we worked on developing ideas, tools, references materials and procedures to help our first “on campus PIE” be a success.

Keeping Parents in the Loop

Another ‘piece of the PIE’ was to ensure we were keeping our parent community in the loop. Up until this point we had shared a video overview of PIE with them close to the start of the year to help them understand the purpose of PIE.

But now that we were coming back to campus it was a perfect opportunity to offer a live session to go into more detail. So myself, the Secondary School VP and our Director of Learning collaborated to put together an optional evening session for the parents.

We started all together with our Director of Learning sharing the “why” behind PIE – explicitly showing the connection to the IB Standards and Practices, our Mission statement and Core Values as a school, and the links with being a PLC and RTI school. He also offered some broad strokes to help illustrate for parents how PIE works.

Then we split up into breakout rooms to dive a little deeper into how it works in each division. I was able to work with a small group of Primary School parents and share more details about how PIE works and what it might look like for their child.

It was a small group, but an engaged and passionate one, who asked lots of great questions to deepen their understanding of PIE.

When it comes to supporting parents, we also worked with the faculty to help them understand how their communication with parents is essential in order to bring them onboard. We shared some professional resources to give them some ideas how to do this, and will continue to work with them to help them see the power of not only keeping parents in the loop, but also empowering them to understand the role they can play at home.

Then it was time to launch with the kids! ūüéČ

THE LAUNCH

The structural backbone of our PIE initiative is the PYP action cycle – CHOOSE, ACT, REFLECT. We not only wanted to harness this model, but also explore it with learners. We want to be very intentional to not tell learners to choose, act and reflect, but instead to teach them how to choose, act and reflect.

Choosing

Teams worked collaboratively to plan systems, structures, tools and supports that were age appropriate for their learners. Many teams explored the concepts of ‘needs’, ‘wants, ‘balance’ and ‘prioritization’ as teaching-points in preparation for the choices their students were going to make.

We had an all-hands-on-deck approach, which allowed us to present the learners with lots of adult-led learning experiences throughout the day, that were supported by:

  • homeroom teachers and TAs
  • single-subject teachers and TAs
  • integrationists for ICT, library and PSPE
  • Support services team – EAL and Learning Support teachers

This flexible and creative use of time, space and faculty allowed us to harness 33 educators to support 138 learners!!!

Teachers also created different tools, based on the ages and skills of their learners to help them document the choices they made.

We saw lots of drawing and labeling in the younger grades.

And the integration of digital tools in the older grades.

When it came to support for learners during the ‘choose’ block there was whole-group instruction, guided groups and one-on-one support to help them understand how to make the best choices for themselves.

And, of course, lots and lots and LOTS of conferencing! Both peer-to-peer, and teacher-to-learner.

Questions I heard during these conferences:

  • What did you choose? Why did you choose it?
  • How did you know those choices were right for you?
  • Do you feel your day is balanced? How do you know?
  • Which of your choices are ‘needs’ and which are ‘wants’?
  • Are you sure your choices address your priorities? How do you know?

The conferences really provided an opportunity for partnership. A chance for the teachers to understand the perspectives of the learners, but also a chance to share their professional expertise with the learners about needs and priorities. This shared decision-making is an essential part of ensuring learners are making informed choices about their learning.

After learners made their initial choices, conferenced with peers and teachers, refined and improved their choices, they were ready to sign-up for any of the adult-led learning opportunities.

Many of the grade-levels also displayed the sign-ups within their learning environments.

Once the plans were finalized… it was time to act!

Acting

As soon as the clock struck nine there was buzz across the Primary campus! Learners were literally running to their first block! As learners were acting on their choices it was amazing to see all the different learning opportunities made available for learners, from all the different educators within the Primary Faculty.

There was support for learners with their Units of Inquiry for catching up, going further and taking action connected to all three Lines of Inquiry:

Inquiry into our learning environments

Inquiry into our learning communities

Inquiry into myself as a learner

As well as support for ATL skills, like research and self-management

There was support for math, in the forms of:

Additional instruction

Guided groups

One on one support

Opportunities for extension and challenge

There were opportunities to grow language and literacy skills, in the forms of:

First language and additional language support

Support with phonics, spelling, letter formation, rhyming, fine motor skills and vocabulary

Read alouds

Author Studies

Storytelling

Independent Reading and Writing

Reading and Writing Conferences

There were also opportunities for interventions and extensions with our specialist subjects like Visual Arts, Performing Arts and PE

There were opportunities for personalization:

Support with starting a personal inquiry

Time to pursue personal interests like coding or building

Throughout the day, there was lots of support with how to act on your choices. Teachers helped learners build the skills of referencing schedules, referring to plans, and keeping track of what they’d done so far

Reflecting

Teams also worked collaboratively to plan how best to teach learners to reflect on their day. Similar to the ‘choose’ block, teachers made informed choices based on the age and skills of learners to create tools and routines for the reflection block as well.

