Wayfinder Learning Lab

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


The Tempered Learner (on self-regulation)

Going all the way back to my “MYP: Mind The Gap” session at IBAP 2013, I’ve been thinking about defining effective self-directed inquiry, the role of the MYP in “preparing” kids for DP, the approaches to learning and (more recently) building in ideas of Bold Moves curriculum, the Quest for Learning and Wayfinding (curriculum as a compass).

How far can we go with our frameworks to create truly self-directed, knowledgable and effective learners?

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

ime Mastery

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?

Edit (April 2018): I switched this from time management to time mastery, in the Cultures of Thinking sense: where we and our students become the masters of, not slaves to, time and in which we make purposeful choices on how we invest our time as a statement of learning values. 

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 Wellbeing

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: KissMyWonderWoman.com)

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.



Ready, Steady, Flow: #GAFESummit Presentation

This weekend we had the good fortune to host a Google Apps for Education Summit (#GAFESummit) at the school. With a range of keynotes from the EdTech Team and a couple of day of interesting (and useful) breakout sessions, we had a good time, learned a lot and got to meet some new people.

On the second day, I presented a session entitled “Ready, Steady, Flow!” aimed at showcasing a workflow that gives us more active time in class, reduced clicks and stress and makes use of high-impact practices when we’re working on assignments. In essence, we make the best possible use of the tools we have to change our relationship from giver and doer of work to writer and editor. I refer to some of Hattie’s ideas, define inquiry, and look at some of the issues that hold teachers in harmful old practices (such as clinging to the time-suck of Word docs).

Some big take-homes (the tL;dR version): 

  1. Design good tasks, and communicate this clearly to students.
  2. Don’t cause others to click around unnecessarily. If you want a certain formatting, do it on the task-sheet and share it out!
  3. Don’t send out emails with word docs that you then have to collect, save, rename…
  4. Do value the task with enough class time – but keep that time as active as you can
  5. Force early drafting/commenting on work so that we can all see – and take action on – the ‘gap’ as soon as possible.
  6. Give up marking; the sea of red wastes your time and puts the student in the wrong mindset to receive it. Instead go for the three-levels of feedback (task, process, self-regulation) and make it clear.
  7. Separate the grade from the feedback to have a higher impact.

There’s quite a bit more on the GoogleSite I created for the session here: Ready, Steady, Flow. This includes resources, links, the slides and details of the two “Demo Slams” I did on the main stage at the end of the first day.

The experience was fun and nerve-wracking, as always when you present to an unknown group of adults. The talky bit took longer than I expected, but it ended up being appreciated as there were lots of opportunities to discuss, think and challenge our thoughts. At the end, participants had access to the template document and other resources to take home and play with.

It was a good experience to have the GoogleSummit here at CA, from a number of perspectives. Personally I enjoy these things, but am not a huge fan of being away from the family. As a school I think we’re doing some interesting things and it’s good for others to see those – and add their ideas and perspectives. And thinking about my role for next year, it’s great to see that CA can pull it off, and do it effectively. Kudos to all the CA-based organisers, they did a great job.


Here are the slides:


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.


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.


How NOT to be ignorant about the world.

Hans Rosling, TED.com

“Fame is easy to acquire. Impact is much more difficult.” 

Update, 2018: As a Rosling fanboy, using their work on i-Biology since about 2008, I was saddened to hear of his death in 2017. However, his recent book #Factfulness, is fantastic and well worth reading. More below. 


Another great Hans Rosling TED Talk, this time with his son, Ola.

Here Dealing with misconceptions, bias, ignorance of global issues and a little formative assessment*, they discuss how we can be better informed about the world, with a fact-based world view… and how we could (eventually) perform better than chimps on a global issues quiz. I have blogged about how this might be used in IBTOK or science classes on i-Biology.


Should a fact-based world view be the core curriculum of an international school?

Early in the talk, Ola recognises the influence of early bias of students and outdated curricula on the world view held by students – and how these are compounded by an ill-informed media. Through their project, they are trying to measure these misconceptions and propose a ‘global knowledge certificate’ that candidates (or organisations) might use to stay informed, to be competitive and to think about the future.

