When reports of the Enhanced PYP began surfacing on the International Baccalaureate Twitter feed, I was elated to see that Agency has been placed boldly at the center of the new model:
To me, the philosophical implication for this change is that the primary function and goal of education is to build capacity for action. Within the context of the IB, the Learner Profile describes the attributes within which that capacity can increase. For example, a learner may increase agency in the context of historical understanding by becoming more Knowledgeable about history, or increase agency for conflict resolution by taking Principled and Courageous action.
This is more than transformational: It’s revolutionary.
Past & present
Anyone familiar with the industrial model of education (pretty much everyone) should be skeptical about our capacity for this reform. This 180° turn way from standards- and competency-based pedagogy has a few precedents, and I am curious to learn more about classrooms and schools where independence and agency have been assigned top priority.
One school system who fits this paradigm and whose progress I have enjoyed following is High Tech High. Most of what they have shared is related to older students, so I’m curious to see more about their elementary programs.
Agency as the aim of teaching has been gaining momentum since John Dewey at the latest, and can arguably be traced back at least as far as Socrates. Luckily, my teaching experiences have tended to be less traditional and more progressively minded, and the article, How a Focus on Independent Learning Transformed My Most At-Risk Students, certainly reflects my ideas about the importance of independence in learning.
One of my approaches to cultivating agency is Independent Inquiry. Since I started the project six years ago, the mission of this project has been to:
Unify learning at school, learning at home, and learning anywhere, anytime. Empower learners to engage in and reflect on their own inquiry processes. Encourage interest- and passion-driven learning. Integrate peers, parents, communities, and global networks into the inquiry process.
After a shocking experience last year, which I reflected upon in the post, Student Survey analysis 2016, I began this school year with a plan in place to foster kindness and respect in my class.
Despite being a generally well-behaved cohort, this class is extremely critical of themselves. Rather than treating it as a problem to solved, I prefer to approach it as an opportunity for growth.
Observing the language that my students use with each other, I believe that they are simply too… familiar with each other. Rather than seeing each other as peers, perhaps they feel like siblings and don’t have formal relationships. If they become more aware of each other as individuals, it should be possible to cultivate a more formal classroom culture without losing too much of their sense of intimacy with each other.
Self and peer assessment
Since September, I asked students to complete a daily online IB Learner Profile reflection. To view and complete a copy of the form, click this link: IB Learner Profile reflection 2017-18 copy. The primary purpose of the task is to encourage them to think about how their actions lead to growth and improve our community.
Another reflection form that we starting using later in the school year is a PYP Attitude Certificate nomination form. While the purpose of the Learner Profile reflection is introspective, the Attitude form allows students to nominate each other to receive certificates for demonstrating attitudes such as Commitment, Creativity, and Enthusiasm.
These, and other important forms and information, are organized and embedded on our classroom Moodle page. Many of the students have developed a daily habit of checking that page for their homework assignments, previewing announcements for the next day, and completing their reflections and attitude nominations.
In the Spring, after thousands of self-assessments and peer nominations, my class’ opinion of their behaviors have improved.
Strangely, these results reveal an unrelated problem. Only 44% of my students completed the first student survey, administered by the school technology department. That improved to 60% on the follow up survey. As the year has progressed, they have been challenged to consistently complete even the simplest online task. Roughly a third of the class has effective online work habits, a third is irregular, and a third need constant reminders and prodding. Early in the school year, I even needed to make part of our routine to call individual students to a computer to supervise them completing long overdue self assessments or essential surveys.
After last year’s disappointing result (56% usually, 36% sometimes) regarding students being allowed to demonstrate understanding in various ways, I started this year with a focus on improved planning of assessments. Expanded opportunities for choice, along with more explicit explanations of the range of choices available, has had the desired effect of increasing the students’ creativity and sense of ownership of their learning.
As a teacher who views unit and lesson planning as Learning Experience Design, student agency – voice and choice – are always at the center of planning. For that reason, this is a particularly satisfying student survey result.