Learners expressed themselves through writing, drawing and speaking to reflect on prompts provided by teachers. These prompts helped them to think deeply about the choices they made and the impact those choices had on their learning.

The educators supported learners with mini-lessons about the skill of reflecting as well as lots and lots and LOTS of conferences!

Questions I heard during these conferences:

  • How did your choices go? Which ones made the biggest impact on your learning?
  • How did you do following your choices? What makes you say that?
  • What did you learn about yourself as a learner?
  • What might you do differently next PIE?

There were also some cool opportunities for learners to participate in reflecting on PIE as a whole, beyond their own individual learning. One team used a ‘plus/delta’ protocol to invite the learners to offer feedback about what worked and what needs to be changed and improved for next time.

Another team also took this opportunity to create a “PIE Learning Story” to share with families. They documented and explained how the day worked to help parents better understand how their child experienced ‘personalization, interventions and extensions’. They posted it on their bulletin board and shared it with their families via Seesaw.

NEXT STEPS

Teachers Next Steps

As we are learners first and foremost ourselves, it is essential that we build the habits on ongoing reflection. Teachers were given some reflective questions to help them analyze what was revealed throughout the day, and how they can use those observations and evidence next week to respond to learners.

My Next Steps

Just as the teachers analyze and respond to evidence from their learners… I also must analyze and respond to the evidence from my learners, aka the faculty! I will take some time to sift through my observations and reflections from the day and strategically support individuals and teams with suggestions, scaffolds, tools and coaching to help them continue to grow in their implementation of PIE.

I was also provoked by our Grade 1 team creating a ‘Learning Story’ about PIE for their grade-level parents community and I would love to do the same for our Primary-wide parent community. I think the ‘show and tell’ aspect of a learning story can contribute to parents’ ongoing understanding and of our PIE initiative.

Our Collective Next Steps

Together, we will reflect and work towards identifying and ‘de-bugging’ any logistical or structural glitches that impeded student learning.

At the moment we have collectively identified a handful of issues and are already working collaboratively to address them before next week.

Overall, it was an AMAZING day of learning. There was a buzz in the air. Learners were energized, engaged and empowered. The conversations with learners about their choices were rich, reflective and grounded in a strong sense of who they are as learners – aware of what they need and want and are interested in. At the end of the day there was a palpable sense of pride, confidence, accomplishment and celebration – from the learners and the faculty!

I look forward to continuing to partner with this amazing faculty over the course of the year, through multiple cycles of action research, as we continually choose-act-reflect towards our shared goal of: empowering learners to understand themselves in order to make choices and take action within a supportive community as a way to continuously to grow and improve. .

10 Tips for Moving from Professional Development to Professional Learning ‚Äď Choose  Act Reflect

Starting the Year with the PYP Enhancements in Mind

Our PYP community is in a unique situation. We welcomed in the PYP Enhancements last school year – but for many of us, it was mid-way through the year. Which means this is the first time lots of us are planning our first weeks with the enhancements in mind.

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I’m sure many of these considerations were already present in our previous approaches to back to school planning. But now we have a solid, common, intentional framework from which to plan our first day, our first week, and even the days leading up to the first day.

So as we plan our start to the year we need to be sure to ask ourselves and each other:

Are we thinking about The Learners?

Are we thinking about Learning and Teaching?

Are we thinking about the Learning Community? 

To help us all in this collective goal I‚Äôve shared some ‚Äėstart of the year‚Äô blog posts organized around those 3 categories:

The Learner

Relationship Building 

Why We Must Invest in Relationship Building First

An Inquiry Into My Students

Connecting with Students 

Learning and Teaching

Sowing the Seeds for a Great Year Р10 Tips for an Inquiry-Based First Week 

What Does an Inquiry-Based First Week of School Look Like?

