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Growth Mindsets in Differentiation & Feedback

Nothing suggests 'loser' quite like a table for one and a book with that cover blurb. ;)

Nothing suggests ‘loner’ quite like a table for one and a book with that cover blurb. 😉 #GrowthMindset

After reading/hearing so much about Carol Dweck’s Mindset over the last couple of years, I was finally able to read the book on the train from London to Bath. I’d become so familiar with the ideas that it felt like 200+ pages of déjà vu, although the main messages are perhaps worth reinforcing.

It’s an easy read, in a style similar to Pink, Goleman, Gladwell and co., though I did find myself skimming over yet another American sports example (Woods, Wooden, Jordan, Wie, Yankees, McEnroe). There were some interesting sections on leadership, parenting and relationships, though I was really looking for more practical advice on how to build growth mindsets in my students.

Some key messages for parents and educators

  • A fixed mindset is seen as a personal success or failure, a (permanent) label on a person of their worth.
  • Fixed-mindsets value ability over effort and when effort is put in it is in order to affirm one’s status at the top; they might be seen to ‘learn’ a lot as they perform highly in tests and assessments, but this may be due only to the effect of their achievement affirming their fixed mindset.
  • Fixed mindsets see difficulty as a weakness or threat and so may not put in the effort in case they fail.
  • Growth mindsets embrace the challenge of difficulty and see the value in learning as a journey.
  • Growth mindsets demonstrate resilience in failure and use difficulties to set workable plans for improvement
  • Growth mindset leaders and teachers embrace their own personal learning and seek to develop learning communities: it is OK to not know… yet.
  • Growth mindset leaders take time to listen, learn and evaluate fairly. They surround themselves with knowledgable inquirers and weed out the fixed mindset culture of fear and/or affirming status. They might be lower-key than the high-powered fixed-mindset hero-leaders, but they build a more sustainable and trusting culture.

Feedback and Mindsets

Samudra, determined to ride the space tower thing at LegoLand. Photo (c) Stephen Taylor.

Samudra, determined to ride the space tower thing at LegoLand. Photo (c) Stephen Taylor.

It is clear that our words and actions as parents and teachers reinforce kids’ views of themselves and their behaviour adjusts accordingly. By focusing on personal feedback (praise or criticism), we may affect the mindset of the child, either reinforcing the ego or damaging the student’s motivation to improve. By focusing on tasks and processes, looking at how we can improve, we might help students develop more growth mindsets. A good strategy for effective feedback that builds on the growth mindset might be Hattie’s Three Levels (Task, Process and Self-regulation).

Differentiation and Mindsets

When we focus on ability-related feedback, conversations or behaviours are we limiting the growth mindset? Dweck suggests that this is compounded when the curriculum is ‘dumbed-down’ and that having high expectations for all students, coupled with valuable feedback, will increase achievement. Sounds obvious, but may not always play out in class. Avoid the temptation to make the curriculum easier for the ‘less able’ students and instead Differentiate Up from a core. Challenge everyone, support everyone.

Approaches to Learning and Mindsets

We all want our students to do well, but more than that we should want them to love learning and become enthusiastic lifelong learners. Taking steps to weed out fixed-mindset behaviours and language from our classes and our cultures in order to develop strategies towards becoming more growth-oriented might bring us part of the way. This is where we can start to see the importance of the Affective skills clusters of the IB’s Approaches to Learning, and will likely be an area that requires significant teacher (and parent) professional development. Coupled with a strong curriculum and high-impact teaching and learning and we might just get there.

I used to think you were smart.” Calvin and Hobbes strip that neatly sums up fixed vs growth mindsets, used on p40 of Dweck’s Mindset.


I’ll admit, the idea of Mindset seems a little too neat for me – we are more nuanced and complex than either-or (which she recognises in the book). Personally, for example, I would see myself as very growth-mindset in that I seek development, learn more and reflect on everything; however, I can take perceived failure or criticism very personally, which is a more fixed-mindset trait. I also recognise that the book is aimed at a mass-market audience, and so there is much reference to ‘our research’ without a lot of depth. I would prefer a more academic, education-focused edition of this, with fewer popular-culture, big-CEO or sports stories and more about how this has been investigated.

As a tool for teachers, the language of fixed vs growth mindset will make it easier to have conversations with students and parents, and we can develop or make use of strategies that reinforce the nature of learning as a growth process. I am looking forward to seeing how schools start to put some of these ideas to use in their development of the Approaches to Learning.

I have added this book to the MYP Coordinator’s Bookshelf , but would really recommend any of the other books as good reads before moving onto this one. 


