Wayfinder Learning Lab

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


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The Quest for Learning in an IB Context

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

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

Connected reads & resources:

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Quick Review

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

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

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

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

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

QuestForLearning(sjtylr)

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

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

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

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

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

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In the IB Context

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

design-cycle

MYP Design Cycle

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

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

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

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

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Personal Reflections

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

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

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

 

 


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Don’t feel hopeless, despite the world right now.

Students and adults alike are confused and worried about the state of the world right now, including me. Here is an attempt to use the Learner Profile to buoy IB students and to boost the Biology4Good project with donations to organizations helping the refugee crisis.

i-Biology

learner-profile-sticker-englishoptmized IB Learner Profile 

With the world at fever-pitch for humanitarian crises, discrimination, a swing to the political right and environmental problems becoming compounded, it can seem like we are powerless to make a change.

This might be even more true if you are underage, personally affected (directly or indirectly), a holder of a sensitive passport, living in a delicate location or even shielded from the reality of the situation by the privileged bubble of international schooling. But it does not need to be hopeless.

Our missions as IB schools and international schools around the world should be in clear focus right now. Our education, through the disciplines, service, TOK, approaches to learning and international mindedness is our toolbox as a global citizens.

You can help and give without putting yourself (or those around you) at risk. Here are some suggestions, framed through the Learner Profile.

Be Caring

Above all…

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Visualising the Curriculum: A Design-Cycle Approach

design-cycleThis year, two of my professional learning ‘Tankyuu‘ goals are to develop the curriculum review cycle for our school and to investigate ways in which we can best communicate our curriculum to the school community: parents, teachers, students and outside agencies.

What kind of MYP Coordinator would I be if I didn’t at least attempt to apply the Design Cycle to this design challenge ;>

Over the coming couple of months, I’ll post updates and ideas to the blog, following the cycle as well as possible. Hopefully by the end of the year I’ll have found the right vehicle for curriculum communication and can start on putting it together.

Why do we need this?

As an international school with a diverse student body, light turnover in faculty and families coming in and out throughout the year, we need to be able to clearly articulate what our students are learning in a way that is understandable to all stakeholders. Where cultural expectations of curriculum might differ, as well as interpretations of an inquiry education (defined below), we need to show the common threads, the ‘safe knowledge’ and the space for exploration in our programmes. As an accredited international school and authorised IB World School, we need to be able to show that learning is built upon clear expectations and that articulation is maintained. As we look towards connecting our curriculum standards to our programme of inquiry, and as we seek to help our parents understand what we do as a school, finding a clear way to reach them is paramount.

Defining Inquiry

Inquiry is creative, critical, reflective thought, built on a foundation of well-taught knowledge, skills and concepts, that invites learners to take action on their learning and ask “what if…?“. (link)

The non-negotiables

Here are some parameters I’m setting before getting started. There will be more as the research develops and the design specifications take shape.

  1. We already use ATLAS Rubicon for curriculum documentation at the school. Teachers have done a lot of work on this over recent years, and we are moving towards using it as a tool for curriculum conversation rather than form compliance. Although it does not currently help our communication with parents, I will prioritise using ATLAS to its fullest potential over suggesting anything new and will not suggest any tool that generates extra work for teachers. If possible, the communication tool will draw from ATLAS to produce something clearer, leaving ATLAS itself as a ‘safe space’ for curriculum development.
  2. Communicating our curriculum needs to help parents understand the connections between curriculum standards, programme frameworks, our learning principles and an inquiry education.
  3. It must be attractive, usable and accessible to parents from different demographics.
  4. It must meet the requirements for CIS/WASC accreditation and for IB programme evaluation (such as producing clear subject group overviews for MYP). As we prepare for a synchronised visit in a couple of years, I’d like to be done by then.

Next Steps

In the inquiring and analysing phase of the cycle I’ll be looking for research on effective curriculum communication tools from the parent perspective, digging deeper into the potential for ATLAS and looking at some products that are available for curriculum visualisation. As I go, I’ll continue to develop the design specification.

If you’re interested in following this journey, I’ll categorise posts with ‘Curriculum’ and tag them with ‘Visualizing Curriculum’. If you have any comments or ideas, please leave them below or let me know on Twitter (@sjtylr)

 

design-cycle-myp-5-criteria-poster

The MYP 5 Design Cycle, with descriptors. Adapted for Canadian Academy from the IB MYP Design Subject Guide (2014).

 


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Defining Inquiry (again)

Some more recent posts:

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Defining Inquiry: A Pragmatic Approach

BxzQH7QCYAANPM4Since my (re)defining inquiry assignment for Bath and article in IS-Mag (2014), the importance of careful definition and action on inquiry has been on my mind a lot, shaping and re-shaping the way I work with teachers and students.