What Could an Agency-Supportive First Week of School look like?

Best First Week of School Ever!

Best First Month of School Ever!

My Plan For  a More Fair and Free Place to Learn

Starting the year off slowly

The Learning Community 

Reaching Out to Families

Getting Parents On-board 

How are you ensuring the PYP Enhancements are guiding your back to school planning?

What other resources would you add to this list to help strengthen our focus on The Learner, Learning and Teaching and The Learning Community?

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?

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?

Agency PD – A First Attempt

A few weeks ago I shared my thinking about how best to structure professional development focused around student agency, and this past weekend I had a chance to test it out! I spent the day with an amazing group of passionate and dedicated educators all committed to upping the amount of voice, choice and ownership in the work they do to support their learners in their specific role.

Here is how it went…

The Before:

The first thing I knew I needed to do was get to know them as learners. So I sent out a quick Google Form that helped me begin to understand who they are and what they are hoping for from our time together.

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The results were very informative and helped me put together a day of professional learning about agency tailored to their needs.

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From there I focused on building a workshop where they were able to not only learn about learner agency, but learn through experiencing their own agency as learners. All of my planning and decisions were guided by the question, “How can I help them learn about student agency” instead of focusing on “How can I teach them about student agency”.

Before the day of the workshop I also spent some time putting together a virtual learning space, our own Google Classroom, to help distribute documents and resources.

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I knew that not all participants were comfortable on Google Classroom, so I insured that there were plenty of other options and avenues for accessing resources and using some of the templates.

For example, sending out links via email:

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And having shorty links visible when they arrived the day of the workshop:

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The During:

When participants arrived the day of, I made sure they all had access to the presentation slides – which were editable – as there were a few activities where everyone would need to contribute thoughts and ideas.

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First we started with a simple activity to help them connect with each other, the topic of the workshop and their own experience as a student.

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Then I was transparent about the structure of the workshop – Choose, Act, Reflect – and my thinking behind it.

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The “Choose” Portion of the day…

To help them self-assess where they are in their own journey of understanding and supporting student agency, I used a Gradual Increase of Independence (adapted from the original design by @orenjibuta)

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Next I guided them in using the data from their own self-assessment to create their own personalized success criteria for the day

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Then, we co-constructed a menu about documenting learning – starting with the “why”, and moving to possible “hows” and “whats”

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Everyone took a turn to share how they were planning to document their learning throughout the day, and it was so great to see so many different approaches!

After that, it was time for them to plan their day! I took some time to give them an overview of all the different possible options that could support their learning throughout the day.

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I briefly explained what my optional workshops were about and how the conferences would work:

Who the Skype experts were:

I helped them centralize the things they might want to discuss with one another:

I previewed the resource document that I built for them.

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And then… they were off planning!!! (using their success criteria and self-assessment to inform the choices they made about their learning)

The “Act” Portion of the day…

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Optional Workshops:

1. The “Why” Behind Student Agency

First we started with an opportunity for them to tune into their own understanding of what they think student agency is.

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Next we moved into a “Tug of War” to help them debate and discuss a variety of underlying beliefs, assumptions and philosophies connected to agency.

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Finally, we did Chalk Talk to help them engage with some provocative stimuli to poke and provoke their thinking and emotions further. (Warning – some stimuli are quite extreme!)

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2. Transferring Decision into the Hands of Learners

First, I had everyone brainstorm all the decisions they make in their role as an educator

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Then, I had them use a quote from the Empower book to challenge them to think about which of those decisions learners “should” or “could” be making themselves.

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Then I invited them to visit other groups and leave some feedback to push each other’s thinking a little further.

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Finally, I had them reflect on any shifts in their thinking as a result of the activity.

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3. Self-Reflection and Planning for Action

First I introduced a few self-reflection tools, to help them see where they are already respecting and supporting student agency and also where there might be some space to make some changes in their practice to work towards even more respect and support for student agency.

I used a sketchnote from @terSonya

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and a questionnaire that I developed

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Once they had some time to engage with the tools, I supported them in using their self-reflection to develop a personal action plan

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Optional Guided Groups or Conferences:

I only had one conference slot filled about agency vs. the curriculum. We sat and chatted for 15 minutes about questions, challenges, ideas and resources.