This is a total cheese-fest, but anyone who says they don’t like Dolly has a heart of stone. Her recent single, Try, does a pretty neat job of capturing the Growth Mindset and the role of effort in success – and it’s the theme song for her literacy charity, Imagination Library.


Hattie & Yates: Visible Learning & the Science of How We Learn

This brief review of John Hattie and Gregory Yates’ Visible Learning & the Science of How we Learn (#HattieVLSL) is written from the multiple perspectives of a science teacher, IB MYP Coordinator and MA student. I have read both Visible Learning and Visible Learning for Teachers, and regularly refer to the learning impacts in my professional discussions and reflections. While reading the book, I started the #HattieVLSL hashtag to try to summarise my learning in 140 characters and to get more people to join in the conversation – more of this below. 

EDIT: March 2017

This review was written right after the release of VLSL, in late 2013. Since then, the ideas of ‘know they impact‘ and measurement of learning impacts have really taken off in education, particularly in international schools. Critics of Hattie (largely focused on mathematics or methodology) are also easy to find, though the Australian Society for Evidence Based Teaching concludes that “statistical errors do not change any of the findings” and that “Visible Learning remains the most significant summary of educational research ever compiled.“. We do need to be mindful that what works in some contexts might not work in others, and that the visible learning impacts could be used as a set of signposts for further investigation in our own contexts, rather than a list of ‘must do’ strategies for all classes.

The rest of this blog post has remained untouched since 2013. 


Summary Review (the tl;dr version)

Visible Learning and the Science of How we Learn (#HattieVLSL) is an engaging and accessible guide that connects the impacts of Hattie’s meta-analyses with discussion of current understandings in the field of how we learn. It reduces the ‘jargon of learning theory’ to the implications in terms of learning and teaching (without overly dumbing down), and aims to facilitate clarity through relegating researchers’ names to the references (and focusing on the findings in each of the 31 chapters). This aids swift reading; it would be useful for the novice teacher as a general overview of teaching and learning at the start of their studies in education. On the other hand, the academically-minded will be sifting through the references and hitting the internet for supplementation and more susbstantial explanation.

It is a practical volume and can be dipped into and revisited as needed, though as a ‘how-to’ guide for high-impact practices, Visible Learning for Teachers (VLT) is more immediately actionable. It would serve well as a companion to VLT and should be of particular interest to teachers who want to dig deeper into the issues or to leaders who want to think more carefully before making decisions that affect teaching and learning.

#HattieVLSL is highly quotable and provides many provocations for further thought and ideas that might challenge a teacher’s thinking or way of doing things. It is concise with short, well-structured chapters, each ending with  an In Perspective summary, some study guide questions that could structure discussion (or a teacher learning community) and some annotated references to pursue. Discussion of ‘Fast Thinking & Slow Thinking’ is fascinating.

Although very strong, at times it feels like the examples used (Gladwell’s Blink, Khan Academy) are aiming for a more populist market and might open the book to criticism. Where we have bought copies of VLT for all teachers as a catalyst for teacher learning communities, this volume might better serve those who are interested in the theoretical basis for learning, perhaps as their own reading group or learning community.

I recommend the book to anyone who is already a fan of Hattie’s work, or who has an inherent interest in connecting learning theory and studies with the learning impacts, or visible effects in the classroom. I have learned a lot through reading this volume, have been inspired to learn more and will likely be boring others by talking about it for a good while.

More detail and some tweets after the divide… 

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Of Planners & Practices: Reflecting on Student & Professional Learning

This week we used the Wednesday PD time to set up formal collaborative reflection on units. Nothing ground-breaking, perhaps, but an opportunity to have good discussions with colleagues about how the planned and taught curriculum are matching up, how we are meeting students’ needs and how we are thinking purposefully about connecting articulation and action in the classroom.

The emphasis was on conversations before computers and questions before suggestions, with the departments first talking through one unit together then breaking into planning pairs/groups to reflect on a unit each. The remaining time was given to capturing the reflections in ATLAS. We will repeat this periodically through the year, and it is hoped that HOD’s will continue the model when their departments meet for planning and reflection.


A quick personal reflection. 

I feel like we’re turning the corner – culturally and professionally – at the school.

I feel like discussions are far more positive and collegial than when I first arrived a couple of years ago. I know in Science we are having more conversations across MYP-DP and MS-HS, and we are learning a lot from each other. As a faculty we’re making incremental progress towards seeing planning (and ATLAS as its vehicle) as being central to the development of both quality curriculum and effective practices. Student learning is the focus of our discussions and the great work that all teachers are doing across the school is becoming more apparent with every week. This is a good school of good people doing good things and getting better.