It seems to me that the fact-based world view would make for an excellent set of content-knowledge standards for an international school, and might pair nicely with the IB programmes as we seek to create knowledgable young inquirers who seek to make a positive difference to the world around them. How can they achieve this if they are learning outdated concepts of development or using stereotypes to paint the world in an ugly shade of ill-informed?

Hattie’s meta-analyses note that the power of prior learning (including prior mis-learning or misconception) has a very high impact on students’ future learning (d=0.67). As we generate scopes and sequences for courses or set up units of inquiry, should we be looking to the research not only on misconceptions in our own content domain but in global literacy in order to give students the tools they need to inquire in a changing and often-misunderstood world?

Is globally-literate the same as internationally-minded?

It is hard to define international-mindedness, though we can recognize it in our own settings. We might observe the behaviours of a globally-engaged student (or teacher), and might use assessments of students’ fact-based world-views as a measure of their international-mindedness. To this end, a globally-focused national school might be a more effective ‘international school’ than a more narrow-focused overseas expatriate school.**

You read about the ignorance project here on CNN, or find more classroom resources (including a world-view card game) on Gapminder’s education page. The Guardian also has a selection of global development quizzes, which you can take for fun or in class.


*making great use of the audience-response clicker system pioneered by Eric Mazur.

**this is part of the idea of my web-chart of the IMaGE (IM and Global Engagement) of a school in my MA work.


“Please return your brain for a free upgrade.”

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.

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Summertime Subsidence: Vacating the Mind of This Year’s Learning



Nobody wants to be that teacher – the one who assigns a massive packet of busy work, due the first day back to school, but it is evident that extended vacations result in a reversal of some learning.  This loss of learning increases with grade level, so at the ages we are trying to maximise the use of high-impact teaching and learning strategies, we run the risk of much of that work being undone by Summertime Subsidence (d=-0.02).

Summertime. Perfect to recharge, but don't let the learning drip out. Photo by Stephen Taylor.

Summertime. Perfect to recharge, but don’t let the learning drip out. Photo by Stephen Taylor.

At the same time, it’s upsetting to hear of students who give up the bulk of their summer to crash-courses for SAT or various other exam preparations. They need to recharge, as do we all. With the emerging importance of the Affective cluster of the Approaches to Teaching and Learning, we need to recognise the importance of social, emotional and physical well-being in creating rounded, happy learners. Vacations give us this opportunity, improving happiness and even productivity upon our return, as well as helping to manage stress. A mindful vacation helps redress the balance that a high-intensity academic programme such as IB Diploma can upset.

So what is the balance?

What do you do to ensure your students make the most of their break – not only for preventing learning loss but for bringing them back happy, healthy and ready to go? Do you give summer reading or assignments? What do you do with the first days back; do you move on with the new stuff or review the old?

I’ve posted my guidelines for my IB Biology students on i-Biology.net here. I’m be interested to hear more!

Have a great summer.

And keep that brain Fresh…


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Give a Student a Fish…

“Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach him how to fish and he’ll feed his family for a lifetime.” Anne Ritchie, 1885 (maybe)

This short post, again related to Understanding Learners and Learning, Visible Learning and MYP: Mind the Gap, revolves around my (admittedly flawed) memory of an old aid advert, a bit like this:


After defining learning and thinking critically and reflectively about the nature of inquiry and why there might be a tension across the MYP-DP transition, I want to think briefly about the learner that crosses that gap, using the obvious metaphor of the fisherman as the learner and the fish as the content, skills and conceptual understandings that the student brings up from MYP to DP.

What kind of student do you want to come up to your DP class from MYP? The kid with a boatload of fish or the thinker with the ability to catch more fish?

For authentic inquiry (critical, reflective, future-focused, consequence-oriented, ‘what-if’ thought (Elkjaer)) to be successful, students need some fish in their stomachs. We can’t ask good questions of nothing, nor can we evaluate the empty. So content and skills are needed by the student moving into the Diploma Programme. But is it the MYP teacher’s job to pre-teach everything to a DP student? What is important to know and be able to do? What conceptual understandings and approaches to learning are the most advantageous to develop, to ‘clear the path’ for effective learning and success in terminal assessments?

