Wayfinder Learning Lab

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


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Wayfinders: Respecting The Journey

After a decade acting in coordination/leadership/HOD/coaching-type roles, I think one of the most powerful lessons I’ve learned – and want to encourage in others – is to respect the journey. This generates more questions in my head than most topics, as it is so nebulous and complex, yet so important.

Where I like to think of curriculum as a compass, not a calendar, in my experience so far the same rings true for developing people and practices. Schools, teams, teachers and students alike are all on a combination of shared and personal journeys to growth, with different starting points, strengths and needs.

We are all Wayfinders

Not all departments or individuals can be treated in the same way and they certainly won’t respond in the same way to standardised approaches. Sometimes – often – we need to go slow to go fast, to listen and respond accordingly. This can be challenging if we feel like there’s too much to get done.

As a community of wayfinders, it is important to respect the journey so far, and for it to be told in a respectful way. Large-scale change doesn’t necessarily mean that what used to be was bad, but the future direction must be good and be clear to all, built with the culture in mind. Being dropped into this culture on the move can be a shock the system as we try to find our place and role, especially if we were well established in our last role, and we might want to establish credibility early on.

So as schools what are we doing to “respect the journey” in transition? 

  • How can we best support and encourage the experience and expertise of new faculty, whilst enculturating them to the positive elements of “what we do here”?
  • How can we best support and respect diverse teams where everyone is working on varying degrees of expertise in terms of the vision or mission? Where some see the vision as aspirational and yet to others it’s already their daily practice?
  • What can we do to protect teachers from unnecessary burdens that become the blocks to forward movement? To “move your ‘BUTs’, in Teresa Tung’s sense?

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As I  move on I want to ensure that the stories of change here are passed on faithfully and respectfully. As I prepare to find my way with a new community going through its own changes I want to be sure to listen respectfully to their journey so far, and avoid as much as possible falling into the trap of “in my old school…”.

Exciting times ahead.

grandma-tala-advice

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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. 

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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?

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Animations:


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Bold Moves for Schools

This is a quick-and-dirty review of a book that ticks all the boxes for a curriculum nerd like me: Bold Moves for Schools, by Heidi Hayes Jacobs & Marie Alcock, from the ASCD (2017, 207 pages).

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 coaches or 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, well-reasoned handbook is worth a look and resonates with my belief that we need always to respect the journey in our work.

“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.

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Check it out

Without being too spoilerific, here are some useful links and resources from the book:

 


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Live Fully Now

I included this short clip, built on a short piece of a talk by philosopher Alan Watts, in my #GAFESummit session, Ready, Steady, Flow. There was some quiet contemplation (expected) and some tears (unexpected).

It had been doing the rounds on Twitter, and I felt it captured some of my feelings about education and the anxiety we can face as we “get them ready for XYZ.” It becomes all too easy to suck the joy out of learning, to focus on the grades, to get caught on the treadmill. We risk losing our creativity and spark in the process.

At the same time, we hear so much about ‘shift happens‘ and educating students for the future, for ‘jobs that don’t exist yet’ and trying to play crystal-balls about what knowledge and skills the big innovators want in their workforce. We can’t do that; we’re probably wasting our time if we try. But we can educate the kids we have now, with the knowledge we have now, the tools and research that we have now so that they’ll become “better” people nowand for the future.

What if, by making all of us love learning now, we can make our students balanced, motivated inquirers ready for what the future throws at them?

There’s a name for that job.

Teachers. 

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As a parent I watch it and worry – am I making the most of my own kids’ childhoods? Am I helping make memories that they will love? Am I living in the ‘now’ with them? Do I have the right career-life balance?

I’ve seen this video many times. Each time it gets me.


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Global Contexts & Avoiding the ‘Single Story’

This last couple of weeks we’ve been busy preparing faculty PD on the Global Contexts and their role in developing International Mindedness & Global Engagement (IMaGE) in our students. It has been a lot of work, but as we kicked off the sequence (3 x 1hr PD sessions) this week, the discussions began on some real areas of interest.

Key to the discussion was an excerpt from Chimamanda Adichie‘s TED Talk “The Danger of a Single Story” (thanks @LizDK for suggesting it!). We played the first 6 minutes, with the follow-up question “could her college room-mate have been a CA graduate?

So far, so interesting. I’ll follow up this post later once the sequence is completed. Next steps: taking action in the curriculum, teaching & learning.


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Educate for hope, not despair, for a fair and sustainable world.

Californian Blue Whales are almost back to historical levels after whaling bans in their range.

Californian Blue Whales are almost back to historical levels after whaling bans in their range.

We’ve wrecked the world.