Like any school, there is still a lot of work to do, but I am proud of what we are accomplishing and am grateful to be a part of the process. In terms of curriculum leadership we’re providing structure and resources to allow departments and teachers to get on with their own learning as professionals and trying to give them the opportunity to explore and grow together. We will cycle through curriculum, differentiation, tech and planner hotspots, student learning goals and reflection through the year, and as MYP:NC guides come out will look at how best to prepare for next year.

First copies in Japan? Maybe…

I am super-excited about our Teacher Learning Communities focus for the year, based loosely on Dylan Wiliam’s framework for Embedded Formative Assessment and using Hattie’s Visible Learning to focus group learning on practices that work, in order to help us meet professional goals, student learning goals and to better meet the needs of our students. I’m a Hattie fan-boy (his new book, ‘Visible Learning & the Science of How We Learn‘ arrived today), and based my IBAP presentation MYP: Mind the Gap on his work. It is really accessible and great as a stimulus for thought and further learning. I hope all teachers are as enthusiastic about this opportunity as I am – this kind of opportunity for self-directed PD is not frequently given in schools.

The start of the year has been exhausting – far more so than last year. Many hours have gone into preparing resources and working with leadership on the Wednesday sessions, along with ATLAS work, meetings and trying to get to work with teachers. I have my own full classes, a really cool opportunity with push-in learning support in G8 Science, family, MA Study, #MYPChat leadership, becoming an IB Educator (MYP school visitor), the MS Girls’ Football season has just begun and there is more going on. Every stone unturned reveals more work that needs to be done – and I do need to try my best to meet everyone’s needs as positively as possible.

But I still feel that it is all worth it. We are making progress as a faculty, becoming more ‘can-do’, more genki.

As DJ says, “we are responsible for our own culture,” and it is a privilege to be able to influence that culture.


You Can’t Differentiate Mediocrity.

Good teaching is differentiation: knowing our students, knowing our curriculum, knowing and using a range of strategies and finding opportunities to give students what they need. It is knowing who is learning what and how and it is knowing our impact as the teacher in the classroom. An excellent differentiated curriculum and classroom needs to be first excellent, then differentiated: you can’t differentiate mediocrity. Differentiation depends on effective collaboration between teachers and between students and faculty. It needs an atmosphere of respect and inclusion and a common goal of student learning. 


A concept map for differentiating instruction, from Leadership for Differentiating Schools & Classrooms by Carol Ann Tomlinson and Susan Demirsky Allan.

Over this week at CA we have had Sandra Page come back in from ASCD to help teachers level-up from last year’s work, which was largely and introduction to differentiation and establishing a common language and set of strategies around it. Then  over the weekend I attended a separate JCIS weekend workshop at Osaka International School, led by Naomi Nelson (part of Bill and Ochan Powell’s Education Across Frontiers), on ‘Differentiation: Making Inclusion Happen.’ It was a powerful week of PD, with Naomi’s weekend sessions being particularly useful as a coordinator. With so much professional learning taking place – as MYP Co, science teacher and HOD Science – it will be a challenge to summarise this all into one post and you will likely recognise much of the ideas here.

An Overview

The differentiation content in each session was largely based on the work of Carol Ann Tomlinson, with the common language of differentiating Product, Process, Content (and Affect) by Readiness, Interest and Learning Profile. As a focus at the school we have been working mainly on building teachers’ readiness in Readiness, Process and – to a much lesser extent – Product (assessment).  The work we have been doing has been supported by resources on the school’s faculty guide and in the ATLAS planners, as well as department-based sessions with Sandra.

The Curriculum-Students Balance

Naomi did an great job of crystallizing the connections between an excellent concept-based curriculum with the practices of teaching in the differentiated classroom. Building on Tomlinson’s work, the mantra became an excellent differentiated classroom is first excellent, then differentiated. We need to build on a strong knowledge of an excellent curriculum, and the process of building and articulating that excellent curriculum is the foundation of progress. As part of this curriculum, we need to be aware of the greater conceptual understandings of our unit and the minimum acceptable evidence of understanding of our students to be successful in the unit. We must know where we need to go, and then think about how we might bring in readiness and interest to get there.

Screen Shot 2013-09-23 at 9.31.55 PMA strong curriculum doesn’t, however, mean a slavish devotion to content over all else. We are educators, not fact transmitters, and must ensure that the students remain in the balance. By knowing our students – their interests and readiness as a group and as individuals and what makes a successful learning environment – we can start to meet their needs as learners. We should use formative and summative assessment data as a regular part of our own teaching feedback cycle.  A differentiated classroom is responsive; the opportunities to respond are planned.

