Open-minded, reflective, risk-taker, inquirer, enthusiasm, commitment!
Sound familiar? Well, these are only a sample of the learner profile traits and attitudes that the…teachers (along with the students of course) have demonstrated over the course of the past year of learning and teaching at Cypress Park Primary School (newly anointed IB World School) in West Vancouver, Canada.
As both IB coordinator and Grade 2 classroom teacher, I have the luxury and benefit of working closely with both the students and teachers in a quickly blossoming inquiry environment.
From the very first day of this school year, which happened to coincide with my own first day at the school, the staff has shown great commitment in considering the simple question Where to next? with our learning and teaching at Cypress Park.
In true collaborative style, we quickly came together to consider some of the areas that we felt deserved immediate and further attention. Without hesitation, we agreed that one of our biggest professional areas for growth lied in our understanding of concept-based learning.
In my previous blog entry, ‘A Question is a Question is a Question….or is it?’, I attempted to explain how, as an IB PYP World School, it is our mandate to incorporate the 8 key concepts into our learning and teaching to promote inquiry, and more specifically to develop the students’ awareness of effective questioning.
Although we agreed that the key concepts play an integral role in the learning experiences of our students; we also conceded, as a staff, that we did not possess the proper knowledge, skills or insights to effectively prepare learning engagements that embodied the use of these very concepts.
It was clear from these initial conversations that this was the perfect opportunity to see ourselves as a cohesive group of learners who were willing to step outside of our own comfort zones in order to promote and affect growth and change for ourselves and for the school community as a whole.
From my perspective as IB Coordinator, I have seen a strong commitment on the part of the entire school staff to help carve out a noticeable and significant inquiry footprint within our learning and teaching.
From our countless collaborative sessions/conversations, both informally and formally, to our willingness to learn from and support each other, including the many insights two of our early primary teachers gleaned from IB Training in early January (one of which was Concept-based learning), there are a number of examples of how we are more effectively incorporating our developing understanding of the 8 key concepts within our units of inquiry, and, more specifically, within our daily learning engagements.
During a recent Professional Development activity, we were asked by our ProD Chair to reflect on any growth or highlights that we have noticed throughout the year. From the following comments, you will clearly see how the staff’s commitment to improve can be directly reflected in the daily experiences of the students:
· Our 2 Kindergarten teachers, Mrs. Sedgwick and Mrs. Anderson, reported that even though they feel that questioning is ‘very tricky’ for this age group and that differentiating between questions or comments is an ‘on-going process’, they still believe that using the key concepts helps promote real understanding and, further, it helps to extend students’ early conceptions.
‘The more we use the terminology with our Ks, the more often we hear it being used in their language’.
The use of a ‘questioning hat’ and a big ‘play’ microphone have also, in their opinion, encouraged the students to take more risks in sharing their thinking and ideas during questioning activities.
· In the grade 1 class, the Teacher/Vice Principal, Mrs. Fenton, happily shared that the key concepts are ‘not so daunting as they once were’. By incorporating visuals more directly on the Unit of Inquiry wall, and consistently using them to support the language during inquiry discussions, she feels that the learners are beginning to see the links and make more meaningful connections between the concepts and their learning/questioning. For example, both she and here teaching partner, Mrs. Cooke, helped their students to understand how RESPONSIBILITY is a logical one to weave into keeping the Earth clean and recycling. It also naturally comes in to taking action and what we can do to help make the world a better place.
· The grade 3 students have recently begun their journey through the Exhibition process and with the guidance of their teacher, Ms. Koke, they have been hugely successful in helping to create/write the central idea and their individual lines of inquiry. During a recent discussion where she asked the students to consider which key concept best complemented their line of inquiry, Ms. Koke was not only pleasantly surprised how quickly they were able to choose a relevant concept, but she was even more astonished to listen how they were able to justify and/or rationalize their choices.
‘Even when I doubted and questioned one of the students’ choices of ‘RESPONSIBILITY’ with respect to Ancient Gods/Goddesses, he was able to clearly express how each of them had a responsibility to the people who followed them in their community’.
· Finally, our Teacher Librarian, Mrs. Cooke, who admittedly has found it a bit challenging to work with the broader concepts, has continued to find ways to embed the key concepts when she shares stories with the students during Library time.
· Our 2 specialist teachers in Music and French, Mrs. Lu and Madame Ash-Anderson, have also agreed that the key concepts would be the perfect way to promote more natural and meaningful connections between these two areas of the curriculum and the units of inquiry at each grade level.
To say that I feel fortunate to work with an extremely passionate and motivated group of teacher learners would not be hyperbole. As a bystander to greatness, I have witnessed how this willingness for each and every member of staff to put themselves in the shoes of their students has and will continue to promote best practice learning and teaching for many exciting years to come.
When asked to reflect on how she felt that the learners at Cypress Park could be best prepared to continue their IB journey should they choose to move onto West Bay Elementary School, Mrs. Judy Duncan (Head of School for both West Bay and Cypress Park), offered the following comment:
‘I strongly believe that if the students at Cypress Park have a solid grasp and understanding of the key concepts, then they will come to West Bay as more skillful and proficient inquirers’.
In the end, in spite of the many successes that we have experienced throughout the school year, we still find ourselves sitting around the proverbial table again asking ourselves the question Where to Next? Unwilling to stop there, the staff has already begun to consider the question, ‘Now that we have a clearer understanding of the key concepts, and how they should be reflected in the learning/questioning skills of our students, is there an effective way, or even a framework, to teach students how to formulate and ask more meaningful questions?’