Ripples & Reflections

"Learning is about living, and as such is lifelong." Elkjaer.

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Reflecting on the Impacts of Science: IMaGE, Global Goals & Connections in MYP Sciences.

I’ve added a new page to to post resources and ideas for MYP Science Crit. D: Reflecting on the Impacts of Science. Some slides are below, but to see the full page, click here.

[IMaGE = International Mindedness and Global Engagment. To see my dissertation & resources on this, click here.]

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Is this an inquiry with an ‘I’ or an enquiry with an ‘e’?

This post has been sitting in my drafts for a while, and I was reminded to complete it after a question from a student when I was covering a TOK class: “What’s the difference between inquiry and enquiry?”

[tL:dR: Definitions matter in education, especially when a topic is misunderstood or controversial. Using traditional definitions allows for a distinction between purposeful inquiries and surface enquiries. This can help choose the right tools for the best learning and most appropriate time. We can have the best of both.] 


Defining Inquiry: A Pragmatic Approach

I’ve been thinking and writing about this a lot over the last few years, tinkering with and testing definitions that try to capture what makes powerful, pragmatic inquiry learning. He’s my current best effort and if you pick it apart you should be able to recognise the best elements of the classical with an aspiration towards the contemporary (in the Bold Moves sense).

Inquiry iscreative, critical, reflective thought. It builds on a solid foundation of accessible, well-learned knowledge, skills and conceptual understandings, inviting learners to take action on their learning and ask “what if…?”  

Although it opens with higher-order aspirations, and closes with an invitation to action, it is anchored by a solid foundation of knowledge, skills and concepts. Knowledge is the stuff we think with: the more we know, the better our questions and stronger our conceptual understandings. This does not dictate a linear approach. It highlights the critical role of the expert teacher who, with subject mastery and pedagogical mastery, can create a true culture of thinking in their class, (co-)creating the moving forces of experience that pull a community of learners through the hard work of building understanding.

An expert inquiry teacher inspires learners to learn lots, learn well and want to learn more. They know what needs to be taught, what has been learned and how to use this as a launching pad for exciting exploration.

Defining Inquiry

Defining Inquiry: A Pragmatic Approach


So what about inquiry vs enquiry?

Beyond some regional variation*, I find this OUP contrast really useful in developing curriculum, collaborating with teachers and working with students. I suspect that the two terms are conflated in the minds of many (educators and non-educators). Could a clear distinction help?

“The traditional distinction between the verbs enquire and inquire is that enquire is to be used for general senses of ‘ask’, while inquire is reserved for uses meaning ‘make a formal investigation’.”   [Oxford Living Dictionaries]*

It helps evaluate the depth of an inquiry in terms of moving into investigation, creation and research, rather than the simple act of “looking stuff up”. Enquiry gives inquiry a poor reputation when inordinate amounts of time are spent on (perceived) “fluff”, squeezing out the opportunities for truly engaging experiences. There is a time and place for enquiry, and I’ve labelled it as “enabling” in the image below. Quick questions and known answers that have little need to expend mental energy (or valuable time), there are efficient ways to learn about or find out simple content. The expert inquiry teacher knows which tools to select for the job.

So here’s a little planning mantra I like to hold in my head:

“Is this an inquiry with an ‘I’ or an enquiry with an ‘e’?”

How could you use/adapt some of these questions/provocations to classify your inquiries? (I’ll add/edit over time, I’m still tinkering with these ideas):

  • Does it require significant new learning to me, or is is re-presenting known content? Am I really learning?
  • Am I truly engaging with the content, skills and concepts or am I transcribing items from one place to another? Am I really learning?
  • Am I building tenacious new understanding or storing temporary thoughts? Am I really learning?
  • If I learn this this way, will I learn this best for its purpose? Am I really learning?
  • Am I “just Googling” or am I sorting, evaluating, synthesising? Am I really learning?
  • Is this the equivalent of a deep investigation (or creation), or a “helpdesk enquiry”?
  • Will I be spending my time on thinking, investigating or creating, or will I be clicking, copying or pseudo-creating? Am I really learning?
  • If I’m working with a group, are we in dialogue, discussion and collaboration or chatting, partitioning and time-wasting? Am I really learning?
  • If I’m using technology is it amplifying or transforming the learning, or replacing a simpler (possibly more efficient) process? (RAT model) Am I really learning?
  • Am I learning authentically in the discipline (e.g. “as a scientist”) or about the topic (e.g “about science”)? [Thinking from the perspective of supervising extended essays, developing inquiries, etc)]
  • Could my learning give rise to newer, stronger questions, or will it end there?
  • What am I doing in this inquiry that is more sophisticated than a student younger than me? For example, if I’m an MYP student, how am I asking a question that is more sophisticated than in PYP?
  • Is this experience a moving force that will create a drive to know, leading me into learning more, or is it a gimmick that gives the illusion of learning? Am I really learning?