A good differentiated classroom encourages inquiry, but does not lose the curriculum in the balance: a classroom too student-oriented doesn’t easily help progression or maintain ‘standards’ (and as a result, open inquiry as curriculum ranks pretty low on Hattie’s impacts). However, if we focus only on the content, insisting that all students must meet our personal standards at the same time in the same way in order to be ‘successful’, then we are doing our learners a huge disservice.

“Differentiate Up”

A successful differentiated classroom does not sacrifice standards or make things ‘easier’ for students. We don’t give everyone an undeserving top grade because they worked hard or we feel bad for them. We certainly don’t adjust our grading fairness. Instead, we ‘differentiate up’ by making clear our expectations of all students and providing extension that takes the most ready to the next level. We do not differentiate the significant concepts, unit questions or key content by readiness – instead we make it clear how students can go beyond, to extend themselves. We ensure that students sit in the zone of proximal development, an area of tension where they are forced to learn not through giant leaps but through an invitation to challenge and to flow. For those less ready we can provide more process support, scaffolding, coaching and clarification. When all students are clear on what they are required to understand, know and do then we have a solid foundation for differentiation.

By differentiating up, we avoid dumbing down.


Developing a Repertoire of Strategies for Effective Differentiation

Strategies for differentiation might be a good entry point for teachers who want to see it in action, and to learn to see the benefit of putting the learner at the centre of learning, though they can only go so far if we are not also thinking critically about curriculum development. Both Sandra and Naomi had plenty of strategies to share – here are a few that I have tried and know to be effective in my own classes, which largely hinge on formative assessment, feedback and adjusting my practice, student groupings or learning processes. If you have read this far, you might want to put some of your favourites in the comments.

  • Exit Tickets
    • 1-minute essay (summary of learning)
    • 3,2,1 (3 things I learned, 2 I will practice, 1 question I have)
    • Response to a conceptual or challenge question
  • Socrative Space Races
    • Usually used as a warmer to get groups working together
  • Quia Quizzes
    • Strictly formative, these are for practice and immediate feedback
    • Based on content or skills of the lesson/ subtopic
    • Results help me decide – before class – who needs what help and who needs extension
  • Think-Pair-Share, Headlines, and other Making Thinking Visible Routines
  • Drafting stages of assignments (and feedback, through GoogleDocs and Hapara), to differentiate assignment-based lessons by readiness in terms of completion, skills to develop further or content-based understandings
  • Interest-based choices for students in topics for assignments, essays, research questions

Some strategies I want to try more: 

  • “Tell Me Something” paired reading
  • Cognitive Coaching in classes
  • Round Robin Reflections
  • More effective use of different ‘entry points’ to units as part of the tuning-in process

Respectful Tasks ≠ Labeling Students

A differentiated classroom feels like a community of learners, rather than rows of pupils. With flexible grouping and respectful tasks built on a supportive learning environment and a genuine care for students we can differentiate to meet students’ needs. It is often raised in differentiation sessions that teachers are wary of stigmatising students with the label of being ‘needy’ – and ‘not labeling students’ is a high-impact strategy on Hattie’s meta-analysis. However, giving students that they need, in a manner that encourages growth is not the same as permanently or obviously labeling a student. If we manage students effectively in a caring environment, we can ensure that students are given an appropriate level of challenge (and they will appreciate it).

If we differentiate by readiness only, all the time, we run the risk of creating a ‘tracking’ system in the class – but there are many ways to keep the groups flexible – by interest, level of completion of a task, preference of style (where appropriate, such as direct instruction, reading, problem-solving) or just simply through random groupings.

Students like to know why they have been grouped and in a supportive learning environment, it is OK to share our reasoning. Teacher-student relationships are high-impact on Hattie’s scale, and effort spent in cultivating them is energy well spent.

Differentiation as a Collaborative Process

One of the strengths of Naomi’s workshop was the focus on collaboration as a foundation of effective differentiation. We spent time looking at student responses in groups, trying to deduce students’ thought processes and it was a really useful task to look at the problems from others’ perspectives. She gave an overview of and time to practice Cognitive Coaching techniques, as well as an opportunity to use case studies in  groups to think about the seven norms of collaborative work:

  • pausing (the ‘gift of time’)
  • paraphrasing (“So you’re saying…”)
  • putting inquiry at the centre (of the issue)
  • probing for specificity (“Tell me more about…”)
  • putting ideas on the table (and knowing when to take them off)
  • paying attention to self and others
  • presuming positive intentions (one of my favourites and one if which we must always be mindful)

I wonder what the novice differentiators made of these sessions that were a step away from the direct student-teacher practice of differentiation, but I could really see the value of them as an MYPCo and HOD.  I think we could use up-skilling as HODs in thee practices in order to run more effective, supportive and collaborative meetings in our departments.

