Constructing The Learner Profile

One of the most positive and sincere refrains one hears in education is to teach ‘the whole child’. Most of the time, however, what that means isn’t clear. Common sense dictates that we should care about students’ emotional and social growth as much as academic. Inquiries into learning modalities or multiple intelligences seem to shed light onto planning more inclusive learning opportunities. As a slogan, ‘teach the whole child’ is perfectly fine.
The IB Learner Profile takes a much needed step toward articulating more specifically what the attributes of a ‘whole child’, or indeed any person, are.
My approach to reflecting on and documenting development of the Learner Profile in my classroom is very simple. The attributes are posted at the edges of a large blank display. As students demonstrate an attribute, they or I suggest to attach an artifact of the event on the display. When someone ‘nominates’ an artifact, it’s an ideal opportunity for reflective discussion and celebration of our achievements!
Thus far, we determined that exchanging origami Peace Cranes with students in Hawaii showed that we are caring, so we stuck some cranes on the board.
Our origami Peace Cranes show that we are caring.

Symbolically, I love having a visual representation in the classroom of our growth, not only as learners, but as people.

Our learner profile will fill up as the year progresses.
Visualizing our thinking and learning is a fun and remarkably useful endeavor, particularly in elementary school. In what ways are your students showing what they have learned and how they have grown?
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Peace Cranes

Being a connected educator is not easy. Often, a single tweet or blog post will disrupt my plans for the day, bring my train of thought screeching to a halt, or overturn part of my philosophy of learning and teaching.
And I’ve enjoyed every minute of it! One of the best tweets I’ve received was from Melvina Kurashige, in Hawaii, inviting my class to exchange origami peace cranes as part of the Peace Crane Project. Who wouldn’t want to do that?!

It was a simple and meaningful activity which involved writing messages of peace on paper, folding them into origami cranes, and sending them off. Just before sending ours, we received a package from Hawaii containing the beautiful cranes and postcard in the photo.
To bring our classes closer together, we held a brief Skype session in which the students asked each other questions about their schools, where they live, and their interests.
The activity connected perfectly with Shibuya Peace Day, one of our schoolwide events. I could imagine a class participating while reading Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes for a strong literature connection or as part of an arts & crafts unit on origami.
This fun global collaboration was most meaningful due to having a simple and worthy goal: to promote peace.

Independent Inquiry – Clean personal spaces

The shoe is actually a pencil case.

Not all inquiries are particularly academic. In fact, I’m always pleased when students’ goals focus on social, personal, emotional, physical, gastronomical, or any number of different categories of activities. In anticipation of the end of the school year, one student suggested cleaning personal spaces at school and at home. Many agreed to set it as a goal, although they agreed it was really a secondary goal and that no one had messy enough personal spaces to require a week of cleaning.

Lockers as neat as the first day of school.

I understand that this Independent Inquiry was particularly popular among parents. My favorite comment in their Ind Inq Meeting was that “now that I cleaned my locker, it’s clean every time I look at it!”

Blogging with students for authentic differentiation

During this school year, my students and I have enjoyed growing our class blog. From learning the difference between a ‘post’ and a ‘comment’ to interacting on a range of topics with other student bloggers around the world, the learning benefits have been incredible.

The greatest direct teaching benefit is the ability to differentiate tasks. To me, authentic differentiation means that students work on the same task with differentiated support, organization, and strategies. Differentiated should never be ‘different’. I have discovered many ways to use our class blog to differentiate, but I would like to highlight the most powerful with an example of an assignment. Here’s their current task posted on our blog:

Follow the link and watch some TED talks about children. Please choose one and post it on your blog. Be sure to write your opinion about it as well as any personal comments you might have.

As in any classroom, my students have a range of language and and analytical skills. I was able to differentiate this assignment in several ways:

1. EAL – to scaffold for English Language fluency, I wrote ‘cloze‘ paragraphs for a few students which allowed them to focus on the specific content. It became more of a ‘listen for’ activity which was ideal for them to get started. Later, they changed the original cloze content, which I was all too happy to see, and were able to develop paragraphs comparable to any others in the class.

2. Vocabulary Expansion – Some students hesitate to use new vocabulary. Being an outrageous show-off myself, I don’t understand this. For these students, I left private comments on their posts suggesting that they research synonyms for a few stagnant words, or even suggesting alternatives.

3. Roadrunners – At least two students in my class will always tear through a task faster than most. The first differentiation option for them can be to utilize their ability to focus to explore connecting their posts to other articles and content by creating hyperlinks or adding images. I prefer not to automatically give quick-finishers more work, and they almost always prefer the second option: Explore and comment on other class blogs (a valuable activity in itself).