Shifting the Questions


Project Zero: MTV Routines

Some strategies for taking a question from enquiry to inquiry:

  • Question Starts (Making Thinking Visible) is a very simple set of question stems that can force a student to think about a topic from different perspectives. Importantly, students need to classify and evaluate the questions.
  • Think, Puzzle, Explore (Making Thinking Visible)… but insist on quality. Similarly with See, Think, Wonder, run the routine until the observations and ideas are exhausted. This can take questions beyond the surface.
  • Creative Questions (Making Thinking Visible). A simple routine for interrogating proposed questions for quality and depth.
    • Similarly, Options Explosion can be used: students list all obvious options, questions or ideas and then find the hidden options or new questions that arise.
  • Predict, Observe, Explain (NSTA). Great for working with data of any kind, or thinking about cause/effect and correlation. This can generate many points of questioning, and can be extended into Predict, Observe, Explain, Investigate.
  • “How else can this be used?” Visual organizer for accessing Webb’s DOK4 from different domains.

Enquire, Inquire, Perspire, Inspire: a distillation of many ideas:

Generate ideas, get the easy stuff out of the way and used it to create better inquiries. If something needs to be learned, learn (teach) it well and check it is understood. Use it to inform stronger lines of inquiry. Put in the hard work of inquiry authentic to the disciplinary/interdisciplinary investigation. Evaluate the learning, communicate and put it to meaningful action.



Post-script: The Journey of a Thought


“A Day At The Park” (excerpt), by Kostas Kiriakakis. Read the whole strip, it’s great.

In the ‘enquiry’ sense, one could just look up a definition and be done with it, but I’ve been wrestling with ideas around purposeful, pragmatic inquiry for a long time (since ULL at Bath), connecting it to recent posts about DOK4 and Transfer, the ‘buoyant force’ of continuum learning and the “quest for learning”.  More fundamentally it builds from the pragmatic definition of inquiry (IS Magazine) and investigating effective teaching and learning practices that allow for students to become knowledgeable, reflective, open-minded thinkers and clear communicators.

There is no need for an ‘either-or’ approach to inquiry learning (in the progressive vs traditional sense); a strong inquiry experience develops the modern trivium of grammar (knowledge), dialectic (questioning) and rhetoric (communication).


Diagram by me, based on Martin Robinson’s Trivium21C


If you’ve been thinking about this too, let me know in the comments below or find me on Twitter.



*The British vs American usage in the general sense might hold to enquiry vs inquiry (thanks Des O’Sullivan on Twitter), though here I’m trying to distinguish ‘weak’ vs ‘strong’ question-driven learning. Where enquiry might be more common in general use in the UK (Oxford), the ‘i’ form is still used for ‘a formal investigation’ and this is closer to the heart of what we’re trying to achieve in deep learning, authentic to our disciplines. British media will still tend towards ‘inquiry’ for investigation (examples at the Guardian), with ‘enquiry’ for simpler questions (examples at the Guardian). An “inquiry into…” vs “helpdesk enquiries“, if you will. To me, ‘enquiry learning’ is looser, less purposeful and (possibly) ineffective. ‘Inquiry’ in this sense is focused, purposeful and powerful, as intended the IB context (all IB docs use the ‘i’).



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What does this look like in the classroom?


John Catt has a two-fer offer with Tom Sherrington’s “Learning Rainforest

This post is a quick recommendation for a very practical resource for teachers, coordinators & learning coaches. “What Does This Look Like in the Classroom? Bridging the Gap Between Research and Practice”, by Carl Hendrick & Robin MacPherson, with illustrations by Oliver Caviglioli, is available in paperback from John Catt (and Kindle). This review is written from the perspective of an international school educator and coordinator.

Make sure you visit the “What Does This Look Like?” website for more posts on these topics, colour images and discussions. It’s a great resource.

The authors have designed a very useful text that can be read in a single sitting and/or dipped into as a reference. I would recommend it in teacher training, and it should be read by anyone responsible for professional learning. Each chapter is written in a Q&A style, with introductory key points, and practical questions each answered by two experts in the field of the chapter (it’s an impressive and credible lineup). They wrap up with a summary of the ‘streamlined classroom‘, with six key practices to create flow. More on this below.

Overall, I found this text accessible, conversational and practical. I really like the format of the chapters and there is a strong focus on what teachers really need to know (away from fluff and distraction). I hope they continue to develop their blog, and look forward to a future edition in a few years’ time. It would be good to see more on international/multicultural classrooms, or even additional chapters for different disciplines.