Where Would I Like to Go Next?

As a coordinator in the school, I tend to see lots of opportunities for development. A small breakthrough for me over the last couple of weeks (and in part due to attending IB School Visiting Team Member Training) is how we can develop the practices of differentiation and collaboration in-step with curriculum review and strengthening. I would like to have sessions and differentiated PD that build on our work on ATLAS to really connect curriculum to practice through strengthening our curriculum and assessment while developing strategies for formative assessment and differentiation. I really want to open up classrooms, build a stronger community around professional learning and peer-support. We should form vertical curriculum groups, including elementary teachers, to look critically at the standards underlying our curriculum.

I think if we were to have Naomi come to the school next year, she could work with the whole faculty on differentiation strategies and student learning goals and with the HODs on collaboration, cognitive coaching and leading effective meetings. In ongoing Wednesday-afternoon PD we can continue to focus on practices and building an excellent, concept-based, rigorous curriculum and careful collaborative moderation of student work.

I really want to develop our ties with local IB schools more carefully – a shared PD day with OIS would give an opportunity to have day-long jobalikes and a keynote, and if we go a step further we can implement the model we used in IBDunia in Indonesia for the IB teachers’s conference, drawing on the wealth of talent our community has in the classrooms to teach the teachers.


We’ve come a long way as a school over the last few years – we’re ready to really level-up and MYP: Next Chapter is the perfect opportunity to do this by thinking carefully about who we are, what we teach and how we get there. Finally, the graphic below is an attempt to communicate (in a single slide) how we can use readiness and interest most easily in MYP and DP.

An attempt to capture how we can differentiate by readiness and interest in the MYP and DP. This is in repsonse to teachers' concerns about how we get started and avoid 'dumbing down' or work within the boundaries of our curriculum framework and assessment regulations.

An attempt to capture how we can differentiate by readiness and interest in the MYP and DP. This is in repsonse to teachers’ concerns about how we get started and avoid ‘dumbing down’ or work within the boundaries of our curriculum framework and assessment regulations.


An MYP Coordinator’s Bookshelf

 Screen Shot 2013-06-11 at 3.09.17 PM

This post is a quick overview of a some of the good books I’ve read this year (or plan to (re)read over the break), and how they have helped in this ‘pedagogical leadership‘ role. Thanks to all who have recommended these books over the last year or so. If you have suggestions for other great books for the MYP Coordinator, please add them in the comments below (or let me know through Twitter).


Visible Learning for Teachers, John Hattie

Some high-impact practices.

This one rocked my world when Malcolm Nicholson (@malnicolson) mentioned it in an #MYPChat session as being highly informative in the MYP: Next Chapter curriculum design process. It has informed a lot of my discussions and decisions since. It is the ‘teacher-friendly’ companion to Hattie’s Visible Learning meta-analyses, which looked carefully at the impacts of many different educational interventions.

What works well? What doesn’t? Why? How can we take action on this in class? Each intervention is given an impact score (d), with d=0.4 being ‘average learning’, and d>0.6 being ‘enhanced effects’. Almost all interventions we try in schools cause some learning, but what has the biggest effect and how to make the most of this?

Here’s a blog post I wrote on this in more detail.

Why is it useful? 

Why do the MYP (or plan units, or reflect on teaching, or formatively assess) if there is no impact on student learning?

This gives a great starting point for further reading, discussion and evaluation of practices and planner elements. It highlights the power of self-assessment, formative assessment and feedback. We plan to give a copy to each teacher next year, and use this as the basis of differentiated teacher learning communities, as groups explore how they can have a bigger impact on student learning.

I find it very useful on a personal level in making decisions on tech tool use or teaching strategies: how can I make the best use of our time and energy. As a result I’ve started a techbarometers wiki*, to try to connect the learning impacts with tech tools that might make them more effective. When you put student learning at the heart of everything we do in MYP, it makes it much easier to address concerns, especially across the perceived MYP-DP gap.

It is extensive, well-researched and yet concise in each section. It gives concrete ideas and will make a difference to your teaching.


Embedded Formative Assessment, Dylan Wiliam

I read this along with the companion booklet “Sustaining formative assessment with teacher learning communities.” 

Formative assessment (d=0.9) and quality feedback (d=0.74) are two of the highest-impact practices we can use in class. The benefits of formative assessment (assessment for learning) were highlighted in Wiliam and Black’s Inside the Black Box (pdf), and this book gives a great toolkit for teachers. If we are going to really help students succeed in MYP and IBDP, we need to give them opportunities to learn from their mistakes, without these mistakes impacting their summative grades. Embedded Formative Assessment was shared with me by Tony Bellew (@bellew) and James Lindop (@JamesLindop); it formed a useful part of our ‘unconference’ PD sessions on feedback.

