There are no new ideas in this post, yet as I work on curriculum development across the subjects, I reflect on how easy it is for us to fall into the trap of backward mapping without considering the buoyant force of learners as they move up the continuum.
Starting with the end in mind – backward design (Wiggins & McTighe) – is critically important in making curriculum decisions. What are we aiming for at the end of this great journey? What do our learners need from us? This helps us design schemes, units, assessments and instructional resources that meet whatever standards or outcomes we need to address. A great backwards-designed curriculum is powerful and engaging. By knowing the desired outcomes we can see the pathways for differentiation, interest and flexibility; the learner’s journey is rich and varied and the learner becomes more than the sum of the (instructional) parts.
Interpreting backwards design too inflexibly, however, runs the risk of stripping out the soul of the subject through a laser-focused aim on a narrow selection of terminal performance tasks: “we need to get them ready for (exam/essay/other) by doing lots of (exam/essay/other) at every stage.” Well-intentioned, though potentially stifling, “get them ready for…” creates the spectre of a future to worry about. As large-scale terminal assessments necessitate reliable (standardised) operations, they measure what can be measured easily – but do they get to its true heart? If we strip a subject down to the items on a list, what happens to disciplinary authenticity and deep inquiry over time?
Whilst keeping the end in mind, how can we really harness the present enthusiasm and inquiry and build on past excitement and learning to create the moving force of experience that carries learners upwards?
The Buoyant Force
The learners that walk into our schools are not blank slates. When they step into MYP from PYP, they are energised by PYPx and their many exciting experiences. If they step up from a strong PYP, they are already knowledgeable, enthusiastic inquirers. Similarly in the transition from MYP to DP, the tempered learner enters DP with a toolkit of ATL skills, disciplinary and interdisciplinary foundations. None of this is frivolous or superficial and they are not fixed empty vessels, waiting to be filled with a set amount of content.
They are more like air bubbles racing to the surface of the water, expanding and accelerating as they go. When they hit the surface, they transition into the next phase: we launch them from school to the world. Along the way, however, there is the buoyant force, an upwards push that we can harness in curriculum design. It might sound cheesy, but run with it.
What are the opportunities and experiences that nucleate those bubbles? How can we catch the bubbles and keep those moving forces pushing upwards? When I reflect on things happening in our own context I think of a few examples:
- The rapid evolution of our Design classes in many ways. Introducing 3D printers and Tinkercad was great – but even greater is that once the PYP kids got a hold of it, those initial MYP lessons have become redundant already. Now the young MYP designers are doing amazing things, with purpose and audience. The buoyant force of the early experience allowed for even more awesome things to happen later.
- The revolution of PHE in MYP and the obvious and exciting enthusiasm of the learners as they move up the course. I’m stoked to see how they introduce more authentic data analysis and as a department they have created fantastic learning opportunities.
- The young PYP writers, coming out of a workshop model into MYP are already equipped for mini-lessons, conferencing and lots of active output in authentic genres. They are ready to write, read and produce work for real audiences.
In every discipline, in all sections of the continuum, I see examples like this, and it is amazing. The buoyant force creates pressure on a backward-mapped curriculum. There is no surer way to burst a kid’s bubble than to approach curriculum with the view that “I know you can do [amazing thing], but we need to do [less amazing, but seemingly more ‘valid’ thing].”
So as we develop vertically articulated curriculum, are we spending the care to think about the very best of what these learners know and can do already, and about how a rapidly evolving curriculum in the years below might precipitate a need for (r)evolution and reinvention in the years above? Do we think about it as a spiral, so that even if they encounter similar topics or concepts, they are truly building a stronger understanding through inquiring more deeply and with greater sophistication? Are we looking left and right for connections and experiences that can enhance the experience?
In the younger years are we thinking about how these bubbles nucleate, and how they connect to (and inspire) experiences in later years? When we teach a topic, are we taking care not to inflate the learner with misconceptions that rise with them?
When we deal with transitions, do we focus on communicating the very best of the learners’ experiences? Do we ask the teachers before us “how do we keep them excited?” Are we creating exhilaration for what comes next, rather than anxiety?
What are the buoyant forces in your continuum?