Skypes with experts:

I was so fortunate to have 4 amazing educators donate some of their weekend to support the learning of people in the workshop.

@bondclegg chatted with MYP and DP educators about how to up the agency within and around program restrictions

@hktans chatted with leaders and administrators about how to support the development of teachers when it comes to understanding agency and also how to bend and break rules in order to re-imagine what school could be

@ms_AmandaRomano shared her own personal journey as an experienced educator unlearning, learning and relearning how to support student agency as a classroom teacher

Stephen Flett chatted with educators about how learning support can function within a system that supports more student agency

Collaborative Conversations:

There was LOTS of connecting, chatting, dialoguing, brainstorming and challenging

Independant Inquiry:

There was also lots of personal inquiry into the resource document

The “Reflect” Portion of the day…

When we all came back together at the end of the day, I guided them through a formative self-assessment where they were able to choose how best to assess their personalized success criteria to know where they currently are and where they need to go next

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Then we spent some time collectively brainstorming the “why”, “how” and “what” of reflection

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and everyone chose the style and content of reflection that was most useful and comfortable for them. It was great to see such a wide range of approaches to reflection! Everything from painting, writing, sketching, talking, sleeping… to even graphing!

Then we spent a few minutes talking about how the learning doesn’t have to end…

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How fears are normal…

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And how leaving your comfort zone often leads to something amazing!

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Finally, before they left, I asked if they could share their honest feedback with me about the day. I wanted to make sure I was honouring their voice as learners!

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The After:

When I got home, I read through the feedback:

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Reading through their feedback was so helpful. It helped me reflect on what parts of the workshop worked really well, and also some parts of the workshop I need to revise for next time.

As I was reading through the “wishes” I noticed that there were many people who felt that two things were missing from the workshop:

At first I started to go down the path of regret and all the shulda, coulda, wouldas…. but then I realized that ¬†just because the workshop was over, didn’t mean that my support for their learning had to end! So I decided to take action and respond to what their feedback was telling me.

I made two Google Slide presentations (linked above) – one to address each area that seemed to be missing from the workshop. And I sent those presentations to the workshop participants via our Google Classroom and email.

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Now I can feel a little bit better that I honoured their voice as learners, and took action to respond to their needs… even if it was technically “after the workshop”.

My reflections….

  • overall, it was a really great day
  • learning through agency is essential in order to understand agency
  • empowering educators to understand themselves as learners and where they are on their own journey helps the learning extend beyond the hours of a workshop
  • investing time in the “before” and “after” really helped me honour their voice as learners
  • this structure created a really relaxed, comfortable vibe for the day
  • the medium IS the message

How do you support educators in developing their understanding of student agency?

What feedback do you have for me as a workshop planner/facilitator in order to better meet the needs of my learners?

APPENDIX (added to the original post)

The Monday after this workshop I received the following email from one of the participants:

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What a great feeling to see that learning from the workshop lead to action that resulted in happy, successful teachers and students!!!

Some thoughts on PD about agency

Recently I’ve been invited to visit a school in China to help poke and provoke their staff’s thinking about student agency. So being the keener that I am, I started putting together my workshop for them!

It was beautifully planned down the very last detail:

First I will provoke their thinking with a range of quotes, videos, and tweets. Then I will tune them into what they already know, or think they know about the concept of agency using a Frayer model and a Growing Definition. The I will get them to create their own questions using the Question Formulation Technique. Then I will give them a resource doc and have them inquire into the different resources and capture their thinking using a Connect-Extend-Challenge. Then I will get them to complete an agency self-reflection tool and put together a personalized action plan. Then to finish it off, I will have them complete a reflection activity called “I used to think… Now I think…”.

At first I was quite pleased with myself – inquiry-based, interactive, hands-on, lots of choice, full of Visible Thinking Routines and other best practices. Done and done!

But then I caught myself…

I couldn’t help but notice a pattern: “I will…, I will… I will… I will…” whether it was, “give them, get them to, or have them complete…” I was definitely the one engineering the learning.

So I began to wonder…

If the medium is the message, am I respecting and supporting their agency as learners?

Am I modelling for them what I’d hope to see them do in their classroom with their own learners?

Does the structure I have planned help them learn about agency, or through agency?

So I scrapped everything I had and went back to the drawing board, keeping those guiding questions in mind.