Why is it useful? 

This is a high-impact strategy that most teachers know about, but perhaps all of us can strengthen. It is a highly practical resource, with sections on good feedback, using learners as instructional resources, eliciting evidence of student learning and much more.

The companion booklet is an excellent short text that synthesises how to make the most of teacher learning communities and in-school professional development. A quick read, but I would recommend it very highly – we will take action on this next year.


Making Thinking Visible, Ritchhart, Church & Morrison

The influence of this book, developed from the work of Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Project Zero, has been clearly evident in the recent MYP workshops I’ve attended, and the thinking routines are an excellent and creative way to generate information on student learning: genuine formative assessment. There has been an engaged and dedicated group of PYP teachers using this as a PLC this year, and I can see these tools being appropriate for all ages.

Why is it useful? 

A set of tried-and-tested thinking routines, with justifications, to give diverse and creative formative assessments. These encourage deep thinking, and make the students’ learning visible to the teacher, as Hattie recommends. You can preview many of the thinking routines here.


Stirring the Head, Heart & Soul (& facilitator’s guide), H. Lynn Erickson

With the concept-based nature of MYP: The Next Chapter being more prominent that at present, this is a great book to read. For a sneaky-peaky at the big ideas, read Erickson’s Concept-based Teaching & Learning for the IB’s Position Papers blog. As we aim to strengthen the MYP with the Next Chapter, we are really looking to addressing the key and related concepts effectively.

Why is it useful? 

Where Stirring the Head, Heart & Soul is a useful background text that really helps understand the nature on concept-based curriculum and the move from 2D content-based teaching to 3D concept-driven inquiry, I plan to read this facilitator’s companion book next, looking for guidance on how best to work with teachers in developing more concept-driven curriculum and practices.


Taking the MYP Forward, Mary Hayden & Jeff Thompson

What is the history of the MYP and how can it get stronger? Taking the MYP Forward is a collection of essays by various authors gives an overview of the MYP from conception to present, and the various roles it plays in education. It does not give a lot of practical guidance on implementation or development in schools, but it does give a solid understanding of the philosophy of the programme.

Why is it useful? 

More theoretical and reflective than practical, this is an interesting read and should at least be on the MYP Co’s bookshelf.


Reading from the OCC

Over the last couple of years, the IB have produced a lot of great articles and papers that have been stored on the OCC. They are well worth reading, so here are some of the greatest hits. Links are to the OCC, so you’ll need to log in to be able to open them. They are generally PDF files.


If you have further suggestions for great reading for the MYP Coordinator over the summer, please let me know in the comments below or on Twitter (@IBiologyStephen). I’m always looking for new stimulus!

*If you think this is a worthwhile project, let me know. I can’t find an equivalent that has already been done. It would be great to crowdsource. 


“Curriculum Development IS Professional Development”

As the year winds down, it is time to reflect and plan for next year. The summer will bring family time, trips and MA study before we get back into it all in August. 

I had a good ‘coaching’ session (for want of a better word) with DJ, our Head of School today. Earlier in the year he’d said “curriculum development is professional development,” which is something that has stuck with me as an MYP Coordinator and given more purpose to my role as I’ve settled into it over this year. Also at a recent MYP Coordinators’ network meeting in Yokohama we shared some thoughts on our positions as curriculum leaders, and how our role – though at times we feel like MYPiggy in the middle – allows us to have more of an input in teaching and learning than the IBDP Co  or other admins might. We’re not shackled by so much admin or such high stakes, our curriculum is more fluid and our students span an exciting age-range. Many of us are not admins in the sense of evaluating teachers, so are not seen as a ‘threat’ (we hope).

My biggest job this year has been to support teachers as they meet the curriculum articulation goal of completing up to Stage 2 in all MYP unit planners. At CA I am fortunate to work with strong principals and a curriculum coordinator and PYP coordinator who are all supportive and effective. We plan the Wednesday PD schedule for the school, and to this end have been able to schedule lots of time for curriculum development. This included:

  • Large-group sessions on specific points (such as Differentiation and Global Contexts/ AOIs)
  • ‘Curriculum Hotspots’ where teachers could choose sessions on specific parts of the planner
  • Department meeting time for sharing and evaluating unit planners

To make this work took a lot of front-loading of effort to put together guidance and resources for every section of the planner. The school has been at this ATLAS game for years, and teachers were (and still are) at many different levels of competence and completion. As a result we needed to differentiate, so that as many needs could be met as possible. We went from ‘piecemeal‘ information at the start of the year to ‘too much information‘ (!) by the end of the first semester. I can live with that.

