Supporting the IBDP curriculum

I recently completed the second week of my online category 2 coordinators course.

During this unit, we discussed the scheduling and hours allocated to each of our courses before looking at and planning an assessment calendar for the DP. This exercise encouraged to look again at the assessment procedures for the Diploma Programme and begin to get a handle on not just what assessments the kids have to do and when these need to be submitted by, but also allowed us to begin to think about the administrative side and deadlines, like registering candidates for exams etc. This is an exercise that I will very much need to revisit once I have made the move to China. One of the big takeaways for me was that my intuition about bringing internal assessments backwards so that some are earlier to relieve student stress is in the right area. I may not be right in the details but the move would be one to be recommended. At this point in time, I am thinking that certain elements of the core can be assessed in DP1 – the CAS project and the TOK presentations are on my mind at the moment, but also certain subjects, like biology, can definitely be undertaken in DP1. I will need to check the school’s current assessment calendar.

We then looked through the ATLs and using one of the example planners on the ATL website we created a unit plan. This exercise was less useful for me as I have spent much of my time this year developing my units and course outlines. Personally, I think it unwise for all classes and all teachers to focus on all the ATLs. Some are better suited to certain contexts. Therefore the departments need to collaboratively map this out.

In the final section, we had to plan agendas for DP meetings throughout the year. This unit was also very useful and is another exercise that I will need to revisit this summer once I am embedded in China. I also think that it would be useful to map this out for university guidance, as there are definite areas where teachers need training – I still haven’t got communication about comments and predicted grades right at my current school.

This module was particularly useful as it gave me an opportunity to reflect on what the priorities for me will be in terms of planning for next year, specifically giving me tasks that will directly support my work as a DP Coordinator.

Reflection points

how can you best support your faculty and students to improve self-management skills such as planning and organizing time?

This takes time and a willingness to engage with individuals personally. It is important not to forget the value of face to face contact and to remember my implicit bias via the fundamental attribution error. This states that anyone (including yours truly) is more likely to judge another person’s actions as being attributable to inherent character flaws, and yet judge our own actions as due to circumstance. Thus that colleague who is always missing deadlines and turning up late is clearly flawed in some way, and yet when I am late its because I was busy.

A bit of humility then is necessary and a realisation that that colleague is probably swamped and in need of support.

I think the best way to support faculty in this way is to ensure a certain amount of regular contact (not too much – no one wants to be micromanaged). Too little contact though can lead to people feeling de-valued and overlooked.

This can be achieved by having an open door policy, and times when faculty can book to come and see you to discuss concerns, as well as regularly scheduled meetings with specific agendas.

Where does your faculty sit along a continuum of learning in relation to approaches to teaching?

This I will need to assess through survey and discussion with the teaching body – I may wish to ask teachers to reflect on their understanding of the ATTs and their attitude towards them (personally I am sceptical of some of the IB’s position on ATL) I think a proper critical reflection of these things is important.

 

 

 

Where is the evidence for your ideology?

The International Baccalaureate® aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.

To this end the organization works with schools, governments and international organizations to develop challenging programmes of international education and rigorous assessment.

These programmes encourage students across the world to become active, compassionate and lifelong learners who understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right. – IBO Mission Statement.

As I outlined in this post, I am an IB educator who really believes in the mission of the IB. I believe in developing inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better world. I think these aims are laudable and, with enough schools, teachers and families on board, achievable.

However, as I have reflected on my own practice over the last few years I have begun to question some aspects of the IBs ideology. In this post I want to examine the IB’s approaches to teaching. These “main pedagogical principles that influence and underpin IB programmes” are:

Fairly innocuous? Why write a post that is critical of these statements and principles? Well, there is one general reason and some specifics which I will come to.

My problem with the approaches to teaching in general is the following: The IB is the only awarding body offering a truly international curriculum. There are others; IGCSEs spring to mind, and of course, some international schools do offer national curriculums but the IB really is one of a kind in the sense that it is the only qualification awarding body, that I know of, that is not rooted to a national system and is found in schools, both private and public, countries all over world. It has no competition.

The ITT that teachers from different countries and from within countries will vary widely. For example my school-based training, via the GTP, really offered nothing academic – no explanations or reasoning or evidence for why teachers have to plan their lessons a particular way – it was essentially a check sheet of fadish skills that I had to demonstrate I was doing. When I converted this to a PGCE I was motivated by a desire to get to understand the theory behind teaching. I have since come to reflect that those theories I was exposed to had little to no evidence to support them.

As someone who has completed a science degree and masters, when my someone explains a theory to me without evidence, it just translates into my mind as an idea, an unsupported hypothesis. And this is what the great many “theories” in education circles appear to be, whether you are talking about Vygotsky, Piaget, Freire, Bloom, Bruner or many others, ideas without evidence, or if they have evidence it is low quality, small-scale or anecdotal.

The IB admittedly was founded in the era when some of these ideas were being taken up seriously:

From its beginnings, the DP has adopted a broadly constructivist and student-centred approach, has emphasized the importance of connectedness and concurrency of learning, and has recognized the importance of students linking their learning to their local and global contexts. These ideas are still at the heart of an IB education today. – ATL website

But now the tide is changing and I wonder if the IB is willing to keep up with that. Robust, evidence from cognitive science is seriously beginning to shine a light on what works. Even better some of this evidence is being triangulated not just from laboratories but from classroom studies as well.

My general concern is, therefore, this: if national ITT systems vary inter- and intra- nationally then the IB has to do something to help get all its teachers on the same page. Becuase it lacks competition it also has quite the sole market on influencing the teachers of its programs. It must make sure that the teaching methods it advocates are backed up on solid evidence, not just on what feels good socially and culturally or what is simply a la mode.