At KIST, students complete two important diagnostic assessments at the beginning of the school year. One is academic from the United Kingdom Standards and Testing Agency. The other is a Student Survey which allows the learning community to evaluate our classroom environment.
On the academic tests, only 12% of my class achieved ‘just below expectations’ and only 8% were in reading and math. That result indicated to me that academics were an area of strength and that interventions would be needed on a limited and individual basis. With differentiation strategies in place, a classroom culture that would cultivate peer support and collaboration would be helpful to increase the depth and quality of learning.
Turning attention toward the student survey, I identified two major areas of concern that could potentially derail academic progress and achievement.
This post will focus on an action plan to improve classroom climate and morale with the goal of increasing academic achievement through increased enthusiasm and positive engagement.
As detailed in the post, Elementary mindfulness, daily meditation is one strategy that could contribute to a more reflective classroom climate. However, such negative survey results showed a need for a targeted intervention with the goal of helping students to be more Reflective.
Another important opportunity for reflection is our weekly Community Circle. To help my class understand the importance of reflecting together, we elevated Community Circle to a top priority. On top of never cancelling or shortening our sessions, I devised an evaluation system by which active participation results in a ‘meeting expectations’ grade in Listening and Speaking. Knowing that their contributions as members of a community was being monitored, students practiced more intent listening and thoughtful speaking.
I set a goal to award at least one IB Learner Profile Award or PYP Attitude Certificate to each student as quickly as their actions and choices would allow. The result was over 100 being awarded and received, and every student received at least one. To provoke parent encouragement, every award was accompanied by an email to the student’s parents with a photo of them receiving it and a description of how it was earned.
The importance of being reflective
The most precise tool in this plan was to create an opportunity for students to reflect on the way the listen and speak to each other. After collaborating with my grade level team about the questions, the result was a G4B Daily kindness and respect reflection form. Completing the form was assigned as home learning every school day for three months. My assumption was that over time, regular reflection would increase students’ mindfulness to help them to improve their communication and interpersonal interactions.
The form was submitted over 800 times and the results were a satisfactory upward trend. A short term intervention might produce more dramatic results, but would not necessarily produce a lasting outcome. These data demonstrate collective and gradual improvement. It also shows that students were generally more critical of themselves than the class as a whole, and that they each improved in relation to their peers.
The most encouraging results were in the domain of listening. The class showed greatest improvement in listening actively and intently, two skills with a clearly causal connection to academic achievement.
High risk cases
Using the academic diagnostic assessment results to identify ‘high risk’ students, I made a point of checking their reflections occasionally and conferencing with them to increase awareness of their own behavior.
The first case is a student who is well known for having attention challenges as well as socially awkward patterns of behavior, as well as ‘just below expectations’ results on at least one diagnostic assessment.
Interestingly, the results clearly converge, indicating that this student believes that their behavior has improved to more closely match their perception of the class. I have observed this to be true anecdotally, as well, as students in the class have taken responsibility for helping this student to interact more productively and follow directions more consistently.
Another ‘at risk’ student took a very different journey. This may be the only example of a student rating the class lower than themself at the beginning of the survey.
There are students who could reasonably evaluate their own behavior as being better than the class as a whole. Unfortunately, this student is not one of them. We discussed his reflections in detail and there were many instances when I pointed out when choices, ranging from playing with a pencil case to shouting over group members during discussions, were examples of poor listening. The result seems to be increased awareness of their own actions, resulting in a dramatic drop in scores, followed by improvements illustrated by increases in some areas.
Another student who is not achieving academically has also had several issues outside of class related to inappropriate use of language. This is another case in which these reflections may have served as a ‘reality check’.
What is most interesting about this case for me is in which areas this student felt they were doing well and comparing that to their evaluation of the class. At first, two speaking categories were higher than the class, yet the scores converge at the end while the remaining areas dropped.
Are results like these desirable? If the goal is increased awareness, and there is a clear problem, then reflections that become gradually more negative could show increased awareness or acceptance of the problem.