Screen Shot 2013-06-10 at 4.09.00 PMKey to all this information being useful has been working closely with ATLAS to update our planner, so that every element on the ATLAS editor gives explicit instructions and also links out to the faculty guide support page. From my perspective, the effort (and considerable time) has been worth it, as we are trying to meet the needs of so many people. As updates come through and issues arise, it is easy to adapt and edit the guidance, as well as build in ‘extension’ for teachers who want to go further in their curriculum.

During the year I have been able to meet with all teachers and departments who have requested assistance, some on a regular basis, others as-needed. I value this time and this role, especially as my job is non-evaluative in terms of personel. It is in these discussions that we can see where and how to develop, and it really is interesting to get an insight into people’s classes. We have been able to discuss vertical articulation, phasing of languages, teaching and learning in PE and collaborative planning of interdisciplinary units, among others. Departments provided exemplars to be checked, using the feedback to build capacity for evaluating their own planners.

As a curriculum leadership group we were able to take most of one recent Wednesday and check all the planners for completion and quality. This was based on the MYP stage 1 rubric produced by the IB and an internally-produced stage 2 rubric (both shared with teachers early in the year), alongside a GoogleDoc for tracking articulation and quality. The end of the year showed some significant progress in the schools’ articulated curriculum, and we will repeat this process each semester.

Of course, all of this articulation is worthless unless it has a positive impact on student learning. According to Hattie’s Visible Learning meta-analyses, integrated curriculum has an impact of only d=0.39 (average). However, professional development has an enhanced effect: d=0.62.*

Which brings me back to DJ’s comment that “professional development is curriculum development.” A good unit planner – especially as part of a whole curriculum – is a powerful tool. It captures all the elements of teaching and learning; it is a place to store practices and reflection. It does a lot that a subject guide alone cannot. If we devote time and energy to curriculum development and support this with resources and guidance we can change practice.

I can see over this year that many teachers have thought really carefully about their planners and are asking questions that show that this is leading to change in classroom practices. I am proud of the work of these teachers who have really engaged with the process and of those who have taken small steps in the right direction. Our curriculum is evolving and so, hopefully, is student learning.

Of course, we could just fill in the boxes…


*How we measure these impacts in our own school is another issue and one which will be of particular importance next year. The results of a recent teacher survey indicate that we will need to summatively evaluate the MYP and PYP at CA. This is not the same as an ongoing programme evaluation for the IB, which is generally formative in nature. I personally think the MYP rocks, and that the Next Chapter is a much stronger framework for our context; I do hope that people realise that the work they have been doing as a result of MYP in the school has been positive.

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“The Grass Is Greener Where You Water It”: IBAP Conference 2013

Back to work (well, catching up before the new stuff comes in on Monday), after a productive MYP: Next Chapter workshop, IB  Asia Pacific regional conference and a wonderful short holiday in Bali with the family. Here’s a quick reflection. 


MYP Next Chapter: Subject-specific Seminar (Category 3 Workshop)

Screen Shot 2013-03-30 at 4.03.09 PMThis was an interesting few days well spent and well-facilitated by Liam Hammer (@Pak_Liam) and Sean Rankin (@Sean_Rankin). With about forty participants from around the region – mostly MYPCos and school leaders  -we had some lively discussions about the new directions of the MYP. The workshop was based mainly around stage-by-stage work through the (current draft of) the new planner, with discussion of how we might implement this in schools and where the key differences lie. As so much is still in draft we are still left with some gaps before the ‘pre-published’ guides are posted to the OCC in November, but there is plenty to work on in the meantime.

I’m a fan of the Next Chapter, and had been reading up on the changes over the last year for MA and school-based work, so there were few big surprises. I think the new guise of the MYP will suit this school well, with a stronger emphasis on concept-based learning and more valid and reliable assessment. The new planner, once you get to grips with it, should be easier to use and I am looking forward to having more helpful subject guides and coordinators’ documents.

One of  my big take-homes, as a result of hashing out some LitLang and PE planners with colleagues from diverse backgrounds, was that implementing the Next Chapter will be much more productive if we first build a sound culture of collaboration. There is a lot of power in collegial discussion and different perspectives, and we were able to produce some solid Stage 1 planners using butcher paper, markers and a growing understanding of concept-based curriculum. It might even be that we need to get back to paper and pens in the early stages of planning here – I do often wonder if laptops and ATLAS create unnecessary barriers (physical and mental) to collaboration and productivity.