Education continues to be a battleground between polar views on “what is best for the kids” and I find myself frustrated by the consistently (false) dichotomous nature of the arguments: traditional vs progressive, schooling vs making, teacher-led vs student-driven. We can have the best of each world by creating it. We occupy a position of extreme educational privilege in the international school sector: with strong, evidence-based frameworks and quite a lot of freedom to choose what we teach and how.

As we make our choices, we need to be informed, critical, creative thinkers in our own right. Make space in the curriculum for play, creativity, curiosity and action, and make sure that the foundations are solid.

As teachers we should follow the research and we should create it. We should be coaches, mentors, guides and activators of learning (beyond facilitators). We should be inquirers, seeking to know our impact as we branch out into new territories.

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Here’s my updated definition. It’s tidier than the last, less academic, and emphasises the creative element of inquiry.

Inquiry is critical, creative, reflective thought built on a foundation of well-taught* knowledge, skills and concepts, that invites learners to take action on their learning and ask “what if…?” 

It’s important here to define creativity as more than the reserves of the arts and certainly more than a perception of something generally fun. It balances creative expression, teaching and learning with innovation and problem-solving. Creativity could be a catch-all term for the higher-order thinking skills, that in themselves require the foundational concepts, skills and knowledge to be worthwhile. Creativity requires constraint balanced with freedom, disciplinary knowledge balanced with inspiration.

In an MYP context, creative thinking is necessary to reach those top bands. What does creative thinking bring to all the disciplines?

After all, everything is a remix ;>.

  • Which elements of the “traditional” do you see here? How about the “progressive”?
  • How would this look in a (traditionally) high-content course? How about the early years?
  • How does the student’s average day, week, unit, year feel with this in mind?
  • How can we use this to excite genuine, meaningful learning and avoid the fuzzy-buzz of pseudolearning?
  • How does this look across the IB continuum? How about the Trivium schools?
Defining Inquiry

Inquiry is critical, creative, reflective thought, built on foundation of well-taught* knowledge, skills and concepts that invites learners to take action on their learning and ask “what if…?”

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Update: Oct 2017

*I’m using well-taught here almost – but not quite – interchangeably with well-learned; to recognise the critical role of the expert teacher in an inquiry environment. As learning becomes more student-owned the student needs to become TEMPERed and learn how to learn more effectively, the expert teacher needs to have their disciplinary world at their fingertips.


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Authenticity in assessment, (re-)defined and explained

For a while I’ve been banging the drum of the importance of definitions and I was reminded of its importance at the weekend as I took part in the #GAFESummit at CA and the whole-school PD session on Learning Principles. We have so much language to use in the educational context that it can get confusing as terms get popular and overlap. Sometimes you get half-way through a conversation with someone (usually from another context) before realising that you’re both using the same word in different ways.

We need to define – and carefully use – terms on an institutional (or wider) level.

What is inquiry?

What does authentic really mean? How is it different to ‘real-world’ or ‘hands-on’?

What do we really mean when we say ‘meaningful’ or ‘engagement’?

Do we understand these terms in the context of someone else’s discipline?

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Read on as Grant Wiggins defines ‘authentic’ in the way that we should all understand it. It is important.

Granted, and...

What is “authentic assessment”?

Almost 25 years ago, I wrote a widely-read and discussed paper that was entitled: “A True Test: Toward More Authentic and Equitable Assessment” that was in the Phi Delta Kappan. Download it here: Wiggins.atruetest.kappan89 I believe the phrase was my coining, made when I worked with Ted Sizer at the Coalition of Essential Schools, as a way of describing “true” tests as opposed to merely academic and unrealistic school tests. I first used the phrase in print in an article for Educational Leadership entitled “Teaching to the (Authentic) Test” in the April 1989 issue. (My colleague from the Advisory Board of the Coalition of Essential Schools, Fred Newmann, was the first to use the phrase in a book, a pamphlet for NASSP in 1988 entitled Beyond standardized testing: Assessing authentic academic achievement in secondary schools. His work in the Chicago public schools provides significant findings…

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No, I Don’t Personalize Learning

This is a nice post by Christina Milos (@SurreallyNo), a PYP educator in Europe who takes a critical look at educational trends and practices and writes about them with some academic background. In this post she distinguishes between differentiation, individualization and personalization in learning, explaining why she doesn’t do the latter.

Moments, Snippets, Spirals

Personalizedlearning. Differentiatedlearning. Individualizationof learning.

Three jargon elements that twist any teacher’s grey matter in spectacular motions. Which is what? Add to that the pressure that may come through a school PD (“We need to individualize learning!”) and you have the perfect combination for confusion.

There seems to be a continuous debate around the first (“personalized” learning) but I think clarification of terms is always useful before engaging in any argument. Also, a little historical background helps one understand the causes, underpinnings and implications of any educational approach.

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A bit of history

1914 –  The inception of the concept rests with Helen Parkhurst who was heavily influenced by Maria Montessori and John Dewey’s work when she created the Dalton Plan, plan that was introduced in 1914  and was extended later in several countries across the world (from the U.S. and Australia to Japan and The Netherlands)…

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