Humbled by a Beautiful Act

A conflict happened between two of my kids at break today which continued into the following lesson. I wasn’t teaching but I briefly saw the students sharing their version of events with the specialist teacher, during her lesson in our shared room, before I had to attend to other issues.

An hour later I was back with them and we settled straight into our poetry unit. The conflict had slipped my mind and there didn’t seem to be any lingering animosity which may have reminded me of it, so my focus turned towards supporting their writing needs.

We were fifteen minutes into the lesson and I’d been going around checking in with the kids’ progress or being asked to read their latest creations. Sometimes these moments can be really intense as the kids are still learning to become more independent writers and problem solvers and look for ways to develop their skills and understanding without coming to me at every supposed finishing point in their learning. In a nutshell, they can be a little impatient and demanding. At this precise moment of being bombarded, I happened to see an empty desk with what seemed like a kid not doing anything. I was perplexed and distracted, so I asked him to explain on a post-it why ‘he wasn’t doing anything’, whilst I attempted to direct the ever-expanding throng of budding poets.

Then he handed me the post-it, and I felt like an idiot. He had been thinking of ways to help his friends get over their conflict and be friends again.

I apologised.

Then he wrote a poem about how important it is to have friends. It sounds like a fairytale ending, but then he shared his poem with them and told me that they would be friends again. What a guy. (9 years old, btw.)


At the end of the day, I shared the experience with the rest of the class, who weren’t aware of the good deed. I told them that I had been wrong not to trust him and that my attempts to support their learning will mean that I will miss the bigger picture at times. I’m working on it. Kindness first.

Today I was humbled and proud all at once.



The Fantastic Five

Five blog posts had been swirling around in my mind this year as we approached a critical stage in our Unit of Inquiry. I say critical because we had finished ‘Tuning In’ and now was the moment where the road ahead wasn’t fully mapped out and I got mixed feelings. It’s a hangover from earlier times before I learned to trust my students and have them join me up front in the driver’s seat.

I went back to these posts for a confidence boost because they mirror my feelings about co-designing units with students for authentic, meaningful learning; summative assessment; teaching and assessing skills; and empowering students to direct their learning and how to provide and support choice.

Our first stop is at Feeling Backwards About Backwards Design by Cindy Kaardal.

“We need to be monitoring student actions and knowledge … as we go. But if students with agency are choosing their own paths for their learning, should we be contriving a summative assessment for them based on what we think is best? Is this fitting student needs or ours?” 

I have a hard time deciding if and when summatives are necessary. You’re looking for understanding and application and either it can be easy to observe and for students to assess themselves or sometimes it can be difficult to assess or require a long period of time. Also, deciding how students will demonstrate their understanding has always niggled at me- surely you’ll be seeing understanding in action, it will be ongoing, flowing into the next moment and mixing and blending with other skills in new contexts, re-emerging when least expected or displaying itself for all to see in student-led workshops.

As Cindy mentions, it’s not like we haven’t started with the ‘Why’ or created big ideas we think the students should develop before embarking on the journey; it’s just that understanding can show up at any time and we don’t need to work for weeks before asking them to prove it. Students can and should be involved in the process, co-designing the unit, criteria and all, to determine how and when they can show understanding.

This leads me to Abe Moore’s In Search of a Co-Design Continuum post. Abe discusses the subtleties of co-design which can be adopted at different levels depending on the needs of the learners and/or the teachers. But it’s the following quote, in particular, that links all of the other posts together and keeps me focused on my goal for student agency:

“The point is unless school affords learners the opportunity to develop and guide what, why, how, where and when they learn, I think claims of developing a love of learning are at best, optimistic, at worst, redundant.”


William Applebaum’s Studio 3 post has created a major shift in the way we plan and assess Units of Inquiry in our school this year, and his opening paragraph got me thinking:

“In order for students to be successful in an environment where they are empowered with their own learning choices, they need to have the skills to be successful. I believe that explicitly teaching and assessing these skills should be the focus of what we do in school.”

We looked at our units and identified skills we could focus on to ensure students were supported in developing mastery, but, again, if something happens and we need to change things up, I think we’re ready for it. I realised that in the long run, the skills/ATLs are a perfect way for students to be prepared for any content and context that comes their way. My only lingering thought at this stage was when would be the moment within the units to teach the skills the students need to be empowered? Time to ensure students know how to determine this too.


