Gone are the days when every school uses textbooks as their base curriculum resource as more and more are opting to go without, leaving the materials to be used in a classroom up to a teacher’s discretion. And as a result the Internet has seemingly become the go-to place for one to find worksheets, lesson ideas, assessments, etc., because why create your own when you can effortlessly print something off instead? While I am willing to admit that the Internet does have its advantages – such as allowing for greater creativity and flexibilty in teaching – I sometimes wonder if it is doing more harm than good when it can be so easy for a teacher to take the first resource they find, instead of assessing its grade-level appropriateness and suitability for the task at hand. And if one isn’t careful, what are the consequences for students?
The consequences are that students can sometimes find themselves struggling to complete an assignment, not because they find the concept difficult, but because the text or source presents it in a manner they can’t understand. For example, my daughter recently brought home an assignment that required her to rewrite a paragraph and punctuate it correctly using capitals, periods, commas, question marks and exclamation marks. As far as homework goes, this should have been a relatively simple task, and yet it wasn’t, due to the difficult nature of the text. Even though my daughter is reading at grade level, the exercise became more than just about rewriting and punctuating – it became an exercise in comprehension as my daughter struggled to understand the paragraph. And don’t get me wrong, improving one’s reading comprehension skills is never a bad thing, however in this instance it took away from the homework’s purpose, because how can one punctuate a text they can’t follow? For this assignment the teacher would have been far better off taking the extra time to find a text that any student in the class could read so they could have focused solely on the task at hand, instead of having to worry about comprehension, to boot.
Now the point of this article isn’t to say that schools should all go back to using textbooks, it’s merely to suggest that perhaps there needs to be a better system in place for monitoring and assessing resources taken from the Internet. Perhaps it involves extra training sessions to help teachers learn how to assess and analyse the quality and content of a resource before using it, or perhaps it involves a school limiting which sites materials can be take from. I am not sure what the right solution is, but I believe it is an issue worthy of discussion for the benefit of our future learners as we move forward in this digital age.
Other Education Articles
It’s time to re-examine how brainstorming sessions are currently being run within the context of team meetings in education, and ask ourselves if we are being productive or simply putting words in a mind map for the sake of putting words in a mind map. If you reflect on the number of meetings you’ve either planned or sat in, have any real concrete changes been made afterwards? I am going to go out on a limb and guess no, and the reasons for this are two-fold; the first being the way the information is organized on the mind map, and the second is a failure to provide the necessary tools for implementation after the meeting. The following tips will help you address these issues and ensure that the changes you were hoping for will transpire after your brainstorming session!
Prior to Your Brainstorming Session
The extra time that you put into preparing for your brainstorming session will be well worth it in the end, and so instead of just having an idea for a title for each bubble on your mind map, take the time to list in bullet point the specific kinds of answers you are looking for. For example, if a particular bubble on the mind map will be entitled “Designing Learning in the Digital Age”, you can add phrases or questions underneath it, such as:
By including questions like these within the bubble, you clarify what kind of answers you are expecting from teachers, there’s less room to veer off topic and your end result will be actionable goals that one can implement. Never underestimate the power of knowing and clarifying your outcomes prior to a meeting.
During Your Brainstorming Session
Amidst all the ideas being presented during a brainstorming session, it’s important to stay focused, on topic, and be thinking on your feet about ways you could extend ideas in a practical manner. So, let’s say someone throws out the idea of each teacher introducing new apps that relate to their subject area as a means of contributing to digital learning – instead of simply accepting this idea and moving on, pursue it further and ask teachers for a list of apps they can add to the mind map. In this way, when teachers sit down to do the work, they already have a starting point, as you can see in the example below.
After Your Brainstorming Session
No matter how organized or how good a brainstorming session was, it’s never a good idea to assume that teachers know what to do afterwards; it’s easy to forget things that were discussed the day before. In order to avoid this issue, you can provide staff with:
a) copies of the mind map to refer to by snapping a picture of it and emailing it to all. Because if you’ve thought long and hard about expected outcomes before the meeting, the information on the mind map will be germane to fulfilling the goals that were set out.
b) planning templates that indicate the process to follow for implementing the ideas on the mind map. So, if for example it was decided that each teacher would introduce new and relevant apps to their students relating to subject areas taught, a simple planner like the one below could be given for guidance.