As I digest the contents of the workshop over the next few weeks and discuss the next steps to take with the leadership here at CA, I’ll put together an action plan that should make it all work for us, in this context. We still need to get to the point of having our planners drafted out in all classes, and from there we’re at the starting line – a place we can take a critical look at the curriculum and develop further. We can use the Next Chapter as a tool to look carefully at the what, why and how we teach, as well as how to make it stronger and more relevant to the modern learner and our global society.


IB Asia Pacific Conference 2013: Innovate, Educate, Create

Immediately following the workshop was the IBAP regional conference, the third I have attended , though my first as an MYPCo and my first as a presenter. I was excited to attend again, as it had been a few years, and to meet up with the ‘tribe’ of IB educators and friends I’ve picked up through Indonesia (and the internet).

One great thing about these events is that it reaffirms what we are doing in our own schools. For me it helps get over the ‘grass is greener’ feelings that come about when things are tougher than we’d like – I am confident that we are doing well here, that there are some good practices that we can build upon and that we can make a difference. The opening keynote by ‘futurist’* Professor Sohail Inayatullah, although otherwise weak, did include one useful quote from Neil Barringham:

“The grass is greener where you water it” Neil Barringham

It is easy to paint a rosier picture of other times, other places and other situations than is probably true – but positive outcomes takes positive effort. My current HOS’s take on the same proverb is “Grass is grass“. Some chats with former DPDunia colleagues helped reaffirm that we are doing good here in Japan, and there is plenty to develop.

While we were in the keynote and reception afterwards, the #MYPChat crew were busy discussing MYP-DP transitions – you can see the fruits of their labours here, and I thank them for keeping it going while I was busy!

For me the conference kicked off properly on Friday morning, with an excellent keynote by Ben Walden on visible leadership. I was skeptical to begin with, but he delivered a great session, tying the story of Shakespeare’s Henry V to leadership challenges and our role as educators. If you get a chance to see him (or book Contender Charlie for a student leadership workshop), I highly recommend it. Here is a wee clip from one of his sessions in the UK, though all the soundbites were there:

Saturday’s keynote by Paula Barrett was also inspirational and again went way beyond my expectations – with the focus on emotional resilience I was expecting it to be wishy-washy or touchy-feely. Instead it was powerful, evidence-based and actionable. She celebrated the ‘nerds who do meta-analyses’ and looked at positive interventions that can make the difference in mental health – the ‘protective factors’ that can head off anxiety and depression. She has become one of my favourite academics, and I am now very interested in the work of her organisation Pathways HRC. I loved this quote, from Rumi:

“The wound is the place where the light enters you.” Rumi.

Although it seems like a cliche, I also liked her discussion of positive thinking, in terms of the choices we make to frame things positively and the impact it can have on mental health. Maybe it’s the end of a long winter, or being away from the family, or work challenges, but I liked it enough to hunt down an image to illustrate it in my own session. I’d much rather be the kind of old person she describes – covered in smile-lines as evidence of a life well spent:

Image: 'This is Sujatmi' http://www.flickr.com/photos/95572727@N00/2726218408Found on flickrcc.net

Image: ‘This is Sujatmi’
Found on flickrcc.net

There was a good selection of breakout sessions on offer, too. I attended a round-table discussion on blended learning in the IB (the IB’s developers looking for input on where to go next), a very thought-provoking session on SPIDER Web discussions by Alexis Wiggins and a fun race through 38 science lessons to teach scientific thinking by Jane Altemen. I was impressed by the huge body of research currently being undertaken by the IB and was inspired by James MacDonald’s stimulus on creativity in schools.

The final day was also my own presentation… but it gets its own post.


*Maybe I just didn’t ‘get it’, but it seems to me one can make a living by predicting new niches for litigators and doing semi-coherent keynote presentations with copy-pasted images and questionable science. 


Home is where the heart is

After the last session, it was a mad-dash to the airport, and a hop on Air Asia to Bali to see the family again. A week apart is nothing to some people, but I hate being away from them. I arrived at Sarinande, Seminyak, still in the clothes from my presentation, and had probably the best sleep in a year. A quick, healthy breakfast and then hit the surf for a couple of hours of neat lines:

Seminyak, 24 April. Early morning, neat lines. The swell picked up and was 5-star on the last day.

And then back to the airport to collect the family. True happiness is family. Home is where they are.

True happiness – seeing the family again at the airport.

A quick holiday in Bali was the perfect mental-health break: great surf (the last day was pumping!), great food, lots of family time, old friends, being able to speak the language and that feeling of being ‘home’.

We’re back in Japan now, feeling positive and seeing the sun shine on a new spring.

Life is good, and worth working for. Time to water that grass.