4. Private Comments – When a student completes a post, there is always the opportunity for me to provide 1:1 feedback via private comments. It’s a chance to assess their writing objectively and provide the individual and invaluable feedback that truly drives writing instruction, and it gives me something to do at ten o’clock at night.

5. Leveling the Field – I don’t do it a lot, but I do edit my students’ posts before publishing. I have found it to be effective modeling which also serves to mitigate any embarrassment writers without the best grammar or spelling skills might feel when their work is shown to the world. In some cases, it’s great to call a student over for a session of suggestions to model the writing process and make their post ready for the internet.

The instructional possibilities of blogging are limited only by the creativity of the users, so in a sense they are unlimited. At this point, the class is working on expanding their opinion paragraphs into short essays with an integrated technology piece about saving and organizing drafts. To integrate data collection, interpretation, and presentation, we created and added graphs to further strengthen the persuasiveness of the the posts.

Personally, I enjoy the process of printing a manuscript and marking it copiously and I feel it can’t really be substituted. But I’m finding that there is also no substitute for the real-time, intimate writing environment of the class blog to provide the authentic differentiation that maximizes learning and motivation.

Global Collaboration – Friends in Distant Lands

Our current Unit of Inquiry, on the theme of “Sharing the Planet”, focuses on children’s rights, risks, opportunities, and challenges. To make the unit action-oriented, we are taking a project-based approach with the goal of helping children.
To broaden our perspective and practice effective digital communication, we are collaborating with other classes in India, Canada, and Hong Kong. Because we are following our own inquiries, the key to collaboration thus far has been sharing reflections and student work.

Posters about the importance of not wasting food.

I think it’s important for the collaboration to be uncontrived. Each class should be at liberty to pursue their inquiries independently, utilizing each others’ ideas, artifacts, and resources to achieve the service goals determined by the students.

Sharing photos or scans of student work is easy enough, but becoming messy in our email inboxes! I’m sure it would be better to post to class blogs and provide opportunities for everyone to view and comment on each other’s posts. Once the connection is made, it can become a normal part of our inquiry to check on each others’ progress and interact as we go.
For the purpose of teacher sharing, documentation, and reflection, I set up a Friends in Distant Lands wiki. So far, it’s just a skeleton, but I’m hoping that other teachers will utilize the resources and leave their own planning and student artifacts. Each class has their own page which they can use in any way they like. They key is to bring the collaborative spirit to the students and provide them the greatest opportunities possible to become inspired.
If the goal of the project is to help children, the driving learning objective for the inquiry is to empower children with the skills and belief that they can make a difference. There are many ways to motivate, but I’ve never found one more effective than cultivating the understanding that they can help others.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. -Margaret Mead

Inquiry should be action-oriented.

I’m new to the PYP, but not inquiry-based learning. I have always shepherded my students along winding paths of inquiry, in and out of concepts, practicing skills and picking up facts and information along the way. However, my approach to action and attitudes is rather different than what I’ve seen and heard from PYP teachers thus far.

Many of my inquiry plans begin with action. Provocation is done in the form of a challenge to help solve a problem of global and social significance. To do this, we firstly analyze the problem and the attitudes which can be used to set and achieve a service action goal. From there, an inquiry cycle like any other develops naturally and organically while the action plan is being constantly reiterated.

Rather than being “what we want the children to do”, action is a clear goal.

Rather than being “how we want the children to behave”, attitudes are interwoven into the inquiry.

The general inquiry goal is to integrate and utilize knowledge, skills, concepts, attitudes, and action to contribute to a better world. Rich, discipline-specific content is always critical to our service goals as well as a host of authentic skills and a genuine sense of participation and unity.

Here’s an example from my Grade 2 class at Full-Circle Learning Academy: We were assigned a global learning partner school in Lesotho, Africa. We learned that the parents of our learning partners were very upset that their children didn’t seem to care about school or helping with chores around the home. My class hypothesized that the children were deficient in the attitude of appreciation and devised a plan to help. They made “Appreciation Bracelets”, loads of them, and sent them to Lesotho with instructions. My students sent them because they appreciated having learning partners in another country. It was the recipients’ challenge to give them away to show their appreciation to their parents, teachers, and each other. Did they do it? I have no idea. Did my students become masters of appreciation and feel empowered to solve problems? You bet, unbelievably so. Those kids made me well up with tears of joy on a regular basis. Along the way, they practiced writing friendly letters, inquired into geographic themes, practiced some mathematical calculations, and even sprouted a healthy curiosity for African history.

The photo we received back from the class in Lesotho:

Seeing my class react with unbridled enthusiasm to this photo was all the convincing I needed to pursue this model further.

I don’t always organize inquiries in this way, but I try to inject it whenever it fits. I think this is an unmatchable way to help young learners prepare for their PYP Exhibition and, more importantly, a life of conscientious service.