The Quest for Learning in an IB Context

questforlearning-530_1This post is a quick review of “The Quest for Learning: How to Maximize Student Engagement” by Marie Alcock, Michael Fisher and Allison Zmuda, published late 2017 by Solution Tree Press. I’m reviewing the paperback version: 122 pages plus foreword by Heidi Hayes-Jacobs, appendices, index and online resources.

It’s written with an eye on its usefulness to a teacher/coordinator/coach in an international IB context, and I’ve posted some tweets about it using the #QuestForLearning hashtag.

Connected reads & resources:


Quick Review

The Quest for Learning is a concise, comprehensive and operable handbook that would be a great addition to the personal toolkit of a inquiry teacher, coordinator or instructional/curriculum/tech coach. The authors lay out the why of ‘questing’, writing the book as a ‘macroscope’ (p10) for looking at the learning process and providing a toolkit (in the form of many useful question sets and tables) for developing powerful questing inquiries. They clearly distinguish questing as a framework for designing learning experiences (in contrast with other more linear models) and build throughout on three central tenets of engagement (p15):

  1. #1 The learner engages with relevant, worthy inquiries and experiences that are interesting or emotionally gripping.

  2. #2 The learner engages in an active, intentional cycle with clear goals and right-sized, actionable steps.

  3. #3 The learner engages in social, collaborative opportunities that grow expertise.

In developing the toolkit for this approach, they guide the reader through three core ‘Design Options’ for co-creating a quest: inquiry (questioning), gaming (including game design as a driver of engagement), and networking (connecting as members or mentors in affinity spaces). They provide numerous concrete examples of quests in development and take care (as in Bold Moves), to ensure the central role of useful knowledge and skills in the process; questing is presented as a vigorous and rigorous pursuit of deeper learning.


The connected, experienced inquiry educator will recognise much of what is presented in the book (including elements of UbD and many connected classroom examples), but the authors have presented an interesting triad of options in inquiry, gaming and networking for creating new and interesting engagements for learners. Their sample questing threads and tables of ‘questing decisions‘ could be useful guides in curriculum and instructional design. Of particular interest to K-12 educators might be the frequent reference to how it might look in Elementary, Middle and High-School situations: how a quest might be adapted or tailored to, over time, give students “roots and wings” (p123).

They recognise a common experience of many teachers who promote rigorous inquiry: that jumping into questing can result in student resistance as “they exert much less intellectual energy when they sit through a lecture or are told exactly what to do and how to learn,” (p99), though they also provide many tools and questions to help generate student ownership and meaning-making. Additionally, the book includes many ideas for the integration of effective technologies in the charting of a meaningful quest, promoting substance over flash/distraction. Questing (or any meaningful shift into learner-centred inquiry) is a shock to the system and will undoubtedly come with an implementation dip or period of uncertainty.

I paused for thought in the networking sections, as the authors presented the idea of affinity spaces for co-construction of learning, sharing ideas and reaching out to authentic collaborators, members and mentors. Where we might worry about a learner-centred experience becoming isolated (or self-centred/selfish), Quest suggests various levels of network engagement and membership that may create community through questing. These network spaces include the physical, “plus”, public, member and mentor, in which learners might take and change roles as the quest requires. This toolkit for the shared experience (including shifting “I can…” statements to “we can…”), might prove worthy in schools seeking to break the mould of learning.

The final section, Demonstrating Learning, focuses on opening the doors to the range of worthwhile deliverables that can arise from a meaningful quest, helping educators think how these outcomes can be planned for, produced, evaluated and reflected upon. Those familiar with Design Thinking (and/or the Design Cycle), will find comfortable connections here. It might also challenge more traditional teachers to open some doors to assessment that meet seemingly ‘locked’ performance outcomes. This is not an approach that requires throwing the baby out with the bathwater – Bold Moves can be small moves, as long as they are intentional.

If you’re interested in developing a modern, inquiry-driven classroom that really helps students develop powerful quests, I’d recommend a copy of the book. A teacher new to inquiry would benefit from their own copy (and a coach), whereas more experienced teachers might read it as a book club or share copies for reference in co-planning.


In the IB Context

This book, written with aprogramme-agnostic, standards-based K-12 education in mind would be a useful resource for coordinators and educators in IB schools, in particular continuum schools. As with Bold Moves, experienced IB educators will find huge overlaps here with programme elements, but will be able to draw new ideas, resources and inspirations from their reading. It may help give a new perspective to some units or to develop more genuinely student-driven inquiries. The book is terminology-heavy and so I’d caution against it being given ‘raw’ to a new IB teacher; they have enough jargon to deal with in our own programme documents. Rather a mentor might filter and use some of the strategies and ideas in the book in supporting the development of the novice IB educator (translating it into “IB speak”).

MYP Design Cycle

As I read the book, I was struck by how some elements of networking and gaming might help create community, connect with authentic global contexts and lead to the solution-generating and creative, critical inquiry that is held as the gold-standard of successful modern international education.

With an emphasis on active intentional cycles of learning (productive struggle), and feedback, Quest allows educators to see where they need to lead and where they need to co-create learning so that it can become progressively more student-driven. These tools might help coordinators and mentors in PYP Exhibition, MYP Personal Project and any student-designed assessed inquiries.

In questioning, IB educators will connect the essential questions to their own understanding of unit/provocative questions, where “driving” questions in Quest correspond to the lines of inquiry (PYP) or conceptual questions in MYP. Probing questions can support the development of rubrics of understanding (PYP) or achievement in the levels 5-8 bands of the MYP rubrics, whereas the reflective level of questioning connects to interdisciplinary learning, approaches to learning and metacognition.

There is no room for fluff in the Quest for Learning, and in my own various roles I can see how lessons learned in Quest and Bold Moves will help move things forwards. The Quest for Learning complements various IB inquiry cycles, as well as the development of many of the approaches to learning skills, including research, digital citizenship and the ethical use of shared/online resources.


Personal Reflections

Combining this book with Bold Moves, Curriculum 21 and Ron Ritchhart’s texts, along with parallel reading on school culture, leadership and future education and academic study through my MA, has helped me put together my own toolkit for curriculum leadership, coordination, co-planning and teaching.  It helps reinforce my belief that “curriculum is compass, not a calendar” with actionable strategies and as I transition into a new role and context I’ll be seeking to distill this learning and my experience into a transferable toolkit of ideas, strategies and resources.

Coincidentally, the idea of ‘questing’ aligns with our work in developing teacher inquiry goals as a central part of our in-house professional learning; the Japanese phrase tankyuu (探 究) can mean inquiry, quest or journey and our Tankyuu Projects use a project cycle that one might be able to connect to the ‘questing’ of this text.

If you’ve read the book, or have any thoughts, please add them in the comments below or find me on Twitter:








8 responses to “The Quest for Learning in an IB Context”

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