Now my plan looks totally different:

First, I will be transparent about the structure of the workshop. Explaining why the medium needs to be the message and what that has to do with my vision of them as capable, competent learners who know themselves and know what they need and how they learn best.

Next, they will construct their own personalized success criteria that shows what they hope to know, understand and/or be able to do by the end of our time together.

Then, I will present some systems and structures that provide a plethora of potential ways to learn about agency: a variety of optional sessions led by me, a structure for workshops any of them want to offer for each other, a resource Google document with many resources about agency that is editable so they can add new resources they find/create, an expert wall where teachers can sign up for aspects of agency they feel confident helping one another with, a conversation wall where they can add topics related to agency they want to discuss with one another, some possible time slots for one-on-one or small group conferences with me, opportunities to Skype with other educators experimenting with agency etc.

Next, I will provide them with blank schedules where they will fill in what they want to learn, how they plan to learn, where they will learn and with whom they will learn over the course of our two days together. Also blocking out potential breaks and time for lunch as they see fit.

Also, we will discuss planning for documentation. We will discuss all the different ways to document learning – Evernote, Google doc, Google slides, Twitter, notebook, bubble catcher, personal blog etc. – and then they will choose how best to capture and record their own learning.

Then the majority of our time together will be them learning – hopefully, with some conducting personal inquiries, others learning collaboratively, some choosing to attend my sessions, others attending peer-led sessions, lots of conversation – one-on-one, small group, and large group – with me and with each other. Not to mention taking breaks, eating, drinking, time for play and fun.

Towards the end, they will self-assess using their personalized success criteria to evaluate their own learning and ascertain their next steps in their learning journey towards understanding and implementing agentic models of learning.

Finally, to wrap up our time together we will collectively brainstorm why we reflect, how we can reflect and what specifically we can reflect about. My hope is that this generates a menu of “how” options ranging from conversation, to painting, to vlogging, to writing, to sketchnoting and “what” options ranging from what they learned about, to how they learned, to how they felt about their learning. Then they will reflect in a way that is most comfortable and purposeful for them as learners.

Obviously I won’t know how it goes until it actually happens… but I can say that I feel much more comfortable (and less hypocritical) with my second plan, compared to my first.

I know there are many of us in the education community charged with supporting teachers to learn about agency and shift their practice towards a more agentic model of learning. I think if we want to do so successfully then we need to be very purposeful in crafting professional learning experiences where the medium¬†is the message – where teachers experience agency as learners, in order to be able to then go back into the classroom and respect and support their students’ agency as learners.

What are your approaches to helping teachers understand and implement more agentic models of learning?

*I’m also very open to feedback and suggestions about how I can make my plan even more agentic for the teachers I will be working with, so please feel free to leave constructive comments below!*

Student-Planned UOIs

Currently, our grade level has 84 different Units of Inquiry happening simultaneously – a different one for each student. All connecting to different transdisciplinary themes, exploring different key concepts, developing different ATL skills, strengthening different attitudes, developing different attributes of the Learner Profile and lasting for different lengths of time.

It is PYPx?

Nope… it’s just a “normal” week in Studio 5!

How did we get here? What was our “why”? Our “how? Our “what”? And where do we go from here? Stick with me for this lengthy blog post and I will try to capture and share our journey through supporting our students to plan, execute, and report on, their own Units of Inquiry.

Why?

So often as PYP educators, we start with the UOI and then work hard to figure out how to wrap each student around the unit we have planned. We use provocations, tuning in activities and student-generated questions to help students find “their connection” to the UOI. And although UOIs are¬†broad and conceptual with lots of space for inquiry within, at the end of the day we are still trying to get students to find their connection to our units.

 

The more and more my team and I began to understand and value student agency, the more and more we began to wonder:

Why do all of our students need to be inquiring into the same UOI all at once, for the exact same length of time?

Aren’t all of these teacher-made decisions when planning a UOI¬†pulling us away from our goal of respecting and supporting students’ agency as learners?

Do all of our students even need to be inquiring into the same TD theme at the same time?

Dissatisfied with our previous attempt to reconcile agency and teacher-planned Units of Inquiry, we decided to be risk-takers and take action. Instead of trying to wrap each student around a UOI, we decided to try and wrap a UOI around each student.

Our goal was to help students plan their own Units of Inquiry based around their own passions, interests and curiosities, while at the same time protecting and maintaining the role each of the 5 essential elements of the PYP played within a UOI.