Everything from Agency…Empowering students to direct their own learning, had me questioning how I can ensure my students are becoming self-directed and empowered.

This is the catalyst which drives my belief in surrendering the reins and sharing responsibility, but I wasn’t always doing that in the past; I was in constant conflict between providing options for students to share their learning or allowing them to make decisions based on their own needs and criteria. It was clear that students needed guidance to make posters, videos, stories, presentations to professional standards, and having many choices made it harder to manage, so I gave two or three choices which made my life easier. This may seem to be an option of choice, but really, as Cindy said, it was fitting my needs over theirs.

I don’t want things to be a mad free-for-all, far from it and, don’t get me wrong, they’re not abandoned to their own devices without any guidance or support. But providing the kind of support necessary was difficult and unclear until I read Anna Davies’ post: HONORING ARTISTIC VOICE AND CHOICE IN THE ART ROOM – (AND MANAGING THE PRACTICALITIES)

It helped me realise how I could provide support and guidance whilst respecting their choices and decisions. Flipped learning and student-driven workshops have been added to our toolbox which can help provide support when and where necessary.

Two of Anna’s eleven tips for success in giving more ownership and choice which caught my eye are:

  • “Responding to the needs in the room, when only one student needs a demonstration, for example how to create a clay slab, I send a call out, an invitation to all that would like to join. Maybe only 2 students come, maybe half the class does, either way they have new ideas to stash away for another day.
  • To follow on from responding to the needs in the room I have started my own bank of video tutorials of ‘current art room’ trends based on their interests – at the moment its stencil cutting and screen printing – if you can cope with the kiwi accent they are  here.  This is helping when I am in the middle of an in-depth discussion and someone wanders over asking how to screen-print – I only need to say these three words ‘remember my tutorials?’ (and of course they always do their own tutorial searches too).”

So, back to our unit in class, after the initial ‘Tuning In’ stage, where the students shared their knowledge and what they were curious about, I asked why they thought we were learning these concepts and what they would like to do next. They found the first question easier than the second, so I used the inquiry cycle to help them focus their next steps in their inquiries. They were divided between Finding Out and Going Further. Some wanted to find answers to their questions, but others wanted to dive into making a video or role-play to share their learning/understanding straight away.

And off they went.

We’re creating success criteria together as they research, write and present, and I’m there to guide them and ask them to explain their choices and thinking so they can demonstrate the knowledge, concepts and ATLs they’re learning and developing. I’m looking for the right time to offer that workshop to ensure they are developing the skills they need to be successful inquirers and empowering them to request support when they need it.

I’m just trying, firstly, not to extinguish the curiosity and enthusiasm they’re demonstrating, which tends to be more prevalent as soon as they get a choice in the matter.

By keeping the ideas and experiences shared on these five blog posts at the forefront of my mind, I hope I can choose the right moment to step in and the right moment to step back.

(Thanks to all of those mentioned for sharing your insight and experience.)

The Right Path, This Time

Things are going better but they can still improve.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how I was torn when it came to deciding what was right for students. The last UOI was no exception. Even though part of me was determined to ‘go for it’, in the end I didn’t go for it enough. I’m taking small steps but I’m itching to take the giant leap. Something is holding me back.

Throughout the unit something bugged me and I spent ages afterwards writing a reflection to try and think about how we could ‘get it right’ next time. I think I spend too much time thinking about how to make each unit better next time.

What it really needed was for me to take enough of a risk to drop what we had planned as the learning goals and go with what the students were discovering and thinking, creating the unit together. In the end, I tried to find a happy medium but it was really a little bit of time for them and a little bit of time for me to ensure I could measure their learning based on the lines of inquiry we had created.

That’s not to say that the provocations we planned, the case studies and picture books we used, and the Skype session with a scientist weren’t worthwhile, but there’s that lingering feeling that we missed out on making something even better. I’m looking through their unit journals and rediscovering their questions and wonderings, the knowledge they gained individually, and I’m kicking myself because that last step was what it needed to really be about what mattered to them.

Let’s try again.

