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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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
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.
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.
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.
I am currently completing an online course about IB Diploma Programme Coordination to better prepare me in as I step into a new role as Coordinator (DPC) from August of this year. In this post I want to reflect on my learning from this week – Module 1: The evolving role of the Diploma Programme Coordinator.
The DPC has 15 key roles within the school leadership team as outlined in the document Diploma Programme: From principles into practice. During this week’s module, we reflected on the role of international mindedness and the learner profile in our school before looking at these key roles. We completed a Venn diagram of challenges and opportunities using padlet, which allowed us all to comment on the same document.
We then examined the programme standards and practices through two exercises: in the first we were given a standard and associated practices and asked to comment on their relationship to the role of the DPC before being asked to pick three practices and DP requirements and think about what evidence we would need to collect and store to demonstrate that our school was meeting these standards.
The DPC provides a key role in connecting the school and the IB. More specifically they are responsible, with the rest of the school leadership team, for ensuring that IB standard and practices for the Diploma Programme are understood and articulated within the school community.
As part of the five-year evaluation schedule, the DPC will collect, collate and store evidence that the standards and practices are being met. They are responsible for the organisation and completion of this evaluation process.
On an ongoing basis, the DPC is responsible for the guidance of the school community on several fronts. They work with parents and students and the school counsellors to ensure that subject choices are fully understood by all parties and what the impact of those choices may be on access to higher education after completion of the Diploma Programme. In this vein, they also work with the middle school leaders to ensure that students are fully prepared to enter the DP. They also work with the school’s admissions department to ensure that there are proper processes in place for admission of students to the Diploma Programme. They also work with the DP subject teachers and core team to support these individuals in their work and to provide pedagogical leadership, thus ensuring the programme is properly implemented and that teachers are resourced appropriately and familiar with tools like MyIB that can support them in their work.
The DPC is also responsible for the day-to-day administration of the Diploma Programme, communicating with the IB and administering on IBIS. This includes the entering of exam entries and administration of the external assessments and managing a database of information on IB alumni.
More generally the DPC should strive to foster the spirit of international education within the school community and ensure that the school embraces the IB’s mission and learner profile.
I am an IB educator and I believe in the mission of the IB. When I first started teaching the DP I loved the fact that it gave students a broad education, didn’t narrow down their options, allowing room for changes in future interests and personal directions. Perhaps as someone who took three science A Levels, it reflected a choice that I wish I had had, particularly working as an adult in a society where scientific illiteracy is perfectly acceptable but cultural illiteracy is not!
I loved the fact that while each individual subject may be a little lighter than an A Level (thinking specifically about the sciences here) they still maintain rigour and the challenge to students of taking six subjects plus TOK (which is another subject in its own right), an extended essay and their CAS program is no mean feat.
So, as an international educator and somewhat of an IB ideologue (at least in terms of the mission statement, not so much the ATLS), why would I write a post that is critical of the MYP?
What is the MYP?
The MYP is the International Baccalaureate’s Middle Years Programme and as such is the foundation or preparatory course for the Diploma Program years. It can occupy either 2, 3, 4 or 5 years of Secondary schooling with the final two years being in Y10/Y11 or G9/G10. It is one of three programs offered by the IB: the Primary Years Programme, MYP and Diploma Programme.
It is a curriculum framework that has eight subject groups which aims to provide a “broad and balanced education for early adolescents.”
My experience of working with it has been as a Biology teacher, working within the sciences subject group, teaching grades 9 and 10 in a K-12 school that offers the IB’s PYP, MYP and DP. The course I have built is based on the eAssessment curriculum, more on that later.
The MYP model
The guide for the MYP states:
“The MYP is designed for students aged 11 to 16. It provides a framework of learning which encourages students to become creative, critical and reflective thinkers. The MYP emphasizes intellectual challenge, encouraging students to make connections between their studies in traditional subjects and the real world. It fosters the development of skills for communication, intercultural understanding and global engagement—essential qualities for young people who are becoming global leaders.” (Sciences Guide For First Use January 2015 pg 2)
The model above shares many similarities with the DP model: in the centre, we have the IB Learner Profile surrounded by the ATLs and the MYP concepts and global contexts. These concepts and contexts provide a way of enabling interdisciplinary learning – a major feature of the MYP – thus one of the units in science may be built around the concept of systems, a concept that may be shared with another subject group. The aim of using concepts is to help students to make links between the different subjects that they are studying.