How?

If we were going to expect our students to plan their own units based around things they were intrinsically motivated to learn about, we knew we had to empower students to understand motivation and more specifically, understand their own motivation. So with the help of Dan Pink’s research and resources we began an inquiry into motivation.

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Next, we wanted to help students be able to choose something they were truly motivated to learn. We knew that jumping straight into “What’s one thing you are intrinsically motivated to learn” was unlikely to get us where we wanted to be, so instead we crafted some questions to hopefully help students uncover¬†things in their lives that already showed evidence of intrinsic motivation.

Students filled one in about themselves:

Their parents also filled one in about their child:

Then students used both “planners” to select one “purpose”. We chose the word “purpose”… well, purposefully! We knew that eventually we wanted to have students plan their unit using a modified PYP Bubble Planner, and we wanted to keep the essence of that planner as much as possible. And since box 1, question 1 on the Bubble Planner is “What is our purpose?” we knew that eventually the student Bubble Planner would ask “What is your purpose?” Another reason we chose purpose is because we wanted to steer clear of the word passion. Earlier on in the year, our Head of School provoked our thinking with the article “7 Habits Instead of Passion” which posits that ‘follow your passion’ can be dangerous advice. Ever since then we as a team have been very careful not to de-rail our student planned UOIs by focusing on “passion”.

We also discussed the concept of purpose with students – ¬†with the help of this “continuum of purpose” compliments of @sylviaduckworth.

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Knowing that this was the first time many (if not all) students had planned their own UOI around their own purpose, we knew there would be a range of the types of “purposes” that fuelled these units – many which we guessed correctly would start in the “self-awareness” and “discovery” stages.

Once students had nailed down their first “purpose” they met with a learning advisor to plan their first personalized Unit of Inquiry. Since this approach was new for my team, we all decided to use a different planner – ¬†but all of which were based off of the PYP Bubble Planner, and connected to Dan Pink’s 3 magic ingredients of motivation. As the experts on the PYP, we helped students to “wrap the PYP” around their purpose by identifying how their purpose connected to each of the 5 elements.

As can be seen from these examples, students selected their purpose, decided how long they would need to achieve their purpose, chose how best they would document their learning, what their evidence of mastery would be, and what specifically would need to be “learned about” and “developed” throughout their unit. Careful time and consideration was also given to supporting students to brainstorm resources for their learning, both within the school and beyond.

Next students were supported in creating their own timelines, tailored to the amount of time they estimated they needed to achieve their purpose.

Then students were off an running!

Along the way, students had regular check-ins with their learning advisors to discuss their progress, challenges, adjustments to timelines, needs for resources etc. We also organized an adult-database that collated teacher and parent professions, hobbies and interests and showed students how to make use of the database to contact experts connected to their purpose.

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We also put together a procedure for students to organize their own field trips out into the community.

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Students also received support, guidance and encouragement from their parents who were invited for “learning conversations”. Parents were brought into the fold about the “why, how and what” behind student-planned UOIs and were coached in how to stimulate conversation about their child’s learning, while showing respect for their child’s agency over their learning.

We even had students who had “virtual conversations” with their parents via Skype and FaceTime!

Most impressively though was the way students supported themselves and one another. It was not uncommon to see students curate their own learning resources and materials (microscopes, scales, glue, wood, cameras, safety glasses etc.)

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And reach out to one another for advice, expertise and support.

Students were also great at knowing when they needed an adult’s help and sought out assistance, supervision or feedback – regardless of whether it was “their teacher”.

It’s also been great to see that opportunities for sharing learning have been organic, authentic, purposeful and student-initiated. Most of the time it’s the simple “you gotta see this!” or “check this out!” moments.

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But occasionally there have been some bigger, more planned moments where students have “taken their learning public”.

Whether it’s asking to perform a song around the campfire during a school camping trip

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(photo cred @puglifevn)

Or signing up to sell a product at our school’s weekly market

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Or putting together a student-led workshop, to more formally teach other students what they have learned.

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(photo cred @puglifevn)

What?

So what exactly did these student-planned UOIs explore? Anything and everything under the sun!