Lost in the Learning

After reading Michael BondClegg’s post about timetables, which got the wheels turning in my mind again, I remembered that I had been meaning to write about two reflections by one of my students in response to the learning she had planned.

Students have been planning their days for a while now. It’s one of those things that has changed the face of our learning so much that we can’t go back; we don’t want to go back. It’s incredible how it has transformed the environment from ‘waiting to learn’ to ‘can’t wait to learn’. The benefits to the students’ time-management and reflection skills has been enormous, and it has also helped me identify better where, when and how to intervene to amplify the learning.

Anyway, here are the reflections:

March 5th 2018

This is my daily plan of today! So today I started with science, and I answered the Galileo questions, next i did some unit. After break and P.E. I planed to do some maths, but then I said my self today I was not in the mood for maths like everyday.😂 So I concentrated in genre writing, and wrote some poems.

March 14th 2018

Today most of the time I did maths, because I wanted to improve my knowledge in time. I didn’t do the writing because I did science but, you know when you do something and then you get SO concentrated that you don’t remember what you wanted to do next? That, that happened to me. Next I want to do some writing, I didn’t do writing that much this week. 📝✍️

This is the line that got to me the most: ‘you know when you do something and then you get SO concentrated that you don’t remember what you wanted to do next? That, that happened to me.’

That’s kind of what Michael is talking about when we respect students’ choices, help them access deep learning, and not cut off their creativity.

First it made me happy, I mean this would never have happened if I was making all the decisions. But then I realised that the students were still thinking of all the tasks they had to do. Not easy to get lost in your learning if you’ve got a list to tick off each day. Also, some students were disappointed if they didn’t do what they had planned. That wasn’t what was supposed to happen!

There are always bumps along the road…

So, recently students have not been planning their whole day from start to finish but, instead, choosing what to start with and then changing when they feel they need/want to. They then reflect on their learning afterwards, thinking about what, why and how they learned, and what they want to do the next day. This has helped students avoid thinking that they must change task just because they decided that they would do so at a certain time. This tended to happen because that’s what they had been doing for so long, and the planning sheet they were given was too similar to a regular timetable. My job hasn’t changed much from guiding them to balance their choices during the week and helping them develop their skills and understanding.

Now it’s enough for me to ask them what they want to learn, and off they go. Hopefully to get a little lost.

Collect, Collaborate, Inspire

Padlet! A great tool in so many ways. I’ve used it before to gather student responses as a virtual pin board for questions and prior knowledge, but recently I’ve discovered a great way for students to collect examples of artwork that inspires them, and cite and share resources with other students that are following similar inquiries as part of the PYP Exhibition.

For a self-directed art inquiry project, I collected websites and examples of artwork by famous artists of each medium they could choose as a provocation, but the students then also added more examples that they found online as inspiration for their own designs.

Made with Padlet

For the PYP Exhibition, which is also in process at the moment, students collect and cite different resources that can help develop their understanding of their chosen topic. By sharing a Padlet with other students who are inquiring into the same topic they can collaborate more effectively and show evidence of their sources.

The great thing is that these can also be shared to invite other collaborators outside the classroom to share resources or advice that could assist their inquiries. So, with that in mind, please feel free to add any resources that you know could help. 🙂

Here are the topics:

Made with Padlet

Made with Padlet

Made with Padlet

Made with Padlet

Made with Padlet

Thanks in advance!

To find out more about Padlet and learn about the many ways you could use it in your classroom click here.



How to Make it Stick (or Making Mathematicians)

When I first embarked on my PYP journey, I found maths the hardest discipline to teach in an inquiry-based way. I didn’t know where to start.  I had always been teaching maths skills and then helping students answer word problems with these skills. But then I finally discovered Graeme Anshaw‘s blog.

Suddenly, maths was now something we could explore with student questions and more relevant examples of its place in our daily lives, thinking more conceptually and using more open-ended tasks. The difference was immediate and I felt more confident, but I could still see that some of my students weren’t grasping the concepts or mastering the skills and strategies. This approach was clearly new to most of my students, as it was to me, and I needed more help.