The above planning template is an excellent segue from the mind map because it’s exactly what was discussed – each teacher will introduce new apps to their students, a list of apps was brainstormed during the meeting that teachers can refer to, and now all that’s left for the teacher to do is select apps and indicate when during the unit they will be introduced to students. In providing teachers with a template, you have given them a means for creating a solid plan of action that can be carried out without confusion - the perfect ending to any brainstorming session!
After a brainstorming session, it can be hard to follow up and ask teachers which tasks they have completed and when, but by ensuring your mind map has specific outcomes on it (as we have shown) with concrete ideas for implementation and an accompanying planning template for teachers to set actionable goals, following up becomes very easy. If a planner isn’t complete, you know that the teacher may still have been struggling with what to do, and you can use the planning template as a guide in mentoring them. If the planner is complete, you can easily see how and when each of the tasks was done without guesswork.
By following the above tips, you are well on your way to organizing effective brainstorming sessions that will produce the end results you are looking for – happy planning!
Other Tips for Educators
Many schools wonder if the International Baccalaureate’s (IB) Primary Years Programme (PYP) and the Reggio Emilia philosophy can be combined to create a working hybrid model, and the answer is yes, absolutely! But before getting into the hows, let’s start with comparing some of the key elements behind each of their philosophies.
At the core of both of their philosophies, there are some major components that are the same – both are student-centered and inquiry-based, both believe that children are unique, and both believe in learning through exploration and share multiple overlapping values, such as communication, respect, responsibility, etc. However, as noted by italicized points above, there are some areas of contention – such as classroom setup, and differences in views on thematic vs. non-thematic approaches, but can these areas be addressed in such a way that the disparities are resolved? With some creative and outside-the-box thinking, of course!
Let’s start with the issue of classroom setup at your IB school. As we all know, the PYP has certain requirements as far as wall displays go, and the Reggio Emilia has certain guidelines that should be followed when setting up a classroom. Can the two be merged? Certainly! Instead of looking at your school’s classrooms as single-space entities, try viewing them as split-spaces – classroom spaces that are at eye-level and above, and spaces that are below eye-level. Any classroom wall space at or above eye-level can be used to meet the requirements of the PYP, and anything below eye-level such as shelving, tables, chairs, etc. can be arranged in such a way that environments can become the third teacher. The planner below has been designed as a guideline to help your staff achieve this hybrid look:
In the above planner, a simple 4-step process has been provided that can be adapted to suit your needs.
Step 1: Wall Space Checklist – The PYP checklist can be used to ensure that all requirements are displayed on the walls.
Step 2: Classroom Design Checklist – The Reggio Emilia checklist can serve as a reminder to create purposeful, organized, defined, provocative and beautiful spaces.
Step 3: Classroom Setup – Columns 1-5 of the table can be used as a tool for mapping out defined spaces. A teacher would start by listing subject areas and standards that could possibly be met, then brainstorming a list of provocations and materials needed, and lastly planning out in which area of their classroom they will be setting up their materials. Space has also been provided for a teacher to draw their classroom setup as they envision.
Step 4: Review and Redesign - The last column on the table is for teachers to make notes on how the students interacted with each of the available spaces. Based on this and the direction that class inquiries take, spaces in the classroom can be redesigned so that an existing Classroom Setup planner can easily be used to modify ideas, or so a teacher can start a new planner from scratch and repeat the same 4-step process.
Now that you have a way to transform classrooms at your school into hybrids models, the next issue that needs to be addressed is that of thematic vs. non-thematic approaches, and you can look at this in one of two ways:
Scenario 1: The Reggio Emilia philosophy is clearly against the use of a thematic approach, therefore if we are to implement it alongside the PYP we need a work-around solution that will remedy this conflict.
Scenario 2: We would like to keep our school’s Transdisciplinary Themes and routing in place and incorporate parts of the Reggio Emilia philosophy, such as elements of classroom setup and its play-based approach.
In either scenario, the same educational framework and planners can be used, only the approach taken by the school as a whole will vary. In a previous article, we introduced the Transdisciplinary Framework below as a means of connecting all subject areas together when unit planning.