Some students were not ‘at risk’ based on their diagnostic assessments, but warrant special attention for other reasons. The next student is well known, if not notorious, for being at the center of most episodes of misbehavior and interpersonal drama in our class.
Interestingly, they seem to accurately assess that their behavior is less kind and respectful than the class as a group. Yet, I am struck by the ambiguity of the self reflections. There doesn’t appear to be any strong trend and the averages of the scores simply converge at 3.5 at the end. This is a case that raises more questions than answers, the most important being whether the student is very aware of their choices, but simply failed to make or observe any progress. It’s also possible that these results could indicate a deep lack of mindfulness about the student’s own actions and interactions with others.
It is possible that a differently designed reflection tool could reveal more insights into this case.
The following graphs are included simply because the look fascinating. The first shows a strange consistency, yet also a clear trend of improvement.
Next, here’s another example of consistency based on category and gradual progress.
At the end of the three months, I asked the students to answer the original questions of concern: ‘Students are respectful to each other in my class.’ and ‘Students’ behave appropriately in my class.’ This survey was random, like the initial one.
The results are improved, but much more dramatically than I expected.
There has been a fundamental shift in behavior and the perception of behavior in my class since the beginning of the school year. While it is impossible to attribute the change to any one variable, it is safe to say that all efforts to increase kindness and respect had a cumulative effect.
There has been so much hype about mindfulness that it is easy to be skeptical about its efficacy in the classroom. However, my father, a biologist with a background in neurophysiology research, practiced Zen meditation for reasons not remotely related to the transcendental or supernatural. He did it because meditation is good for the brain.
He shared the practice with me as a teenager after observing that nervousness was preventing me from achieving my best performance as a pitcher in little league baseball.
Early in my career, I discovered that if I asked my second grade class to pause at the door to our classroom after recess for a deep breath, coaching them to expand their abdomen for the inhalation and exhale as slowly as possible, their engagement and ability to focus was uncannily enhanced.
Last year, I encouraged my fourth graders to practice mindfulness for a few minutes after eating their lunch. They were a generally calm and thoughtful cohort and the practice seemed to benefit their focus and general mood of the classroom.
This year, I prepared for a class that already had a reputation for high energy, acting impulsively, and lacking attention skills. The plan was to practice mindfulness as a class for five minutes immediately after returning from morning recess. In the first week of school, we meditated for one minute. Then, for two minutes. I coached the students in various techniques such as breathing, counting exercises, and visualization. It also seemed to help convince them of the importance of meditation to describe how athletes, artists, and other professionals use mindfulness to improve their performance.
I was thrilled to receive an email from a grateful parent, who happens to be a physician, thanking me for introducing mindfulness to her child.
‘I think it is so important that children observe their feeling and that they themselves lead an answer for their next move from themselves and being mindful really helps them to do this.
I just want to thank you for thinking about the students’ future and offering this kind of tool that can really help them throughout their lives.’
The letter concluded by stating that they were happy to be in my class because I ‘can bring out the positive behavior and create special learning environment for everyone.’
Finally, when we could consistently sit silently for five minutes, we began using Simple Habit recordings to guide and practice. I should point out that the rules for our meditations are not strict. The students are not required to close their eyes, nor do I question them about their level of participation. As long as they sit silently, including reading a book, it is fine.
It’s difficult to assess any effect our meditation is having, although for certain it helps to instill a sense of calm in the classroom after morning recess. It is also a discreet opportunity to practice being Reflective. For that alone, it is worth continuing. But considering the possible benefits meditation can have for individuals, this could be a simple initiative with profound and lasting impact.
Action is the one component of the IB Primary Years Program that is expressly difficult to implement and document. When I started at KIST, there was an opening as the Elementary Student Representative Council facilitator. Although I was reluctant to take on extra roles in my first year at a new school, my background in service learning motivated me to volunteer.
Since then, I have slowly transformed the culture of the ESRC into an authentic service learning experience.