- Reductive rubric, by Stephen Taylor, inspired by an image I saw long time ago and can no longer find. I’d love to find it!
- Air Bubbles Rising in Water, created by Stephen Taylor on Giphy, from a Creative Commons video clip on YouTube by user VideoCruncher.
I’ve been thinking about effective self-directed inquiry, the approaches to learning and Bold Moves curriculum a lot recently. As always, the Twitter PLN is full of ideas and questions, and this question by Alison Yang got me thinking:
My first thought was that these learners are “in control”. They demonstrate the learner profile with calmness and balance. In my class of DP biologists, there was a full range of approaches to the challenge and workload, so what set apart the highly self-regulated (and most successful) students?
I started to list characteristics of learners I know from past experience have been “in control” of their learning, thinking about their mastery of the ATL skills and (from Cognitive Coaching training), how they reflect holonomy and the five states of mind (efficacy, consciousness, craftsmanship, interdependence and flexibility).
Ever the sucker for a nice acronym and positive imagery, I sorted them out to yield “TEMPER”. Defined as a state of mind between anger and calm (that works), or the balance between hardness and elasticity in a metal (I like that too). Flexible, calm, tempered students in a state of flow can be highly self-regulating. Conversely, what’s in low resource in a student who is demonstrating inflexible, stressed or angry behaviour?
So, here goes. Cod-psychology at its finest, but an intellectual toy for me and a starting point think about how we might identify and develop traits of self-regulation.
The TEMPERed Learner is Highly Self-Regulating
The tempered learner is in control of use of time. They are less stressed by deadlines, but “ship” the goods on time. They have autonomy of their use of time in class and outside, but are disciplined in their approaches.
Could a strong self-regulated learner be in control of their own schedule and learn more effectively and efficiently than our regular timetable allows?
The tempered learner is in control of their affective skills and aware of their emotional responses. They understand how emotion interacts with the other ways of knowing, how their emotion might affect their learning and relationships and how to plan or respond accordingly. They “fail forwards” and bounce back from challenges with positivity.
The tempered learner is in control of their own drive to succeed, valuing the process that leads to a quality product. The most self-regulating students in my own classes tend to be those that see feedback (in any form) as a step towards success, can see the gap between where they are and where they need to be and know how to close that gap through mastery.
Physical & Mental Health
The tempered learner is in control of their physical & mental wellbeing. They eat well, move lots, sleep plenty and seem to enjoy life even in stressful times. They maintain balance with physical and creative pursuits, family and connection. It’s tough to see students succumb to stress, evidenced by visible changes in wellness, and signals issues in our systems and/or their self-regulation that need to be addressed. What are their avenues to physical health and talking about (and taking action on) mental wellbeing?
The tempered learner is driven by a purpose beyond chasing grades. They demonstrate clarity of purpose in the course, programme or pathway even if their own career outcome is not clear. They set and achieve challenging, realistic and meaningful goals and demonstrate effective strategies (such as use of feedback) that will get them there.
The tempered learner is effectively reflective, generating their own cycles of feedback, planning and action. They are highly metacognitive, learning well from their experiences, building on success, avoiding repeating mistakes in the future and making connections across contexts through transfer.
What happens to the ill-tempered learner?
Reflect for a moment on what might go wrong if a student is not self-reliant in one more of the TEMPER traits. What are the causes and effects, and what has been our role as a the expert (or system) in leading them to that place? What needs to be fixed and what does that learner need in order to become more self-regulating?
Forging Steel: A Teacher’s Tempering
Let’s push the image to breaking with thinking about the role of the teacher in developing truly self-regulating learners. Iron alloys, like steel, are made stronger and less brittle (more flexible) through tempering, a process of careful heating and cooling.
How is this analogous to the role of the teacher in developing the tempered learner? What are the repeated processes we use to help create, strong, flexible young adults who can guide their own development and take on the world?
Each of the TEMPER traits are teachable, practicable and observable through the approaches to learning and many effective strategies. This is where the role of the teacher as an activator (rather than facilitator) of learning is critically important: to explicitly use and evaluate effective methods.
The learners themselves become experts in learning: the tempered learner can set their own path to success through self-regulation.