In delivering the MYP teachers are given a framework and a unit planner. They are told what concepts and contexts to teach (they can choose from a list of predetermined) but not what content to teach. This leads it open for teachers to construct their own units tailored to local contexts – on the surface an exciting prospect. I think teachers who love the MYP are initially drawn to this aspect that allows freedom and creativity.
While this is true, I worry that as individuals we suffer from a huge number of cognitive biases that may make us think we know, from our experience in the classroom and our own interests, what is the most appropriate content to cover but may, ultimately be wrong about this.
Effects on learning
The first thing that you notice about teaching the MYP, is that there is no curriculum content. While this is laudable for some reasons, I have grown to deeply distrust the MYP’s ideology for this for the following reasons:
The IB has a prescribed list of what I consider to be fairly debatable concepts. So as a biology teacher my units will focus on relationships or systems or change. Now there is nothing wrong with these concepts per se, and I can see why they are used: to try to build interdisciplinary connections.
However, they feel a bit arbitrary. Why should these be concepts that relate to and define the sciences and why do they take precedence over other concepts like information or energy for example?
The selection of general concepts assumes that students can easily build concepts from subject knowledge and transfer these concepts from one domain to another but this flies in the face of evidence from cognitive science.
We know from cognitive science that before learners can generalise a concept they need a good store of domain-specific content (facts) in their long-term memory. Once they have built this, then they can begin to develop domain-specific conceptual understanding. Only once they have mastered this can they transfer that knowledge from one domain to another. For more information on this see Dan Willingham’s “Why don’t students like school?”
It is important to note that this takes years! Is it entirely appropriate to take this approach to a curriculum for middle schoolers who are still very much novices when it comes to knowledge and learning?
Novices vs Experts
As noted above the IB assumes that novices learn in the same way as experts; it is what underpins the assumption that you can have an interdisciplinary, concept-driven curriculum.
But the IB also assumes that novices learn in the same way as experts by encouraging students to learn from doing and teachers to set up their classroom inquiry in ways that reflect what experts do.
In MYP science we see this with the criterion B and C assessments and the following guidance:
“In every year of MYP sciences, all students must independently complete a scientific investigation that is assessed against criterionB (inquiring and designing) and criterionC (processing and evaluating).” – MYP Sciences guide
This requirement reflects the philosophy that, when it comes to science at least, students learn best when acting like scientists. Don’t get me wrong, I do agree that developing a solid understanding of the scientific method is very important for students. I am just not convinced that having students carry out their own investigations is the best way to achieve that aim. Domain-specific novices do not think or learn in the same way as experts.
Many authors have written about the effects on knowledge-rich curriculums and their effects on reducing inequality in society (See Daisy Christodoulou’s “Seven Myths About Education“, Lucy Crehan’s “Clever Lands“, and E.D. Hirsch’s “Why Knowledge Matters“). By ensuring a knowledge-rich curriculum schools are able to impact children from impoverished homes to ensure that they are able to become fully engaged citizens when they are older.
Children from poorer socio-economic backgrounds are less likely to have access to books at home and are less likely to be exposed to as many words and ideas in the family home as children from higher income families. This means that schools that serve them must impart the knowledge that will enable them to have a chance of becoming active members of society. In Why Knowledge Matters, E.D. Hirsch explains this at length and I am not going to go further into this here except to say that to my mind, by not imparting a knowledge-rich curriculum the MYP undermines the IB’s wider mission statement. How can the IB aim to create a more peaceful world, if it produces a curriculum model that can be shown to increase inequity?