One of the initial changes was to change members every quarter. This was done in order to provide opportunities for four times as many students per year to participate. I view each quarter as an iteration of the design thinking process, or more specifically, service design.
Service design process
1 Communicate with peers
2 Seek & identify service goal
3 Make action plan
4 Assign duties
5 Implement plan
6 Reflect on outcomes
The process begins by raising questions and surveying the elementary student population about their views on how the school might be improved. ESRC members speak with their own classes, and older representatives visit younger classes. Their suggestions and concerns are discussed in a subsequent meeting to identify a service goal.
In addition to speaking with their classes, each iteration of the ESRC conducts at least one meeting with the Elementary School Principal. The format and purpose of these meetings will continue to evolve, but their efficacy in promoting confidence and sense of purpose is invaluable.
Details of all meeting notes are kept in an Excel workbook with a new sheet added every quarter.
In the article Community Service Ideas for Youth: Why Giving Back Matters by Marilyn Price-Mitchell, PhD, the focus for elementary students is on learning to be responsible. However, the ESRC at KIST is voluntary and the expectation of responsibility is made clear to prospective members before they join. Our focus is on growing as Communicators.
Members use a private email group to communicate with each other and a public (within the school) group to stay in touch online. I found that the emphasis on communication whether through meetings, speaking to large groups, and creating posters and other visual media, shifts the students’ attention from ‘learning to be responsible’ to needing to be responsible to take and illicit Action.
Our successes have included helping a Grade 2 student to persuade the school administration to install a Friendship Bench and sponsoring a Pink Shirt Day.
My first eye opener was Jim Sill’s session, Google Views – Lessons in 360º, in which I was introduced to Cardboard. This is a realist iteration of virtual reality that could be easily integrated into schools. Although I haven’t had other VR experiences, I wonder if Cardboard offers a majority of the sensory experience.
Overall, I was most inspired by Stephen Taylor’s Formatting the Flow session. As an inquiry teacher, I have always wrestled with the impulse to manage students’ learning. What Stephen showed was how formatted documents can make processes visual and focus students on their learning rather than their presentation and reporting media.
I began with a brief introduction to the concept of transparency as it is viewed in practice in government, business, and education. Then, following a generally ‘less to more’ transparent framework according to the slides embedded below, I shared the tools that I use to make planning, teaching, and assessment in my classroom as transparent as possible. Included in the demonstrations were my weekly planners. I use a template in Google Sheets that allows me to plan to five minutes of accuracy include relevant details including differentiation. These documents are published as a webpage and the link is shared on our class Moodle site. Having the plans published via a link allows easy access from any internet connected device. A classroom computer at the front of our classroom is dedicated to our projector, but it also has all of our links saved as bookmarks in the web browser. Throughout the day, students check these links. This increases the amount of time that I can devote to learning by minimizing questions like ‘what are we doing next?’ or ‘what’s after lunch?’.
Click image to view as webpage.
A teacher in the workshop asked if there was added stress from publishing all of my planning. I replied with that this level of transparency adds a component of accountability that is its own reward. Using the publishing capability of Google Apps, I also publish slides of our daily warm ups and home learning assignments. They are embedded on our class Moodle and require no additional maintenance. They update automatically when new slides are added. If a parent or other member of our learning community uses them even once to have a conversation with their child or keep up to date on home learning, it’s worth the minimal effort to set up.
Finally, I shared my data workbook. This is a system of spreadsheets that provides me with real time data from assessments and then publishes the same data to individual pages, published as websites, for students and families.
This works extremely well for parents to keep up to date on their child’s learning and for sharing web addresses, usernames, and passwords. All materials for the workshop are shared in a public Google Drive folder, Transparency | GAFE Summit Kobe 2016. Strangely, as soon as my session ended, I felt the urge to develop a new data management system that could provide more possibilities for data visualization and analysis. I’ve already begun sketching ideas and look forward to designing and programming this summer.