Robot hands and flying shoes

Digital design

Special effects movie make-up

Entomology

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(photo cred @puglifevn)

Film production

Doll house construction

Mosquito repelant and anti-itch serum

Digital music mash-ups

Cooking

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Photography

basketball skills

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(photo cred @puglifevn)

font design

Miniature Models

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A scale replica of the KL race track

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Not to mention… taking care of young children, building mini arcade games, coaching swimming, writing poetry,¬†shoe “flipping” (buying bulk at a low cost and selling individually at a profit), app development, singing covers of pop songs, shoe design, dress making, stand-up comedy¬†and the list goes on…

Looking over this list, I¬†can’t help but think of this quote from John Taylor Gatto:

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So, where do we go from here?

Currently students are at a fork in the road, where they have the option to “pivot or persevere”. Students who have achieved their purpose or have noticed their intrinsic motivation has dropped (or perhaps was never there to begin with) can choose to move on to a new purpose. Students who feel their intrinsic motivation is going strong and would like to continue to pursue their first purpose can choose to stick with it.

Either way, students will reflect on and report their learning at this check-point. “Pivot-ers” will write a summative evaluation of their learning that will be shared to parents and “Persevere-ers” will write an in-progress, update of their learning so far, which will also be shared with their parents. Both templates are built around the 5 essential elements of the PYP.

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Finalized comments, such as the one below, will be shared with parents as the official UOI Evaluation of Learning (report card) via Mangebac.

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Then the cycle starts again, and those wishing to explore a new purpose will be supported to develop a second Unit of Inquiry, while those continuing with their first purpose will be supported to continue to act on their plan. No need to limit learning to a pre-determined, 6 week block.

Another consideration at this stage in the game is documentation. If students plan their own UOIs, then what happens to the POI?¬†I say….If a Unit of Inquiry can be personalized, why can’t a Program of Inquiry also be personalized!?

My vision would be a long-term tracking, ever growing and evolving document that captures students’ personalized learning throughout their PYP journey. If we as teachers, follow the process of “start with each child and wrap the PYP around them” then each year we could note what TD themes have been explored, which understanding of concepts of have been deepened, which skills developed, which attitudes strengthened and what action has been taken.

As a homeroom teacher, I am envisioning a type of Google Sheet, where each student in my class would have a tab and thought the year I would use their bubble planner and their EOL to retroactively document the 5 EEs of the PYP. This would allow me to help support and guide them to find balance as well as vertical and horizontal articulation within their own personalized POI over the course of the year.

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And what about the PYP Exhibition? Isn’t that supposed to be the one time when students have the¬†chance to¬†plan their own unit? And I guess our retort to that is – Why would we sacrifice our students’ agency across 5 other units, just to protect the ¬†specialness of having students design their own¬†unit once? We would much rather approach PYPX as an opportunity for students to reflect upon who they have become as learners and people, and what they have discovered about themselves – their motivation, their purpose, their success – a true culminating PYP experience.

If we refer back to the purpose of PYPX from the Exhibition Guidelines document, we feel confident that we are doing right by our students, not only having them experience these features once, for a pre-determined 6 week period, but at different times and in different ways all throughout their final year in the PYP.

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Final Thoughts…

Now my team and I are at a place where we feel much more comfortable about “Agency and the UOI”. It’s not perfect by any means – we are still learning, growing, failing, arguing, reflecting and tweaking. We know (and are glad) that there will be many iterations to our approach, our process and the templates that we use. But in the meantime we feel a much greater sense of ease that we have managed to respect and support our students’ agency, while still honouring the essence and expectations of the PYP.

I think that if we as a PYP community are going to talk the talk of agency, then we also need to be prepared to walk the walk of agency. And that is likely going to look and feel different from what we’ve always done and what we’re comfortable with…¬†but isn’t stepping out of our comfort zone, where we keep telling our students that the magic happens?

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Old Habits Die Hard

I haven‚Äôt always been the type of teacher I am today. When I think back to my first few years in education, I can admit that I was a super ‚Äėteachery teacher‚Äô. Behaviour charts, staying in at recess, rewards&punishments, worksheets, tests… you name it, I did. If you walked by my class you would have seen students silent and on-task – not because they were engaged, because I used me authority and control to illicit compliance.

Over the years I have learned, unlearned and re-learned and as a result transformed into a teacher who now values student agency above all else.

… but every now and then, the old me creeps back in.

