Developing a school wide Academic Honesty Policy I

One of my focuses this year as Diploma Programme Coordinator will be to work with the schools educators to devise a secondary wide academic honesty policy. This is the first time I have had to lead a collaborative project across the secondary and I am spending a lot of time thinking about how best to implement this.

The easiest thing, and the first thing that I considered, would have been to simply lift policies from previous schools (with permission of course – oh the irony!) and adopt it in the new context. On reflection I decided not to go down this path because doing so would have meant we lost a good opportunity for collaboration amongst the team and would have probably also ensured that we didn’t get the buy in and subsequent up-skilling, that we need if the policy is going to be successful.

Teaching academic honesty is one of those things that I think it is easy to expect everyone on the teaching team to be able to do and assume that they know how to do it when in fact there may well be understandable knowledge gaps within the team. Different people also respond to their own knowledge gaps differently. Not admitting to knowledge gaps is an behaviour that can develop insidiously in educators due to perceived peer, parent and student expectations. The culture of a school may well be one where, admitting ignorance is something that is frowned upon. I am also aware that simply admitting ignorance isn’t enough. People need to be motivated to fill the gaps once identified and this process takes effort. We all avoid the effortful path at times.

For this project, I decided to go down the long road and start afresh. I want buy-in from the team and I want to identify skill needs amongst the team so that we can begin to help teachers develop their own skills in this area, as well as develop a deeper understanding of the IB requirements for academic honesty.

One of the things that I learned as a workshop leader with the IB is that all training sessions with staff should aim to help colleagues develop their teaching skills and share pedagogical techniques as a secondary objective to the primary aims of the session. Thus, when I utilised one staff inset session in October, I planned to use visible thinking routine “chalk talk” as a route to triage where the team was in their thinking and understanding about academic honesty.

I started this session by introducing chalk talk with a practice question. On a prior inset session led by another team member we had looked at Hattie’s research and so to transition from that I chose the question: “Is homework necessary?” to get the team used to the format of the chalk talk.

For the main event, I took questions from the IBO’s documentation on academic honesty and grouped them into categories. I prepared the session in advance by writing questions onto the back of the paper I was going to use. In this chalk-talk, instead of answering one question and rotating through each table, each table had a different set of questions that each group responded too as they rotated through them.

The results can be seen here:

Following from the chalk talk, I asked each group to summarise the discussion and responses prompted by the questions they started with. I gave them 15minutes to prepare a presentation for the rest of the team, and asked them to reflect on that instruction: how do they effectively get their students to collaborate on tasks like this? How do we teach students to work collaboratively or do we expect that they will be able to do it? We ended the session by sharing the general findings from each of the groups.

Following on from this session I have written and disseminated a survey based around some of the concepts surrounding academic honesty and citations, in order to give staff a chance to have some continual input into the formation of our academic honesty policy. In January I hope to be able to review the data collected from this chalk talk and survey to begin working on developing our policy but I am unsure of where to take this next to ensure collaboration and buy-in amongst the team. If you have any ideas I would love to hear them!

The Extended Essay: The central support for teaching ATL skills?

I have reservations about the IB ATLs. I have written about this previously, mainly focussing on the approaches to teaching and I don’t really want to go over these issues again, suffice to say that it still causes me concern that the IB, as the only truly global non-national/international curriculum has such strong ideology that underpins what it requires teachers do. In fact the more I think about it, the more concerned I am by the fact that, on reflection, most teacher training curriculums that I am aware are not balanced and do not give good education to teachers on evidence, history, philosophy. Instead they simply uncritically present one ideology as fact.

My previous post focussed on the approaches to teaching. In this post I want to focus on the IB’s approaches to learning which I will refer to in this post simply as ATls. Hopefully this post will be a bit more positive!

There are certainly areas of the of the ATLs that I have come to appreciate. Before I get there I just want to state that from what I have read, I think that the evidence from cognitive science is pretty clear cut: there are no such things as general learning/thinking skills. More over, I don’t think that the often quoted 21st Century learning skills or 4Cs of: Communication, Collaboration, Critical-thinking, Creativity are anymore important in the 21st Century than they were in the 19th and 20th centuries (they were referred to then; they are nothing new now) and I think the whole enterprise of trying to teach them outside of domains is an exercise that will only make our education system weaker, not stronger.

To make the ATLs work within the school context they need to be linked to and embedded in domain specific content. Some of them maybe more generalisable than others and in that sense may be more malleable for being taught independently, but most will need to be embedded within the teaching of specific content of a domain.