The concept behind the above framework is a simple one, the Team Transdisciplinary Planner depicted by the individual planners in the 9-frame on the left dictates the individual Teacher Planners on the right. (For further details see The Transdisciplinary Framework). So, a team would brainstorm ideas together on the left, and then when teachers go to complete their personal planner (right side), they would start by referring to ideas noted during the brainstorming session. The Transdisciplinary Framework will work whether you have chosen Scenario 1 – non-thematic approach, or Scenario 2 – thematic approach, the only differences will be in routing, and how team members proceed during/after planning meetings:
Scenario 1: In the non-thematic scenario, your school would simply let go of pre-planning the route of your Transdisciplinary Themes. There’s nothing within the PYP that states every teacher must follow the same order in units, so you would use a backwards approach when implementing the PYP – instead of themes dictating inquiries, inquiries would dictate which Transdisciplinary Themes (if any) would be explored, in which class, when, and for how long. (For further information on this approach see An Emergent Curriculum and the IEYC: Can They Coexist? – similarly to the PYP, the International Primary Year’s Curriculum (IPC) is also thematic-based.) As for team meetings, they can still involve all members of the same year level; however, let’s say there are two Year 1 teachers in the meeting: each class can be exploring a different inquiry and each inquiry can be related to an entirely different theme – so specialists will need to plan accordingly. Using the above Team Transdisciplinary Planner (9-frame on the left of the diagram), this would mean either two copies of each planner within the 9-frame would be needed, or each box would need to be divided in order to reflect the two distinct inquiries being investigated.
Scenario 2: In this scenario, a school would pre-plan routing for the year, as normal, and any inquiries would tie into them. As for team meetings, all teachers, no matter the grade level, would be following a common Transdisciplinary Theme, making things easier planning-wise as the whole school would be moving in the same direction. That being said, you will be losing the non-thematic approach of the Reggio Emilia philosophy, however classroom setup and a play-based approach will still influence your school’s curriculums.
Classroom setup – resolved, and options to remedy the issue of thematic vs. non-thematic have been presented, which leaves us with the last two items that were highlighted as differences between the philosophies behind the PYP and the Reggio Emilia – transdisciplinary and play-based. The PYP is based on the idea of connecting learning across all subjects as much as possible; there is nothing within Reggio Emilia to suggest that this is against their philosophy so no problem there – a school would be free to implement a transdisciplinary framework based on the model we have suggested. Which brings us to the play-based aspect of the Reggio Emilia approach – and there is nothing within the PYP indicating that you couldn’t use a play-based approach when planning Provocations, but how would one go about doing so? By using a combination of the Classroom Setup Planner (presented earlier in this article) and the mainstream individual Transdisciplinary Teacher Planner we shared in a prior article below:
When completing the space for Provocation(s) in the above planner, a teacher could refer to ideas brainstormed on their Classroom Setup planner, thus ensuring that students would have opportunities to learn through exploration and play. Taking things one step further, the individual Transdisciplinary Teacher Planner forces teachers to always be thinking about their classroom setup and provocations at the end of every lesson, teachers would be required to indicate any Reflections and Student/Teacher Questions that transpired. These Reflections and Questions then serve to inform what is filled in the Student Driven-Inquiries & Supporting Student Agency box, which in turn influences the direction and depth Learning Experiences, Ongoing Assessments and new Provocations …. and so, the cycle repeats – a classroom’s setup continuously shifts to accommodate new inquiries and to further existing ones, and learners are constantly immersed in an engaging play-based and explorative environment. This cycle is highlighted in the planner below by the 4-step planning process for Language Arts on a Tuesday. The planning for Unit of Inquiry and Math would follow the same steps, and as each new day was added to the bottom of the planner, steps 1 & 4 would shift downwards accordingly.
In seeing that all the areas of contention between the philosophies behind the PYP and the Reggio Emilia have been addressed and resolved, there’s absolutely no reason why any IB school couldn’t consider a hybrid model and run both in parallel. And in doing so, schools would be merging two philosophies that already have much in common together to create a powerful, student-centered, inquiry-based programme in which not only the teacher would serve as a guide, but also the learning environment throughout the entire school!
Interested in exploring the possibility of a PYP/Reggio Emilia hybrid programme running at your IB school? Contact us, we can help you achieve your goals!
Where is the IB's Transdisciplinary Framework?
The Transdisciplinary Framework
How to Run Your IB Team Planning Meetings Like a Boss
The Transdisciplinary Planners
Creating Transdisciplinary Assessments and Rubrics
Planning an IB PYP Unit
Thoughts on ManageBac