What happens if we ‘teach’ our students too much before they get to DP? Two things concern me here: interference and motivation, both of which I need to learn more about as I continue this assignment.

The first is the known negative impact of interference: the effect of incorrect or poorly-formed conceptual understandings on future learning. This is outline in Hattie’s Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn, and is of particular relevance to the thoughtful science teacher; students come up to our classes with a multitude of prior learning (correct or otherwise) that can either help or hinder their learning. If they arrive with a solid understanding of the concepts of evolution (Biology) or energy (Physics), for example, they will be better able to make connections (transfer) this learning as they modify existing patterns or construct new schema. Conversely, if their existing understandings are misconceptions these need to be undone before effective learning can take place, and this is very difficult to do. These misconceptions may come from poor prior teaching, superficial learning (e.g. content cramming) or in the confusion between discipline-specific and everyday use (e.g. ‘power’). I would argue here for a very carefully-constructed conceptual curriculum in the MYP years, one that emphasises not a large body of content but a highly-effective approach to constructing correct conceptual understandings.

Parallel to this is the concept of cognitive load and ego-depletion: we need to maintain a careful balance between effective learning to the point of competence and over-exertion to the point of no learning. Knowing is pleasant, but learning is uncomfortable. The ideal student coming up from DP would be fluent in the basic skills, concepts and knowledge that they learned in MYP: the basics of this core curriculum having been automatized and committed to ‘System I’, the ‘fast-thinking’ part of the memory (Kahnemann), leaving cognitive load ready for the heavier lifting in higher-order thinking (‘System II’, slow-thinking’). This is all described with much greater competence in Hattie’s Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn.

This might be a challenge to teachers ‘across the gap’ as the urge to cover content can be a strong one, but perhaps we should rather think of it as developing students who can fish well over those who are paddling upstream with a boatload of rotten trout.

The second issue that concerns me is one of motivation. In a highly content-driven, test-focused, behavioural/empirical classroom we risk creating or reinforcing a culture of extrinsic motivation, in which grades are king and are used to positively or negatively reinforce learning behaviours (ego orientation). When everything is accounted for, where is the motivation to learn as a true learner, to be truly inspired to know more? In soe school cultures we might say that it doesn’t matter how the students learn, as long as the results are high, but in that case are we really educating them or are we just passing them on to the next set of accountants?

With an inquiry-led, cognitive/rationalist classroom can we develop a more intrinsic motivation to learn, to develop a greater self-efficacy as learners in order to be more critical and reflective in our thought: a mastery goal orientation? How can the MYP classroom develop students effectively through the Approaches to Learning so that they are ready to get fishing as soon as they start Diploma and are carrying with them a solid set of conceptual understandings that will help them transfer their learning and make new connections?

Finally, do we really need to pre-teach such a great deal of content in the MYP that there are no new discoveries in the Diploma Programme? How motivated are we to re-learn what we (think we) already know and what is the effect of boredom (coupled with potential interference of misconceptions) on the effectiveness and meaning-construction in what we are trying to learn?

Once again the tensions in the transition from MYP to DP represent a fine balancing act, one for which I need to do a lot more learning.


Greeno, Collins & Resnick. Cognition & Learning, chapter in Berliner, D. & Calfee, R. (eds.),Handbook of Educational Psychology, Macmillan, New York: 15-46

Illeris, Knud. Contemporary Theories of Learning: Learning theorists… in their own wordsChapters by Knud Illeris, Bente Elkjaer.

Hattie & Yates. Visible Learning & The Science of How We Learn.

Kahnemann. Dual Process Theory.


On a parallel aid-related note, here’s a quick video from the World Food Programme on that old saying:


An Inquiry Crossfader: Authentic vs Effective Learning?