For example, elements of the self-management tranche of the identified ATLs may well be more stand alone, or at least can be taught independently of subject matter. However, teaching students about time-management still needs material to work on, in this case the students own general workload at school.

Mindfulness is another self-management skill that can be taught independently and, in my opinion, to great value for the learner. However for this to be affective it needs staff buy-in and training. While mindfulness is the new trendy idea, there is a lot of misunderstanding about what it actually is.

Thinking skills, communication skills and research skills, as identified by the IB’s ATL guide all require teaching and embedding within content. In terms of the Communication and research skills, one of the central pillars to teaching these is the Extended Essay.

In most schools the Extended Essay process is placed to the middle to end of the DP, with students perhaps beginning the process in term two of the first year and ending sometime around Christmas of the second year. This year we have gone to the extreme of bringing it to the front of the process as we feel it underpins and provides so many opportunities to explicitly teach the ATLs but still linking them to specific subject knowledge.

We have introduced our students to the process this September and have planned in specific interventions that look at research skills and communication skills, while we also begin to map out how these skills are taught vertically from year 7.

Our current year 12 students are supported through the process with clear scaffolding. First they are asked to think about general topics and clearly led through ways to identify and think about ideas. Subsequently, we introduce them to the library and its resources in a series of sessions which first look at the library and its resources in general before looking at the databases we have access to and how researchers utilise these resources appropriately using boolean operators..

Students are then asked to draft a proposal for their Extended Essay which would include the research question, an outline of the subquestions and a list of potential sources that can be used. This proposal needs to be agreed to and signed off by their supervisor before Christmas of the first year. The proposal becomes the basis for the first formal reflection.

In the second term, we show students how to critically appraise sources and continue to give them support in writing their outline for their essay. This takes place un until April where they submit their outline to the supervisors and follow up with a second meeting.

Following on from this meeting students will recieve feedback and after their exams, during their core week, they are given time to work on writing their Extended Essay in the morning with the aim that they would have a first draft completed by the end of the third term and submitted to their supervisor, this would form the basis of their interim reflection and their third meeting.

Student can then finalise their work over the summer, submitting it and completing their viva voce at the start of their second year. In this way this major piece of work is completed before the bulk of internal assessments and university applications begin.

By front loading the extended essay process in this way, I believe that the team has a greater chance of explicitly teaching, the research and communication skills needed to succeed in the extended essay. This reduces the chances of these skills being left to chance and also allows students to be able to apply these skills in their internal assessments for their other subject.

Finally by also, bringing some of the other internal assessments into the later half of the first year, we can begin to help students develop strategies for their own time management and organisational skills, by explictly showing them how they balance the commitments of the extended essay, internal assessments and other work. This can be done early in the course, allowing them to apply these skills later in the course.

Whole school support for EAL learners II

Imagine a normal primary school in an anglophone country like the UK or US. Now imagine taking a year 4/grade 3 or year 5/grade 4 child from that school and giving them an academic program aimed at year 12/grade 11 or year 13/grade 12 students. It could be AP, A Levels, IB DP. The course doesn’t matter here. Lets just assume that these children would be taking academic, pre-university courses in the the humanities/social science and the natural sciences. For the sake of argument, lets assume that these fictional children have the social and emotional skills of 17-18 year olds. Clearly I am not describing a real situation here.

From a purely academic point of view: what would happen? Would those children succeed? Would they have the background knowledge, understanding and vocabulary skills to access in class discussions? Or text books for that matter? Or even to understand what the teacher was talking about?

Now, I wonder, how would the teachers, tasked with teaching these children respond? What strategies could classroom practitioners employ to help their students achieve? How could the curriculum coordinators and Heads of Year respond to implement strategies to allow the children to access the curriculum? What would you do?

What makes an EAL student like a primary schooler?

Of course, this never happens in practice or does it? Is there any cohort of students in international schools that would somewhat match this description? I would contend that there are, to varying degrees, and in varying numbers, students who fit this description as EAL students.

Now clearly, an average 17 year old student, has cognitive abilities beyond that of an average 10 year old and certainly, we would hope, more advanced social and emotional skills. And indeed they probably do know more.

But how do we ensure that, when a high school accepts an older student who has never had any prior formal instruction in academic disciplines in the language of the school, and will ultimately sit exams in that new language, this child will be able to succeed.

Some might answer that schools shouldn’t admit students when they cannot meet their needs. I would agree. But I have seen schools that do admit students when they can’t meet their needs; usually when a child’s needs meet the economic needs of a school, the latter concerns tend to win.