Now to my issues with specific approaches to teaching:

A focus on inquiry

A lot has been written about the effectiveness or not of inquiry-based teaching and learning. The debate rages on but essentially some of the arguments against inquiry-based teaching are:

  1. It is inefficient – students simply cannot learn as much knowledge in the same amount of time as they can from guided instruction.
  2. It is inequal – students who have knowledge richer home lives bring far more to the table than their knowledge deficient partners (just think about EAL learners in that context for a minute).
  3. It generates misconceptions – students can easily discover wrong-knowledge which can be very hard to dislodge and unlearn.
  4. It can lead to the illusion of knowledge – this is when students think that they know something but lack deep understanding of the content.

Concept-based teaching

Is great so long as you teach the right concepts and don’t make the unproven assumption that skills and knowledge can simply transfer from one domain to another. They can’t. Skills are context and domain specific. Concepts are domain specific. We should focus on domain-specificc threshold concepts, which requires careful planning on a content rich curriculum. Once you know the content that needs to be taught then you can identify the threshold concepts in your curriculum and plan your teaching interventions appropriately. The arbitrary lists produced for the MYP nor the self-imposed “essential ideas” of the DP biology curriculum, which forces teachers to lump certain knowledge together, in what may not be the most appropriate way, will do.

Differentiation

The black art of teaching. There are so many issues with this I don’t know where to start. On one hand, you lower the boundary for some students, therefore making a value-based, subjective decision about what a student can achieve and potentially limiting their potential, on the other, school management have carte blanche to drop any student into your class and expect you as the classroom teacher to “differentiate” even if that student doesn’t speak English.

Yes, we are all individual and unique but as David Didau points out, so are snowflakes and those differences mean nothing when it snows. The fact is we all learn in broadly similar ways and we all have broadly the same ability. Differentiation assumes that ability is the cause of differences in what students learn in the classroom but it may well be that ability is the consequence of the student’s classroom experience. Therefore if you lower the bar, overtime you lower their ability.

Differentiation to the point of tailoring learning engagements for individuals students is a huge workload issue for teachers and at what opportunity cost? There also appears to be no evidence for the efficacy of differentiation, even some that may suggest it has a negative impact.

For more information see chapter 22 of “What if everything you knew about education was wrong?” by David Didau.

Goals For This Year (2016-2017)

In this post I am trying to clarify my ideas for my goals and focus of my pedagogical practice for the academic year 2016-17.

Teaching

Firstly following on from my reading this summer and as discussed in an earlier post I want to bring thinking more to the front and centre of classes. By this I mean that I want to make the types of thinking used by scientists more explicit to my students and to help them further develop their thinking dispositions.

1) Learner Profile

I have come to see the learner profile as the the dispositions of a learner. It is these dispositions that we are trying to develop.

Goal #1: Make the Learner Profile front and centre of class.

2) ATLS

If the Learner Profile is the disposition then the ATLS are the tools for developing those dispositions. Highlighting the approaches to learning and showing students how to develop these skills will develop their own learner profile.

In terms of IB teaching, this year I plan to spend more time focussing on the approaches to teaching and learning (ATLs). Thinking skills is a subgroup of this and the work of Ritchhart is referenced by the IB on their ATL guide in the thinking skills section. Ritchhart also talks about the need to make his thinking routines explict, as what students cannot name they cannot own. I think that this applies to all of the approaches to learning and  I am convinced that the methods used to make thinking more explicit would also be beneficial in terms on making all the learning skills more explicit to students, and therefore helping them develop the skills to become independent learners.

I think it would be wise then, to start by making the ATLs and the essential questions of science visible and on display in the laboratory. The same could be said for the TOK classroom and the college counseling office. What are the essential questions in these areas of school life?

In delivering my curriculums I will try to use routines more readily for study and thinking, the challenge now is to work out which routines will be best suited for my subjects in my lesson planning. And develop good routines for the other ATLs not necessarily just the thinking routines.

Goal #2: Make the approaches to learning explicit in class.

3) Thinking routines

A subset of the the ATLS are the thinking skills and routines have been developed by Harvard’s Project Zero. In using thinking routines I need to develop my skills of questioning to make thinking more visible and encourage my students to share their thinking. After all, individual thinking benefits from being challenged; from the need to articulate things clearly to others. Therefore collaboration is the stuff of growth and acts to give students the tools to work together by developing their own thinking skills.

For something to be truly valued it has to be well articulated and identifiable. To value thinking we have to unpack it and identify what it entails in any given situation, therefore leaders of any group need to articulate what kinds of thinking they value – what kinds of thinking do we want in a science class? In TOK class? Vygoytsky stated that children grow into the intellectual life of those around them therefore we need to surround children with thinking.

In the DP Biology course the Nature of Science sections lend themselves perfectly to developing the types of thinking required by scientists.

Steps to thinking involve: honesty with students, essential questions for science. Types of thinking moves. Thinking routines.

Goal #3: Teach for scientific and critical thinking.

4) Concept Inventories

Goal #4: Become more familiar with the research on “threshold concepts” and the Biology “Concept Inventories”

5) EdTech

On the EdTech front I am going to try to integrate Periscope more into my teaching. I think that the app has a lot of potential benefits for schools including the ability for students to connect in a non-threatening way with other students across the world, disseminate information to parents, and getting feedback on my teaching like a digital lesson study.

Twitter and Instagram could also be useful research tool for students and could be co-opted in to class if students are given advice on useful people to follow.

Goal #5: Make more use of Twitter and Periscope in my work in school.