In reading more about Understanding Learners and Learning, learning theories and high-impact teaching and learning strategies I got thinking again about a conversation Jon Schatzky and I had a year and half ago about a continuum of inquiry. I’ll use this post to morph the idea into an Inquiry Crossfader, using it to acknowledge some of the (real or perceived) tensions in transition across the MYP-DP gap. This is by no means an exhaustive discussion on the topic, and there is a lot of thinking still to do (apologies for the rambling). Your thoughts are appreciated in the comments or on Twitter (@iBiologyStephen), especially if you have constructive criticism or pertinent journal articles to share. 

Inquiry: "critical reflective thought." As teachers we can set the balance between telling students what to know generating authentic inquiry. With careful design we can turn both effective and authentic learning up to 11.

Inquiry:critical reflective thought.” As teachers we can set the balance between telling students what to know generating authentic inquiry. With careful design we can turn both effective and authentic learning up to 11.

Defining Inquiry

Definitions of inquiry differ depending on who you talk to or who you are teaching. A PYP teacher might use a description of inquiry as largely student-driven questioning that drives the curriculum, is highly open-ended and can lead students in many directions in terms of curricular outcomes:

“[The PYP is committed to] structured, purposeful inquiry that engages students actively in their own learning. In the PYP it is believed that this is the way in which students learn best—that students should be invited to investigate significant issues by formulating their own questions, designing their own inquiries, assessing the various means available to support their inquiries, and proceeding with research, experimentation, observation and analysis that will help them in finding their own responses to the issues. The starting point is students’ current understanding, and the goal is the active construction of meaning by building connections between that understanding and new information and experience, derived from the inquiry into new content.” Making the PYP Happen, p29 (emphasis mine)

This is a fine approach to teaching and learning, especially in younger years where the backwash-effect of university entry is not a driving factor in school-wide or classroom-level decision-making with regards to teaching, learning and assessment. It is certainly the way I want my own young children to learn. However in my (anecdotal) experience the term inquiry meets resistance in the march on up to high school, as teachers feel the pressure of terminal assessment and more heavily prescribed syllabus outcomes or standards. It can be seen as too open-ended, or ‘loose’, perhaps sacrificing ‘standards’ for exploration. When we look at Hattie’s learning impacts, the open-ended inquiry-based learning that these teachers fear rates below average with an impact of just 0.31 (average d=0.4); entirely understandable when the tools for measuring learning in older students tend to be highly standardized and based on a pre-determined set of syllabus outcomes or core skills.

I’d prefer to use Bente Elkjaer’s definition of inquiry as “critical or reflective thinking [that] concerns consequences,” a future-oriented approach (‘what-if’ rather than ‘if-then’) in which meaning is “identified by anticipating ‘what-if’ consequences to potential actions and conduct.

As we think about the role of inquiry from this perspective, we can see myriad opportunities for authentic meaning-making in the experience of learning without sacrificing the pedagogies of ‘effective’ teaching and learning. It is a definition that agrees with the PYP approach to inquiry quoted above, as well as being an appropriate description of higher-order learning in a middle or high-school classroom. It does not discount the role of skills and content in the class; otherwise what is our core curriculum and upon what do we build conceptual understandings? It instead opens the door to more student-centred approaches to learning (such as modeling science), that require a student to think critically and reflectively, construct meaning in their learning and apply their factual and conceptual understandings to new situations through transfer.

I would be highly skeptical of any teacher who said they didn’t want to develop critical and reflective thinkers in their classes and instead preferred to keep the learning to only that which can be easily measured through simple testing.

Effective vs Authentic Learning? 

A deliberately provocative – and not necessarily true – dichotomy: are we teaching for a measurable impact, to get results (effective) or are we aiming to build meaning (authentic)? Where I observe conflict across the MYP-DP gap (again anecdotal) it tends to be as a result of a teacher determining their philosophy (and resultant practices) as either/or, when we should be concerned with both. 