My concern here really revolves around the question: If most major testing systems in the English Language (AP, IBDP etc) are norm referenced, then aren’t we simply propping up the performance of our native language speakers with the ultimately poorer performance of non-native speakers? Are our anglophone speakers succeeding on the back of the poorer performance of our EAL students (on an international level)?

Of course, in international schools, there is a lot of variance and there is certainly flexibility in the system. Most students who can’t access the full curriculum will be able to graduate from the school with some form of modified curriculum. But we need to ensure that students have as many options available to them when they leave us as possible. Going to an international school is a privilege and affords so many additional benefits to kids that they may not have had in there home country but we need to ensure that students are able to succeed after they leave us.

How do we solve these problems?

In practical terms when, as a coordinator, I have a cohort of students for the majority of whom English is a second language and many of whom have only been learning their academic subjects in English for a few short years, how do I put strategies in place to support them as best I can?

I have written here, here and here in the past about classroom strategies for teaching upper secondary curriculums to EAL students. I am an interested novice. But now as a coordinator I am concerned about curriculum level interventions.

The context will matter both in terms of the cohorts profile and the curriculums that can be offered as well as their flexibility. I coordinate the IB, which is a flexible system in the sense that, when combined with an American style High School Diploma, students have the option of taking IB certificates in as many or as few courses as they would like.

But I am blue-skying today and want to think about how to offer the full Diploma to as many of my students as possible in this imaginary cohort.

Making the Diploma accessible

There are ways to do this but it may require restrictions in certain areas, for example limiting extended essay subject selection to the students mother tongue or English B if the students level of English is so low that the team feels this would preclude them for taking the extended essay in another academic subject, like business studies or economics for example.

And what level of English is too low? Whats the cut off? Recently I have discussed, with colleagues, using lexile analysis to determine what the English grade reading level is of my EAL students as well as the lexile score. This is a measure of how dense a text is. The lexile score is useful for a number of reasons. It can be used to work out what the equivalent reading age in English is for the EAL students and it can compared to the lexile level of the textbooks used on the course, allowing teachers to the see the difference in where there kids are at and the material they need to present.

The lexile analysis of a biology textbook. The level ranges from Y13/G12 to post secondary!

Lexile analysis can be performed here. Teachers can set up their own accounts but I think this should be done centrally on a term by term basis or semester by semester basis and the information shared with students and their families, as well as teachers as part of a set of on going sharing of strategies and training on support EAL students in the academic classroom.

Hirsch (2016) claims that “Vocabulary size is the outward and visible sign of an inward acquisition of knowledge.”Lexile analysis therefore shows us not only what these students can read but what they know in English as well. Hirsch makes the case that the more domain specific knowledge students acquire, the more their vocabulary naturally increases. This is why, for Hirsch, knowledge rich elementary curriculums are so important. They ensure that students acquire vocabulary and this vocabulary acquisition is the magic formula for reducing inequality. Children from affluent families have more vocabulary when they start school (they oral life at home is richer) compared to their disadvantaged peers and knowledge curriculums help them to catch up.

In a sense our EAL students are like disadvantaged native language children; they certainly don’t benefit from homes where English is spoken and so they don’t benefit from expanding their knowledge and vocabulary in English when they leave school.

The matthew effect shows how learners who have knowledge will tend to acquire more at a faster rate and those with less will acquire knowledge more slowly. This is one of the important psychological principles often overlooked by commentators who claim if we teach knowledge then our kids will be competing with computers. Teaching knowledge is the only way to ensure that they can be life long learners; the more knowledge we have in our brains the quicker we gain new knowledge.  This is also known as the knowledge capital principle it takes knowledge to make knowledge.

Hirsch also claims that “High school is too late to be taking coherent content seriously” as part of his argument for knowledge rich elementary curriculums. Where does this leave our EAL students?

Evidence from cognitive science also shows us that knowledge is domain specific and that it doesn’t transfer readily. Thus students may now about the detailed components that make up the processes of photosynthesis in Korean, but they are unlikely to be able to transfer this knowledge from Korean into English. This creates real problems when it comes to supporting EAL students in the mainstream academic classrooms.

Taking all of the above int account, it seems that we need to begin by getting students exposed to speaking and thinking in English as much as possible.

Let me be clear here, as I have run into hot water on this one in schools. If the aim of a school is to have students graduate by passing English language academic exams for whatever greater purpose, then I think that in school, whenever possible, students need to be encouraged to speak English. I don’t say this because I am a cultural imperialist but because it is demonstrably the best way of getting students to learn the academic subjects, most of the time.