The Temper Trap
I love this band, with their Indonesian lead singer, soaring choruses and interesting lyrics. Trembling Hands is a favourite: laced with aspiration, filmed in Cuba and showing the triumphant tempering of an acrobat’s mettle.
It’s a practical and comprehensive, yet concise and quotable handbook of where to take curriculum, learning and leadership for modern learners. Educators in international schools will see many familiar themes emerge, from student agency and creativity in the curriculum to effective assessment, learning spaces and teacher development. There is much here that can accelerate a well-implemented IB curriculum (or standards-based learning model), and this book will sing to coordinators as it does to me.
“Innovation requires courage coupled with a realistic sensibility to create new possibilities versus “edu-fantasies”. Moving boldly is not moving impulsively or for the sake of change. Moving boldly involves breaking barriers that need breaking.”
As a “pragmatic idealist” I like how the book connects a future-focused, genuinely student-centred education to the best of what we’re already doing. It avoids falling into the trap of trashing the traditional, instead framing bold moves through the antiquated (what do we cut?), the classical (what do we keep?) and the contemporary (what do we create?). Jacobs & Alcock insist throughout the book that these bold moves are mindful, that we are not “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” and that “meaningful curriculum composition versus meaningless imposition” is the goal.
How can we build a genuinely exciting contemporary educational experience that keeps the joy in the learning, the future in mind and the students in the driving seat? Through a systemic approach that focuses on what works and what could be: one which empowers teachers as self-directed professional learners and curriculum architects. For anyone trying to effect change in an existing (long-established) system, this respectful, well-reasoned handbook is worth a look.
“What is most critical is that the outcome reflect quality.”
I hope that much of what is in this book is not new to most curriculum leaders – particularly in the IB context – but it is great to have a volume that pulls it together in one place, with practical resources. This would make a great book study (guide here) for curriculum leaders and teachers. You will find interesting surprises, resources and provocations littered through the text, worthy of further discussion.
You may even make some bold commitments as a result…
Quick follow-up: I was at a Bold Moves Bootcamp with Marie Alcock recently, and it was great. There is a post about one of my outcomes (a DOK4 filter for transfer) here.
Check it out
Without being too spoilerific, here are some useful links and resources from the book:
- Curriculum21: Jacobs & Alcock’s “Mapping the Global Classroom of the Future” project, with useful resource clearinghouse and global partnership hub.
- The Ross Spiral Curriculum Model. Wow.
- The Big History Project, an ambitious, interdisciplinary and free curriculum model.
- RISD: From STEM to STEAM (connecting Arts to STEM).
- IDEO’s Design Thinking for Educators resources
Last weekend I took part in a fabulous Bold Moves Curriculum Mapping Bootcamp, by Dr. Marie Alcock at ISKL. I was there to think about next steps for curriculum planning at CA, and it was a great opportunity to pick the brains of a true expert (and get lots done). I like the bootcamp model for PD: short, focused and with the opportunity to take immediate action with great feedback from colleagues in similar positions.Through one of the discussions about high-quality assessment, Marie dug into Webb’s Depth of Knowledge (DOK) framework. It’s not a “wheel” of command terms as is often (and incorrectly) presented, but a way of framing how deeply students need to know and use information, skills and concepts. Similarly, DOK is not the same as Bloom’s Taxonomy, and is not a pyramid or a hierarchy of knowledge that “peaks” at DOK4. It can be accessed from any of the other three levels, and effectively sits in parallel.
In practical terms, as explained by Marie, students should be able to access DOK4 from any one of the other DOK levels. This is important, as DOK4 essentially can act as a filter for transfer.
How else can the student use the knowledge, skills and content at this level?
This means that in curriculum and task design and differentiation, teachers can set up situations for all students to pull their learning (even if only at a recall/DOK1 level) through to DOK4 by applying it in a new context – as long as it is the same skill/target. For example, this might mean taking a scientific skill and applying to a new experiment, or a writing technique applied to a new genre. This is knowledge augmentation. MYP Teachers will see the immediate connections here to higher-order objectives in the criteria.