Inequality, environmental destruction, outbreaks of disease, terrorism and economic collapse. We are (we think) aware of the problems we face – and the message can be one of hopelessness. Do we risk passing on global ignorance to our students – a connected, compassionate generation who are plugged into a media-rich stream of (mis)information? As we try to bring global issues into the classroom, there is a danger that we promote a message that all is lost; a message reinforced by media reporting on the same issues and clouded by prejudices and emotion? This is something I worry about in international curriculum design and often think about how a globally-informed curriculum can also be a hopeful one.

We can fix it.

We can choose to educate for hope. The solutions to many of problems are out there, or on the cusp of being realised – the technological age is well established and we are reaping the rewards. Now it’s time to recognise the importance of the psychological age. George Monbiot writes that if we terrify people, they will focus on saving themselves, not others; a feeling of hopelessness that accompanies awareness of global issues is unhelpful. Yet if the focus is on the concrete and the hopeful – the actions that we can take to make a difference – then we might affect a more positive outcome.

I would love to see an international school curriculum that produces graduates who are globally literate (as in Hans Rosling’s Ignorance Project) and who are hopeful, compassionate and active ‘fixers of the future‘. With the IB Programmes we have the framework – the ‘heavy lifting’ of the elements of an excellent education has been done for us. As schools we can choose to use that framework to build an inspirational experience.

Edit 2018: Rosling’s posthumously-published book (Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong about the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think)is out. Here is an excerpt in the Guardian.

We can start with simple actions

Blue whales are recovering and we can re-grow rainforests – so we can reclaim hope in the curriculum with simple actions:

  1. Design units that connect to Global Contexts in authentic ways.
  2. Evaluate our own understandings of the global issues we’re addressing before we teach them.
  3. Use student research and examples to highlight both the reality of of the situation and the actions that can (and are) being taken to make a positive difference.
    • MYP Sciences, Criterion D – I’m looking at you. And you too while we’re at it, and Design Cycle.
  4. Discuss how these actions and our knowledge can be connected to meaningful action.

We want to create a realistic hope – not ignorance, boredom or hopelessness.

We can do it.

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Update Dec 2017: Blue Planet’s Back! 

“We want children to love nature so that they protect it in the future.”

(Patagonia “Family Business” Raising the Next Generation)

Read this post from June 2017 on the Patagonia blog, about the Great Pacific Child Development Center and their studies and efforts to connect kids to nature. Similarly, we can reflect on the kinds of experiences and media that promote positive feelings towards environmental stewardship in our kids. Shows like Blue Planet II and Planet Earth stimulate fantastic conversations in our house and inspire our kids whilst also informing them of the human impacts. They’re not afraid, but they care.

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Update April 2018: International Contexts

“We do not see ecological grief as submitting to despair, and neither does it justify ‘switching off’ from the many environmental problems that confront humanity. Instead, we find great hope in the responses ecological grief is likely to invoke.”

Read this excellent post from the TheConversation/TerraMar Project,Ecological Grief: Understanding Hope & Despair in the Anthropocene.” As you read the piece, think about the psychological impacts of environmental change. What can we do about them? How might you use “Why Them? Why There? Why Then?” in connection with the article to develop IMaGE?

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Links: 


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A pragmatic approach to inquiry: my article in IS magazine

Click to read.

Click to read.

This article, “(Re)defining inquiry for international education,” is based on a thread of thought started with my “MYP: Mind the Gapconference presentation and continued with an MA assignment. It was published in the most recent issue (Autumn | Spring 2014) of International School Magazine, edited by University of Bath tutors and international education gurus Mary Hayden and Jeff Thompson.

In the article “(re)defining” refers to clarifying the meaning of the term inquiry, so that we can give access to high-quality inquiry learning to students through the whole continuum. It builds on anecdotal experiences in discussions that ‘inquiry’ has been framed from one end as a weak, free-for-all alternative to teaching and critical reasoning. This is a misinterpretation, and the article advocates for a reminder of what inquiry is and a working definition of inquiry as critical reflective thought (after Elkjaer & Dewey) that is future-oriented, but based on strong foundation of effectively-taught skills and knowledge (after Vygotsky, Hattie…). From the other end, it is important to understand that inquiry looks and feels very different as disciplinary studies become deeper and more authentic.

This is of particular importance to IB schools. Stakeholders need to understand that an inquiry-based framework is not a knowledge-free curriculum, and that a high-stakes test-based assessment at one end is no excuse to crush the exploration out of the learning process.

In essence: we create an outstanding curriculum that gives students knowledge and skills to work with and has lots of room for them to put them to use in critical, creative and reflective problem-solving. Use high-impact strategies to teach those skills and that knowledge, to avoid misconception and to ensure that these critical thinkers have a solid foundation of raw materials for future learning.

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Read the full article on IS Magazine’s website here, or download the magazine (pdf) here (or just the article pdf here).

Click to read my article on Inquiry in the Autumn | Spring issue of International School magazine.

Click to read my article on Inquiry in the Autumn | Spring issue of International School magazine.