As an IBDP Coordinator this means, among other things, ensuring that students get as much time in the English acquisition classroom as possible. I would consider placing all the students into the English B HL class  at the start of their course. This would give them more hours in the acquisition classroom initially. As they progressed through the course we could look at their progress to see if they could afford to drop down to SL.

Clearly there is a balance to be struck here. Forcing kids to be taking an HL subject they might not be into could seriously backfire in terms of motivation and so continual communication with teachers, students and parents is essential.

To ensure that students felt like they were making progress (and therefore maintaining their motivation – psychology) I would consider having dedicated EAL support after school. This time would be given over to allow the students to do grade-levelled reading in English.

I also apply the IB research discussed in this post to ensure that their is ongoing monitoring of the learners progress, too often students are assessed at the beginning of the year and never again. Ongoing, regular assessment of learners progress is necessary here.

Since beginning to write this, I have been introduced to a piece of software that appears to be an answer to some of these questions.

I hope that ongoing posts on this topic will help me explore the strategies that can be put in place to ensure all learners succeed.

References

E.D. Hirsch (2016) Why knowledge matters: Rescuing our children from failed educational theories. Harvard Education press

Taking your Diploma Programme to the next level

In the fourth and final week of the Diploma Programme coordination category 2 online course we looked at some of the more intangible elements of a successful Diploma Programme. These included relationships with students and staff and strategies for managing these, particularly when stress levels might be quite high; making sure that students stayed with the full diploma program and got the recognition they deserved and how to use data to improve the program further.

In the first activity, we reflected on strategies to help bring enthusiasm for the program to students and faculty.

I think the key to providing the enthusiasm needed to champion students relies on the coordinator supporting teachers effectively so that they are able to support their own students effectively and maintain their own positive teacher-student relationships.

Of course, the DPC needs to think about their own relationships with the students on the programme, but to inspire kids, colleagues need to be empowered and supported in their own work.

This can come about through careful discussion and planning of the assessment calendar and support teachers in holding students accountable for making sure deadlines are adhered to. I have often witnessed the snowballing effect of when a teacher thinks they are being kind to a student by extending a deadline, only for that piece of work to then be happening at the same time as another piece and so the student ends up feeling doubly overwhelmed.

There, therefore, needs to be structures in place so that staff can get help with problems in their own areas but also so that students can get the support they need formally and informally.

Going forward I would like in a small school environment:

  • Mix the y12 and y13 homerooms so that DP1 and DP2 students can learn from, communicate with and support each other.
  • Facilitate meeting and communication between the school guidance department and the CAS advisors so that all students are receiving the same advice and all students feel that they have an individual teacher that they can go to if necessary.
  • Operate office hours so that teachers/students can book appointments to meet with me on an ad hoc basis.
  • Provide supervised study hall sessions so that students can get help with developing their ATLs.
  • Review the school’s assessment policy to ensure that teachers understand the differences between formative and summative assessment and know when each is appropriate.
  • Put systems in place to ensure that students are monitored and so that there are safety nets in place to stop snowballing of problems.
  • Think carefully about the assessment policies and procedures to maximise student wellbeing – making sure that staff understand formative and summative assessment, what it is used for and when it is appropriate.

In the second activity, we reviewed the role of the DPC in admitting students to the Diploma Programme and the need for communication and collaboration with the admissions department. We also looked at the IB research and were asked to comment on one article from this area.

In terms of the IB research, I am a little sceptical of some of it as I question its independence but  I have become increasingly interested in the status of second language learners who are studying the DP in languages, not their mother tongue. This interest has developed from working in two academic contexts where students had a Francophone academic background but our teaching was in English.

I had a look at the research summary for “Language proficiency for academic achievement in the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme”. https://www.ibo.org/globalassets/publications/ib-research/language-proficiency-summary-en.pdf

This study was composed of a literature review looking at the academic literature of what is meant by academic language and the practices recommended to support students academic language proficiency, as well as a review of examination results from IBIS to examine how well students studying a second language perform. The third part of the research looked at the practices that have been implemented within schools.

I took away from this just how little ongoing monitoring for second language learners there is. It seems that while many schools give an initial assessment of a students proficiency they do not follow this up to inform future teaching. In addition, many schools leave second language support up to a small group of teachers.

The report recommends that schools give an ongoing formative assessment of students second lang development to inform teaching across their subjects and ensure that all teachers are engaged and trained on the teaching of EAL.

This is interesting because I have worked with so many schools where EAL training is restricted to a single inset day and then that is it. What I believe subject teachers need is also ongoing support and training, as the literature is vast and to get this right there is a lot of time that teachers need to invest in it.

Could school departments all have an EAL or equivalent lead who would be responsible for developing the department’s resources to support this?