I’ve completed tons of online professional development, and nothing compares to the invigorating social and interactive experience of a face to face conference. Ironically, this can be especially true in technology where digitally isn’t necessarily the best way to learn something new. The tools which I have put to work immediately are Quizizz and SafeShare. Since introducing Quizizz, my students constantly ask when we will be taking the next quiz. Reflecting on my own presentation, I feel that I probably learned more than my participants! It is easy to feel that the time and energy spent preparing to conduct a conference or workshop session is wasted, but I found the opposite. By deeply analyzing and presenting my approaches to technology in the classroom, I deepened my understanding. Being inspired to expand my strategies was an unexpected surprise! If you’re curious to explore the conference, follow this link to view the full schedule. I’ve already been contacted by Google related colleagues about organizing an event in Tokyo, so I look forward to putting some of that inspiration into action.
At KIST, we conduct an annual student survey to assess classroom climate. Students complete the survey electronically and anonymously by evaluating statements about me and the class as ‘usually’, ‘sometimes’, or ‘no’. The resulting data is later shared with teachers. It’s an informative method of receiving feedback which can be used to refine approaches teaching.
Overall, my survey results were very positive. To statements which I would consider critical, like ‘My teacher cares about me.’ and ‘My teacher shows respect to all students.’
One question which I find very useful for evaluating my differentiation strategies is ‘I am able to do the work given to me.’
An 81% ‘usually’ and 0% ‘no’ outcome shows that my ongoing formative assessment cycle assures that every student is both challenged and capable of success. One surprise was an unexpectedly positive response to ‘My teacher allows me to demonstrate my understanding in various ways.’
Through the first half of the school year, providing multiple pathways to understanding and accepting diverse assessment artifacts have been areas I feel I have neglected. However, my students seem to think otherwise, so perhaps what I have been doing has been satisfying for them.
The first disturbing result in the student survey was to the statement ‘Students are respectful to each other in my class.’
The majority of students responded ‘sometimes’, indicating that I could be doing more to foster respect in my class. Fortunately, they don’t seem to think that I lack respect.
My biggest disappointment is the only 62% ‘usually’ response for ‘My teacher teaches about and demonstrates the Learner Profile attributes.’
Planning and executing IB Primary Years Program units of inquiry has been my greatest frustration this year as I adapt to a new teaching environment. In the past, I have been very careful to explicitly teach the elements of the PYP embedded within units of inquiry. Thus far in this school year, such careful planning and execution simply hasn’t happened. Fortunately, my class is in the formative stages of a new unit so it’s a perfect time to bring IB Learner Profile attributes back to the front. To get started, I’ll access another data source, our Learner Profile reflections, by looking at the analytics.
This data visualization reveals that at this time, according to their self assessments, Caring is my students’ least developed Learner Profile attribute. This evidence also supports their feeling that they are not respectful to each other in class.
By making Caring a focal point in our next unit of inquiry, these issues may be addressed.
The statement ‘I feel free to ask and answer questions.’ is the most perplexing to me.
Contrasting that with a more favorable response to ‘My teacher gives me help when I need it.’ suggest some confusion.
In general, school has traditionally been a place where teachers have answers to students’ questions. While that is a culture that I reject, it doesn’t mean my students have not grow up with that mindset. As in Ted Meyer’s TED talk, Math class needs a makeover, I aim to promote ingenuity and inquiry by being ‘less helpful’. Students constantly ask me questions that could researched in a book, on the Internet, or by asking their peers. For example, I almost never answer spelling questions for students.
I also avoid the traditional hand raising routine that most classrooms follow, preferring to call for responses randomly or in an open forum setting. So it’s little surprise that many only ‘sometimes’ feel free to ask questions since they are likely still processing the cognitive dissonance of a new culture of ‘less helpful’classroom participation.
This is an interesting exercise, although doing it any more than once per year would be too much. I can also see how it might be difficult to compare results year to year, as the perspectives of different classes can vary so widely.
I am happy to take away some actionable data and look forward to seeing what results it might lead to.