Teacher Plansheet: A Practical Use
Transfer is a notoriously difficult skill to teach, even though it is included in the ATL framework, and so I sketched up this planning tool (pdf) in the hope that it can visualise how DOK4 can be used as a filter to make transfer explicit. Follow the arrows as you think about putting a target standard or learning outcome to work. What level (DOK1-2-3) is expected of the student? How else (DOK4) could it be used? For some excellent, practical resources on applying DOK in the various disciplines, check out Dr. Karin Hess’s Cognitive Rigor and DOK rubrics and resources.
Transferring the Transfer: Thinking Collaboratively
How else might this tool be put to use? Here are some quick thoughts on how this might work with the collaboration of the relevant experts or coaches in the school.
- Technology Integration: using the DOK4 filter as an opportunity to amplify and transform (RAT model) the learning task (but still meet objectives).
- Service Learning: In moving from “doing service” to service learning, could this be used to help frame students’ focus on planning, or post-service reflection? As students learn about issues of significance, how can they put it work through transfer to meaningful action? As they reflect on their learning, can they connect new and existing disciplinary knowledge?
- Interdisciplinary Learning: How can students take their learning and use it meaningfully in a context that requires transfer between disciplines?
As hiring season begins for international schools, it is really starting to sink in that this will be our seventh and final year at CA and in Japan.
This conversation is happening all over the world right now as international educators decide if they will renew their contracts or stay on longer. In our cross-culture family, the search for a new adventure it is part of our DNA.
It’s exciting and terrifying in equal measure.
We really love Japan and all it has to offer families. The school is great and I’m proud of being a small part of its journey in recent years.
There’s so much we’ll miss, but the timing feels right as a family and professionally. At the crossroads between admin and the classroom, I can see paths heading in different directions.
So which way next?
One of our big projects over the last few years has been to shift the focus of professional learning and goal setting from competence in the programmes and practices into genuine teacher inquiry. As a lot of foundational work had been done in curriculum, assessment and differentiation practices; it was time build on this and create opportunities for teachers to focus their own professional growth through inquiry. We’re now in our third year of the process, and this post is a summary so far. A lot has gone into this process, and there is bound to be something forgotten in the post.
We’re an international school in Kobe, Japan. With 600+ kids from ages 3-18 and around 80 faculty. We have IB PYP, MYP & DP, as well as our own Pathways programme in high school. Although the school had been running IBDP for many years, PYP and MYP were much younger, and so a lot of teacher effort had gone into getting the programmes up and running (including shifts in curriculum, assessment and differentiation).
We’re pretty well funded for professional learning with consultants visiting each year for workshops, teachers heading out on workshops and conferences and a personal PD application fund for continued study. We are also very fortunate to have two-hour PD sessions every Wednesday (early dismissal), so that a lot of development and PD work can be accomplished in protected time.
There’s a pretty robust teacher evaluation system, though it can always be improved (and is an operational action item for this year). While the school was in the implementation phase, teacher goals were very structured, focusing on curriculum, differentiation, etc. As the programmes and practices became more embedded, it became clear that we could do better by tapping into teachers’ own interests, expertise and passions in professional learning. One year we gifted teachers Hattie’s Visible Learning for Teachers, and encouraged groups to form around issues it rose, or topics worthy of investigation (not as a handbook, but a signpost). The next we encouraged Teacher Learning Communities (TLC’s) to form around other books or ideas. This started to generate more questions, more inspiring projects.
In 2014-15 we had the Strategic Planning process for the school, setting the Vision and goals for the school until 2020. We needed a professional learning strategy to complement our mission of inquiry, reflection and compassionate action and that would meet the vision of becoming a vibrant international learning community that fosters creativity, personal fulfilment and local and global collaboration in a compassionate, adaptive environment.
Education Victoria’s (Australia) Seven Principals for Effective Professional Learning (pdf here) were critical in developing the projects further: a teacher-empowering, research-based, student-centred, practical (useful), collaborative and supported expedition into teacher inquiry.
Inspired by the IB’s MYP Design Cycle in the 2014 Next Chapter programme overhaul, I I went into a frenzy of designing cycles and applying design/cycle thinking to my roles as teacher and coordinator. Over the last couple of years, we’ve built up a decent collection ;>
See this page for an overview, and links to some resources.