In the most extreme of cases and most simplistic of distinctions between competing educational philosophies we might split the camps into ‘results-getters’ (objective-focused, effective learning) and ‘meaning-makers’ (inquiry-focused, authentic learning), the two approaches being exemplary of an behavioral/empirical perspective on learning and a cognitive/rationalist view respectively (see Cognition and Learning, in the references below). A results-getter would take pride in high student scores on standardised testing, where a meaning-maker values the impact (lifelong?) of the learning on the student in a more transformative sense. Of course, it is entirely possible to construct meaning in a highly content-driven high-school classroom, just as it is to fail to construct meaning in a low-functioning pseudo-inquiry environment: in a car recently, my 6yo daughter and I had a conversation on the difference between worthwhile ‘inquiry’ questions and superficiality such as ‘are we there yet?’ Nevertheless, the tensions into a high-stakes DP class from an inquiry-focused MYP class hinge around the (real or perceived) conflicts between a teacher-directed, outcome-driven pedagogy and a more open-ended inquiry-focused approach to learning in the classroom.

I would argue that the master teacher gets the balance right.

Depending on your subject it might be true that opportunities for open-ended inquiry become more limited in the vertical progression through the currciculum, yet the opportunities for engaging students in critical and reflective thought should remain and even strengthen as students develop a more solid conceptual foundation and set of discipline-related skills and content. The sciences, for example, fit into this category: we focus on building solid conceptual understandings through MYP yet experience a highly-prescriptive outcomes-based syllabus in Diploma Programme; as a result we risk losing the spirit of learner-led inquiry that characterizes true science as students get older and it is important in terms of both motivation and the aims of our programmes that we help students construct meaning and relevance in their studies.

The same content-loaded high-school course could be taught in different ways, and the learning experienced by students depends highly on the teacher’s philosophy of education. The focus on effective teaching and learning in these classrooms is relatively straightforward as the clearly-defined objectives of the syllabus make it easier for the teacher to employ high-impact practices such as formative assessment (d=0.9), feedback (d=0.73), spaced practice (d=0.71) and reciprocal teaching (d=0.74). The greater challenge might be to ‘make space’ for inquiry to apply student learning in order to make meaning through critical reflective thought, though it only takes a basic understanding of the higher-level assessment descriptors to see that transfer, critical inquiry and reflection play strongly into student achievement.

On the other hand subjects such as Design, with minimal prescribed content, should allow students to really spread their inquiry wings through their application of the design cycle to authentic problems and design challenges as they get older, building upon the skills, knowledge and concepts they have developed in earlier years. Making meaning should therefore be easy as student-interest drives the curriculum. In this case ‘effective teaching’ might present the more significant challenge: even an excellent teacher would need to think very carefully about how to deploy high-impact teaching practices and to know their impact as students follow diverse lines of inquiry.

So where does the Inquiry Crossfader come in? 

This is just a way to visualize the dichotomy outlined above, in order to emphasize that we can ‘set the slider’ for any of our classes and that we need to bear both effective and authentic teaching and learning in mind in our curriculum and instructional design. The table below the diagram highlights some of the characteristics of the philosophy and the classroom practices that characterize the opposite ends of the crossfader; I have attempted to draw some comparisons between practical conceptualizations of each approach, though this is open to editing and adjustment as I work on the assignment further. Below the table is an expanded outline of the relevance of the components of the DJ metaphor.


Aligns with behavioral/empirical perspectives on learning:

  • Knowledge is an accumulation of stimulus-response associations.
  • Transfer is a gradient of similarity between prior and current learning in terms of associations and stimulus/response. Motivation may well be more extrinsic, based on a desire to achieve grades over making meaning in learning.(Greeno, Collins & Resnick)
Aligns with cognitive/rational perspectives on learning:

  • Knowledge is concept-founded, where learning is a process of conceptual construction (constructivism).
  • Transfer is the application of generalities and problem-solving from conceptual understandings.
  • Motivation is more likely to be intrinsic, with a desire to learn and make meaning taking priority.(Greeno, Collins & Resnick)
Objectives are clearly-defined and generally pre-determined. Objectives might be be (partially) defined but student inquiry forms an important part of the curriculum outcomes.
Generally content-based curriculum. Generally concept-based curriculum.
Deployment of high-impact teaching practices might be more straightforward as progress towards defined, pre-determined outcomes can be easier to measure. Deployment of high-impact teaching practices might be more difficult as progress towards defined, pre-determined outcomes can be messier to measure.However, clearly-defined success criteria should still allow for a lot of formative feedback and improvement.
Teacher’s role as the expert of content and assessment. Teacher’s role as the coach or mentor of the learner.
Thinking may be more determined by ‘if-then’ scenarios, in terms of stimulus-response.(Elkjaer, in Illeris) Thinking may be more determined by ‘what-if’ scenarios (future-focused pragmatic approach).(Elkjaer, in Illeris)
Grading might suit a simple points/percentages system in which students ‘earn credit’ for completion and scores in controlled assessments. Assessment is more likely to be criterion-based (or standards-based), in which grades are linked to (and evidenced by) mastery of descriptors. There may be more diversity in assessment tools used, though these need to be very carefully designed*.

*See Grant Wiggins’ recent post on the false dichotomy between testing and projects as assessment tools. No matter the perspective on learning, we need to construct effect assessment tools… by design. 


Labouring the Metaphor

As a bedroom DJ in a past life, I’l take the liberty of outlining the diagram with the relevance of each part.

Two turntables. The left represents the content-driven (behavioural/empirical) approach, where the right represents the inquiry/concept-driven (cognitive/rationalist) approach. As the DJ builds a set, the balance moves from left to right, as the DJ switches records, though many turntablists use both at the same time to build layers of complexity; this is analagous to the master teacher ensuring both effective and authentic learning are taking place.

Volume control. As well as controlling the balance between each track, the volume of each can be controlled. Consider a complex mix between a highly-effective and highly-authentic classroom: the crossfader is set near the middle, yet both tracks are ‘turned up to 11’.

Beat-matching. A difficult skill to master, where the DJ needs to keep the tracks in time in terms of tempo and alignment of bars: transitions between records should not be noticed by the audience or the botched mix leads to an uncomfortable dissonance. The analogy here is that students notice when a teacher ‘switched gear’ artificially, as the beats go out of step and cause confusion.

Building the set. DJ’s don’t make it up as they go along: they plan their set for peaks and lulls, for the big moments and the build-ups. They start with the end in mind and know what they want their audience to experience; they practice backwards design. With a solid foundation of content (the records in their box) and a knowledge of where they can be flexible (differentiation), they can adapt their set to suit the feedback of the audience and meet their needs. Building the set might also apply to vertical articulation of the curriculum, building a student’s cumulative experience of a discipline over the years, morphing inquiry as the years progress.

We might go a step further to over-egg the analogy and add a microphone, where the teacher makes the teaching visible to students, outlining the what, the why and the how of learning in the classroom, making learning intentions clear and acting as a credible coach. We might also add the headphones, where the teacher previews and fine-tunes the learning experience, predicting and preventing mishaps or a poor mix, and uses feedback to improve the performance. Finally we could add the recording equipment – the formative and summative assessment data – with which the teacher can gain feedback and make adjustments regarding teaching and learning for future lessons.


Where it is possible to recognise tensions in the transition from a open-ended inquiry in the MYP to a more content-driven assessment-led Diploma Programme, it is not helpful to do so with such broad and definitive strokes. Inquiry, if defined as “critical and reflective thinking” is not only possible but strengthened as students progress up through the school, even if the form of that inquiry looks radically different from the PYP and early MYP years. We need to recognise that all classes at all times sit somewhere on the crossfader between the two approaches, and are likely to demonstrate characteristics of each. A master teacher is striking the right balance in each moment between the two sides, making adjustments where needed so that learning can be both effective and authentic.

Crank it up to 11.


Useful Sources: 

IBO. Making the PYP Happen: A curriculum framework for international primary education.

Greeno, Collins & Resnick. Cognition & Learning, chapter in Berliner, D. & Calfee, R. (eds.), Handbook of Educational Psychology, Macmillan, New York: 15-46

Illeris, Knud. Contemporary Theories of Learning: Learning theorists… in their own wordsChapters by Knud Illeris, Bente Elkjaer.

Hattie & Yates. Visible Learning & The Science of How We Learn.