Yeaterday was a perfect example:

We are smack dab in the middle of a Unit of Inquiry about how scientific thinking can help us understand humans. At this stage in the unit we were using an ‚Äúunconference‚ÄĚ model, where students are empowered to sign up for help and support when needed.

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Our deadline for literature reviews and completion of methods is Friday and although I have been supporting students all week to plan their days in hopes of meeting this deadline, there were 6 students who were nowhere close.

Feeling all the familiar feelings – the pressure to meet made-up timelines, the need to have all students at the same place at the same time, the need to ‚Äúteach those kids a lesson‚ÄĚ for procrastinating – I told those 6 that their day planning privileges were on pause until their method and lit review was done. I told them they would be sitting with me all day and could only leave my side when they showed me they were done.

Then I went home and all night had this nagging feeling of cognitive dissonance. I knew that what I had said and done was against our Studio 5 mission. I knew that I was infringing on their agency as learners. I knew I was being a hypocrite saying ‚Äėit‚Äôs your learning, you own it, I trust you‚Äô and then forcing them to sit with me until it‚Äôs finished.¬†I knew that I was taking away their opportunity to fail and learn a lesson on their own. I knew I was using tactics of authority and compliance.

I knew I was back to my old ways of being a teachery-teacher…

So the next morning I shared all this with my students. I apologized. And I told them I was there for them if they needed help and support to meet the deadlines – but it was their choice, as it had been all along.

Their choice if they wanted my help.

Their choice when they wanted my help.

Their choice about how much help they wanted.

And guess what?

Each and everyone of them signed up for an unconference with me – most signed up for all my available unconferneces that day.

And guess what else?

Most of them asked if they could give up their recess to get caught up. Some even chose to take it home at the end of the day to make up for lost time.

I couldn’t have been happier with how things turned out! I spent my day supporting them to meet their deadline Рnot because they were being forced to, but because they chose to. And that felt completely different.

If I would have stuck with my initial plan, what would they have learned?

– that I say they own their learning, but when push comes to shove, actually I do

– that planning their day is only a privilege and I can take it away anytime I want

– that procrastinating is fine, because someone else will make sure they get things done

Throwing our that plan, and respecting their ownership over their learning, what might they have (hopefully) learned instead?

– that they actually do own their own learning

– that I am here to support them, not control or police them

– that in life when you procrastinate, sometimes you need to find extra time to get caught up

And what did I learn!?

– that those impulses towards control and compliance are deep rooted in my teacher DNA

– that I need to notice when my old habits creep back in

Рthat if I’m going to talk-the-talk of agency, I better be prepared to walk-the-walk of agency

–¬†that if we always swoop in and pre-emptively save them, we‚Äôre stealing their opportunity to truly learn and grow

-that students truly are amazing … when we give them the space and room to be

Respecting and Responding to Student Voice

My students have been at school for two months now and it is really important to me that I understand how it has been going for them. Ensuring my students have opportunities to share their honest thoughts and feelings about school and me plays a huge part in respecting and supporting both their agency and their humanness for the time they spend in my care.

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This year I structured my questions around the qualities of establishing an inclusive classroom that I learned from an IB training.

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I also included questions to find out what I have been doing well and what I can do to improve.

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Here is a link to a copy of that form if you are interested in seeing it.

It’s always hard to put yourself out there and ask these types of questions. I get nervous every time I read their responses. But I also believe I get better every time I read their responses. So those temporary moments of a bruised ego are worth it because they lead to my growth both as a professional, and as a person.

So in the spirit of vulnerability and shared reflection, here is what I learned and the action I plan to take:

IMG_6459Looking at the quantitative data, I have built some professional goals that I will post in the classroom for students, parents and colleagues to see. I will invite constant feedback from my community to help me work towards these goals.

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Looking at the qualitative data, I will reach out to specific students to find out more. I will invite the 6 students who said they didn’t feel challenged to have a focus group with me so I can dig a little deeper to discover what they need. I will invite the student who didn’t feel listened to or understood to have a one-on-one conference with me to hopefully help us get to know each other better. I will ask the 3 students who do not feel safe what changes we could make to our classroom to help them feel more safe.

I also plan to share this data and my action plan with the parent community. I think they deserve to be included in this process, to know how students are feeling about school as well as the steps I plan to take to address some of their concerns.

How do you encourage and respond to student voice?

What do you ask your students to help you grow as a teacher?