I’ve listed the chapter and contributors below, with a few of the key issues addressed in the chapter and links to the authors’ Twitter profiles. This book in itself is a great example of the power of Twitter as a PD tool – I have followed many of these contributors for a long time and have a learned a lot from them as a result.

Feedback Summary: Wiliam & Christodoulou

Sample Summary (click to enlarge)

Assessment, marking & feedback: Dylan Wiliam & Daisy Christodoulou

  • Student ownership of and engagement with feedback
  • The testing effect, past papers and strategies
  • Efficient marking & feedback practices
  • Using student data

Behaviour: Tom Bennett & Jill Berry

  • Classroom culture: relationships, expectations, communication
  • Managing low-level disruption and poor behaviour
  • Engaging students (and keeping them engaged)

Reading and literacy: Alex Quigley & Dianne Murphy

  • Reading comprehension and sustained ‘deep reading’ (in a technological society)
  • Building vocabulary and shared roles in developing literacy
  • Reading for pleasure

SEN: Jarlath O’Brien & Maggie Snowling

  • Supporting students with behavioural and learning difficulties (including the role of tech)
  • Challenging students who find it ‘too easy’
  • Supporting EAL learners

Motivation: Nick Rose & Lucy Crehan

  • Extrinsic vs intrinsic, and motivating non-academic students
  • Growth mindset & independent learning
  • Testing anxiety, resilience
Screen Shot 2018-01-13 at 10.40.47

Learning Scientists Site

Psychology and memory: Paul Kirschner & Yana Weinstein

This whole section is packed with fantastic stuff, and I highly recommend leaping out to the Learning Scientists’ website, with some printable resources (also illustrated by Caviglioli).

  • Strategies for effective learning (spacing, interleaving)
  • Remembering, forgetting and strategies for developing long-term memory
  • Working memory and cognitive load theory (as “the single most important thing” for teachers to know (Wiliam))

Classroom talk and questioning: Martin Robinson* & Doug Lemov

  • Student-active vs didactic techniques (and teacher talk)
  • Questioning styles and encouraging quality conversation
  • Generating balanced, quality discussions where all students contribute

From here, I’d recommend teachers also have a look at Making Thinking Visible by Ron Ritchhart and The Best Class You Never Taught, by Alexis Wiggins.

Learning myths: David Didau & Pedro de Bruyckere

  • Multiple intelligences vs learning styles
  • Creativity, critical thinking and 21C skills
  • Taxonomies
  • Learning in the digital age (Google & remembering**)

Technology: Jose Picardo & Neelam Parmar

  • Impacts of mobile technology and balance
  • Academic honesty
  • Making the most of available tech

Independent Learning: All contributors

Perspectives on developing independent learners from various contributors. Worth reading and comparing to your own experiences. Creating independent learners through strong development of the approaches to learning skills (in conjunction with solid disciplinary an interdisciplinary knowledge) is a touchstone of a strong IB education.

Conclusion: The Streamlined Classroom (Carl Hendrick & Robin MacPherson)

Distilling their findings into the ‘honeycomb conjecture‘ below, the authors present an idea for an effective classroom to ensure solid foundations of learning and progress. This in itself would make a great introduction to the book as a PD resource, giving multiple entry points for teacher discussion.

I’ve written a lot on here about meaningful, effective, pragmatic inquiry, defining it as “Creative, critical reflective thought, built on a solid foundation of well taught/learned knowledge, skills and concepts that invites learners to take action on their learning and ask “what if…?” . This book and its advice aligns with this definition, giving more concrete practices that help enhance a high-quality IB education. ***

In thinking about how to integrate effective tech use into teaching and learning, I can see potential applications for a streamlined classroom tech toolkit.


Footnotes & Blog Posts

* I reviewed Robinson’s very interesting “Trivium 21C” for International School Magazine, here.

** No, Google will not replace knowing: Content & Inquiry in a Google World.

*** International School Magazine article on defining inquiry here.

If you’ve read the book, continue the discussion in the comments below, or find me on Twitter:


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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.


QuestForLearningThe 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.

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:



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What If..? MyIB & MOOC PD

 At a recent MYP Coordinators’ network meeting we were discussing how – despite lots of moves towards quality control and great efforts by the IBEN team – we still had occasional concerns on the reliability of the received message from online and face-to-face (f2f) workshops. Whether this comes from an unclear message, a side conversation, a misunderstanding across languages or the participant’s personal filter, we don’t know, but it led me to think about what steps might be taken to reduce the likelihood of misunderstanding. 