So I went back to Twitter (the PD centre that never sleeps) and it was there that I discovered Number Talks via Dan Finkel‘s, Robert Kaplinsky‘s DOK (depth of knowledge) tasks at, and started chatting with Abe Moore about how his students were self assessing their learning, and the game changed again.

Number talks are the best way I’ve found so far to ensure each student can approach a maths question at their personal level of understanding, whilst learning multiple strategies to solve a problem from their peers.

DOK tasks have the glorious ability of ensuring students can demonstrate understanding as they learn skills and strategies, whereas in the past I’d be teaching them strategies that they would then apply to solve word problems.

Abe taught me how each student can assume responsibility for their learning and to provide evidence of their understanding, which has filtered through to all of the areas of learning in my room.

Armed with these tools, my room is now full of students teaching each other strategies, explaining tasks to each other and gradually developing understanding at their own pace. I have more time to identify misconceptions and areas that need strengthening. The whole set up is more similar to the writing sessions that I have introduced thanks to the way I learned to teach the writing process from Literacy for Pleasure. Students are now learning to be writers and mathematicians, and the deeper concepts in both areas have more of a chance of ‘sticking’ because they’re learning to be rather than just learning to do.

Which Way is the Right Way?

There’s always a battle going on in my head about what’s right for students these days.

The concept of student agency has challenged us to ensure students are the architects of their learning, but I was worried I was going too far and ignoring the programme content knowledge. Recently, I’ve been having a lot of ‘back to the drawing board’ moments.

I want them to feel empowered, of course, and have voice and choice, absolutely, but was I sacrificing the knowledge and conceptual understanding part of the programme; Was I allowing too much freedom in their choices and feeling like I was asking them to be too compliant if I gave them objectives to meet?

When Abe Moore shared his plan for helping his students self-assess their learning and decide when they were ready to show evidence of their understanding, I realised more than ever that there is a programme I’m following with hundreds of components tucked away into essential elements and learning objectives across many disciplines. And then I realised that, although I had the essential elements pasted on my walls, and I was making success criteria with students, they weren’t necessarily aware of the objectives that the programme contained. I have been using these objectives to plan learning engagements and ensure learning needs are catered for, so why am I the only one who knows about these in class?

I just want to explain that I am personally against one-size-fits-all objectives and I have been working hard to ensure students are not just receiving so-called ‘grade-level expectations’ because they happen to have been born in 2007, or because they’re in Grade 6. I’m constantly scanning the PYP scope and sequence phases and ensuring students are able to develop skills and conceptual understanding at phases which are relevant to their current needs. I have also begun to ask them to create their own learning objectives and set their own expectations for their learning. This makes assessments which require grades particularly difficult, but I’m striving to find a better way and this starts by ensuring that students are aware of their strengths and areas for growth; otherwise, what’s the point of assessments at all? By involving students more in the assessment process to help them make progress, I’m involving them in assessment FOR learning, and assessment AS learning (to quote recent blog posts and Twitter threads by Monte Syrie and George Couros). Self-assessment was invented for a reason so why ignore it and just revert back to solely teacher reported assessment…?

Going back to the objectives; if Abe is sharing learning objectives with his students in maths, I wondered how this would work in all disciplines. So I shared them with the students to help them self-assess their strengths and next learning steps in our last Unit of Inquiry under the theme: Where We Are in Place & Time. (My plan was to also help them work towards writing their own report cards, inspired by Abe and Taryn Bondclegg.) Most of the objectives fell into research, communication and thinking skills; here I could help them identify their current conceptual thinking, research skills and writing ability. I used objectives from different phases and only in some areas did I need to explain how one objective shows greater proficiency than another. I wanted to avoid to some degree students comparing themselves to each other. They were asked to decide how proficient they thought they were on a friendly scale of: P=I need to practise more, OK= I’m doing OK but there’s still room for improvement, and VC= I’m very confident at this/ I can teach this, (which of course doesn’t mean we can’t still improve, but there’s a feeling of higher competence and independence).

Here’s an example of a student’s self-assessment/ report for a Unit of Inquiry with my comment. Unit 3 report M

The students will ‘happily’ get on with any task I throw their way, but I hope they are beginning to realise that the decisions I make for them are designed to help them grow and that there are many opportunities for them to make decisions for their own learning needs and interests.