The MYP can be tested through the eAssessment. The topic list for biology eAssessment is as follows:
Cells (tissues, organs, systems, structure and function; factors affecting human health; physiology; vaccination)
Organisms (habitat, ecosystems, interdependency, unity and diversity in life forms; energy transfer and cycles [including nutrient, carbon, nitrogen]; classification)
Processes (photosynthesis, cell respiration, aerobic and anaerobic, word and chemical equations)
Metabolism (nutrition, digestion, biochemistry and enzymes; movement and transport, diffusion; osmosis; gas exchange; circulation, transpiration and translocation; homeostasis)
Evolution (life cycles, natural selection; cell division, mitosis, meiosis; reproduction; biodiversity; inheritance and variation, DNA and genetics)
Interactions with environment (tropism, senses, nervous system, receptors and hormones)
Interactions between organisms (pathogens/parasites, predator/prey, food chains and webs; competition, speciation and extinction)
Human interactions with environments (human influences, habitat change or destruction, pollution/conservation; overexploitation, mitigation of adverse effects)
Biotechnology (genetic modification, cloning; ethical implications, genome mapping and application, 3D tissue and organ printing)
A quick scan of this topic list shows something quite revealing. What, exactly does the IB mean by physiology on the first line? This is a large subject in and of itself. I find it strange that the IB doesn’t specify particular types of cells and physiological systems and yet will happily specify “mitosis” or the word and chemical equations of respiration and photosynthesis.
This list has the feeling that it has just been thrown together by looking at the DP course and condensing that with no real thought as to what would actually be taught.
Also, the IB assumes, with the generic topics like physiology that students who have been taught one particular physiological system, like the kidney, will be able to answer questions on the heart. See E.D. Hirsch Why Knowledge Matters Chapter 2 for an explanation of why, in order to be fair, a test has to test a specific body of knowledge.
By having no rigorously defined content, even for the assessment, the IB again, shows a pitiful understanding or knowledge of the evidence from cognitive science about how humans learn. Worse, they willfully put some students and their teachers in line for failure. The fact is if you haven’t studied something and that thing comes up on the test, you just aren’t, as a 15-year-old student, going to be able to answer those questions because you are still a novice in that domain and it is unlikely that you will have learned to think like an expert in 140 hrs of teaching.
The eAssessment course is meant to be delivered with at least 70 hours of teaching in the final two years of the MYP – minimum of 140hrs – just shy of the SL DP course.
Massive workload! Hornets and butterflies
In this post, Joe Kirby writes about hornet and butterflies: ideas in teaching that have either high effort, low impact (hornets) or low effort, high impact (butterflies) – it also makes up a chapter in Battle Hymn.
By its very nature, the MYP is a collaborative project. In fact, one of its huge strengths is that it gets teachers out of their silos and working as a team. But that, collaboration inevitably increases teacher workload. For the reasons that I have outlined above, I think that ultimately, while an asset this collaboration results in low impacts for students.
Some who read this will immediately discount that statement as not chiming with their own experiences. And yes, it can look great when kids are seemingly engaged and enthused but we should not confuse this with learning and as educators, we really need to be aware of our own cognitive biases that may lead us into thinking that something is effective when it isn’t. You can read David Didau’s excellent “what if everything you knew about education was wrong” for more details of that.
But it’s not just the fact that it requires collaboration that increases the workload, it is also the fact that as a framework there is no content, leaving teachers to make content decisions as well. This is incredibly freeing but also, in practical planning terms it pushes the workload up even more and I would argue with little to be said for an increased impact on student learning. Surely a defined and prescribed content list would decrease teacher workload and have the same impact on student learning?
Finally, in its assessment, the MYP is workload heavy. In science, teachers end up having to plan lengthy assessments tasks, with clear instructions that break down the assessment criteria into student-friendly language.
Just planning summative assessments like these tasks, designing and making the supporting materials, is much more workload intense than other systems I have worked with and I am not convinced that it has any more impact on student learning.
I am not writing this to be difficult but I do hope that my thoughts here will lead to some open and honest discussion. I know that certain educational approaches have a lot of emotional appeal. I want to get away fromt this at start talking about what is best for our students rationally.