If this is already in the pipeline, I’d love to know more about it…


The Proposal: IB MOOC-style short courses

In the early stages of the MYP/DP teacher’s experience, the coordinator needs to know that the teacher knows the basics correctly, knows how to access the correct information and knows how to correctly operate their guide/criteria or other requirements. As unglamorous as it sounds, this seems to call for a reliable delivery method to build a baseline knowledge; a way to check the guides have been read and understood, with some reliable tasks and worked examples. A new teacher with a well-learned foundation of knowledge and skills in their subject area will be better equipped for interactive, inquiry-driven approaches in their later experiences in workshops and school-based PD.

edx-3001Over the last decade, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS) have become popular: where a university or institution has developed a great set of course materials, they post them online in a structured format for free participation – see Coursera, EdXUdacity and many more at Class Central. Typically these courses work in self-paced (enrol and get working) or cohort (timed start and end) models. Although it has been estimated that only around 5-6% of participants complete the course they enrolled for, they offer learners the opportunity to try courses at a university level that they might not have access to otherwise. They democratise learning. Furthermore, many of the courses can be verified with an optional low-cost certificate after completing the course and assessment successfully – and this is where I see the opportunity for IB professional learning.


My IB as a MOOC Platform

In the current model of IB professional learning, online and f2f workshops are a great way to build a working knowledge of the programmes and make connections with colleagues from other schools. However, they are expensive and many schools have limited resources to support multiple attendees; if a workshop does not have the intended impact on the participant, it can feel like a waste of resources.

What if IBPD developed a series of short content-delivery courses in the MOOC-style so that access to the required, vetted and updated knowledge was open to all? Participants from anywhere with an internet connection could take short courses to update their understanding, at no cost: new teachers, existing teachers, those in IB schools and those who might want to be. Think a course in the style of Google Certified Educator Level 1: it doesn’t need to be ‘taught’ as all the materials are online (subject guides!), but has activities to demonstrate competence in the skills. Similarly, on the path to becoming a Microsoft Innovative Educator you can collect badges & certificates through a personally-relevant pathway.

Anyone could join in, everyone would get the same reliable information. 

my-ib-updatedTo get verified/certified, the participant would need a MyIB account. The participant or school would pay a small fee (around US$100 is common on verified MOOCS), complete the assessment and receive a digital certificate. This would be great in supporting in-house professional learning (particularly when guides update). Typically sending one teacher on a workshop costs my school up to $2,000 in workshop fees, flights and accommodation; that’s a lot of potential MyIBMOOC certificates. I’d love to have something like this form part of a differentiated model of in-house professional learning.

Would this model be appropriate for new teachers entering a school? Moving school, country and system can be daunting enough; taking on a full workshop out of context is not always effective. After all, we don’t know what we don’t know, and although we need to get up and running quickly, we don’t usually have great questions until we’ve taught it a while. I’d love to be able to share a couple of ‘learn the basics’ short-courses with incoming teachers, to relieve their stress and help them tune in to their new programme.

What if completion of an entry-level MyIBMOOC was required for registration into a workshop? Would this reduce the impact of inappropriately-placed workshop participants on the workshop outcomes? As the demand for IB workshops increases, it puts more pressure on the stellar work done by the IBEN team. Would this model reduce pressure on the WSL pool and ensure participants are at the right starting point to move forwards with the group effectively?


Design Principles for a Successful MyIBMOOC

What design specifications might make this model work? Here are some to get started. If you think of more, please add them in the comments below, or find me on Twitter.

  • Short &  focused. Long online courses are a draaaaaaag. A short course doesn’t need to deliver three days of f2f content; units on assessment & getting started in your subject, global contexts, being a personal project/EE supervisor or any other programme elements would be great.
  • Always up-to-date and linkable. “What’s the page number?” is an IBEN mantra, and the same should be true here. Don’t hide information where it is hard to access, especially where accuracy is important.
  • Clear assessment, focused feedback. We need to know that what we know is correct. Save the discussions for deeper-dive workshops, this idea is for building foundation knowledge only.
  • Translateable. Clear and concise content might later be translated into other working IB languages. Here in Japan, as more “Article 1” schools come online, would this help get schools up and running?
  • Platform agnostic & light. Of course, it needs to work on all broswers, not be blocked in any countries and not be so data-heavy that it can’t work in areas with slow internet.

What do you think? If this is already in the pipeline, I’d love to know more about it…



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The Buoyant Force of Continuum Learning

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.

Backward Design, Not Backwashed Demands

Rubrics@sjtlyrInterpreting 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 often 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.

bubblesThey 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?

If your learners were to “live fully, now” how would that create a moving force that drives them through the next stage?




The Tempered Learner (on self-regulation)

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

Screen Shot 2017-10-21 at 17.25.09Time Management

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?

Emotional Resources

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 knowinghow 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?

Educational Goals

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


Kate in “A Knight’s Tale” developed a stronger, light armour. (Article:

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.