In the final task we considered using IB data to further reflect and goal set.

Delivering the core of the IBDP

The core of the IBDP contains three elements: Creativity, Activity and Service (CAS); Theory of Knowledge (TOK); and the Extended Essay (EE).

In week three of my course, we have been focussing on how these three elements can be effectively delivered within the school system.

This has been a challenging week for me to engage with because, whilst I know how these things are structured in my current school and although I have direct experience with all three of these elements, I am not sure how they are organised in the context I will be joining this coming August and I am not sure of the value of simply regurgitating what my current school does during the online discussion spaces.

I took to emailing new colleagues with questions and making notes to address certain points this coming August and then simply commenting on what my current school is doing.

CAS

We were asked to take a check of the CAS situation in our school by reading sections of the CAS guide and ensuring that the school has:

  • a school CAS guide for students and parents
  • a process for students to develop a CAS plan
  • a process to encourage ongoing student reflection
  • student portfolios to document reflection and completion of the seven learning outcomes
  • a method for teacher evaluation of the students’ CAS portfolios 
  • reviewed the CAS programme questionnaire

This activity highlighted the importance of reflection for the development of a solid CAS programme. Reflection is one of those activities that has so much potential to be done badly; becoming forced – “reflect now!” – which totally undermines the point of it. The real challenge for schools is to develop a culture of reflection where the community sees the value of it and understands how to do it well. Like many things it is simply assumed that teachers do it and can do it well. One ongoing focus would be to help build the habits that drive reflection. The CAS guide has some useful pointers about the elements of reflection which, as reflection is not just a CAS thing, but something that underpins all good intellectual development, should be noted by all lifelong learners.

Elements of reflection

Taken from the CAS guide:

Reflection is a dynamic means for self-knowing, learning and decision-making. Four elements assist in the CAS reflective process. The first two elements form the foundation of reflection.

  • Describing what happened: Students retell their memorable moments, identifying what was important or influential, what went well or was difficult, obstacles and successes.
  • Expressing feelings: Students articulate emotional responses to their experiences.

The following two elements add greater depth and expand perspectives.

  • Generating ideas: Rethinking or re-examining choices and actions increases awareness about self and situations.
  • Asking questions: Questions about people, processes or issues prompt further thinking and ongoing inquiry.

TOK

How is a map a master metaphor for knowledge? In the same way that the map is a representation of reality and NOT reality, What we know is simply a representation of reality and not the same thing as reality.

How can a lab experiment be impacted by the emotions of a scientist?

These were some of the questions used to introduce TOK to the coordination trainees. As I have taught TOK in the past and I am currently taking another course online from Oxford on Theory of Knowledge, I am beginning to feel like I have a bit more of a handle on this subject.

In my own diploma programme, this would ideally really be a focus as I feel that getting TOK right is the key to overall academic success in the IBDP. If students really understand TOK and see its value, not only will they become that much more engaged with their subject but learn to appraise, analyse and reflect on them more deeply.

To achieve this I would try and explore all avenues for engaging teachers with TOK. Like the adage that all teachers are language teachers, it can often be overlooked that teachers themselves don’t know what TOK is or have never reflected on the nature of knowledge in their own subjects. If they haven’t even addressed these basic steps how can we expect TOK to be integrated fully into the curriculum? We also need to recognise the one session on its own is not going to be enough. Instead we need to invest in professionals in our community and encourage continued engagement with the ideas by getting them interested in it in the first place.

Extended Essay

The extended essay is a crucial element of the core and provides an explicit opportunity to develop research and organisational skills in a tangible activity of writing 4000 words on an academic topic. It is supported by explicit teaching of research, planning and self-management skills with the school’s librarian alongside teachers. Students must meet with a supervisor three times throughout the process and students and supervisors must compelte the reflections on planning and progress form.

There are a variety of ways that schools can support the process:

  • Handbook
  • Online scaffolding of the process
  • Research skills course
  • Blocked time in the schedule
  • Hold a retreat away to complete it
  • Dedicated research and writing days
  • Have department heads play a role as experts
  • Have teachers build in time to explain the methodology of an extended essay in their subject

If students are struggling the following safety nets can be in place:

  • Internal deadlines with a cushion of time for emergencies
  • Dedicated space for students to be sequestered
  • Dedicated teacher/coordinator/counsellor to give further support
  • Backwards design with many check-ins along the way

Reflection points

  • the importance of the core in achieving the diploma
  • the importance of the role you play as coordinator in supporting the core
  • structures and activities that can build further support for students so they meet with success in the core.