Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Developing Approaches to Learning (ATL) as a PYP Single Subject Teacher

Developing Approaches to Learning (ATL) as a PYP Single Subject Teacher
The Importance of Transdisciplinary tasks. 
By Ding Ding Song (Chatsworth East International School) 

The PYP is a holistic and transdisciplinary education framework. Subject discipline knowledge is important, but at the same time, developing conceptual understandings and developing skills that transcend disciplines should also be a priority in the planning and delivery of a quality balanced curriculum.

When turning an idealized philosophy into a practical and deliverable curriculum, many teachers and schools recognize and battle with the tension between disciplinary and transdisciplinary approaches. Like all PYP teachers, additional language teachers need to also apply transdisciplinary approaches to teaching and learning as well as try to develop specific disciplinary knowledge and skills. However, it is not unusual for Mandarin teachers from different PYP schools to share similar concerns, trying to balance the development of  Mandarin language skills and content knowledge with transdisciplinary teaching and learning in their classrooms. Having spoken to and reflected with many Mandarin language (and other single subject) PYP teachers, some clear misconceptions and frustrations emerge; “There is too much content to ‘cover’ and not enough time’’, ‘asMandarin teacher my job is only to build Mandarin skills. or ‘Isnt it the classroom teachers’ job to develop students transdisciplinary skills?’.

Mandarin teachers (and all single subject teachers) carry equal responsibility in building PYP students’ Approaches to Learning (Transdisciplinary Skills) as classroom teachers do. One simple but effective way to promote transdisciplinary teaching and learning in an additional language classroom is to commit to, and purposefully design, transdisciplinary tasks, either individual or group, that require the use of a wide range of skills. During the process of completing transdisciplinary tasks, there are plenty of opportunities for students to develop transdisciplinary skills and display the attributes of the PYP Learner Profile and attitudes. They also provide opportunities for Assessment as Learning where students self reflect and peer assess their skills, knowledge and new understandings.

The magic of Transdisciplinary tasks is to allow multiple transdisciplinary skills to develop while at the same time, still having a clear focus on Mandarin language skills. Transdisciplinary tasks sound like something big and tedious. In reality, reframing simple class games and activities into transdisciplinary tasks is relatively straight forward with a bit of reflection and creativity.

Some strategies for Mandarin PYP teachers, and all specialized PYP teachers to facilitate transdisciplinary teaching and learning are below:

Be Courageous – Planning transdisciplinary assessment and learning tasks.

Don’t afraid of doing things differently. Using backwards design as guidance, focus first on skill development instead of content knowledge. Think of specific students or classes and imagine them being engaged in these tasks. Are they all saying, thinking and creating the same thing? If so, revisit your plans again to refine and improve. A recent Year Six class wrote and performed fables in Mandarin using Hanyu Pinyin. Students used, and were assessed on, Mandarin knowledge and skills as well as social, communication and self-management skills.

Be a Thinker and Communicator – Prioritize Collaborative Planning

Collaboration has always been the key for teaching and learning in PYP classroom. Designing transdisciplinary tasks is best achieved through sustained collaborative effort. Single subjects teachers and homeroom teachers can assist each other in design, planning, delivery and assessment of such tasks. Teamwork between teachers and with students will help ensure success in students’ transdisciplinary skills development as there is greater opportunity for more teachers and students to self assess and peer assess. Recently, the Mandarin team integrated with a Year 2 unit of inquiry. Mandarin teachers and homeroom teachers collaboratively designed and planned a transdisciplinary summative assessment task. A variety of on-going formative transdisciplinary skills assessments were effectively conducted during both Mandarin classes and homeroom unit of inquiry sessions. Students self-reflected and peer assessed these skills at the end of the unit.   

Be Open Minded – Be open to try new ideas and new ways of thinking.

A teachers’ philosophical belief regarding skill and knowledge acquisition has a dramatic impact on students learning. Talk to a colleague or a mentor that you admire or who has a different perspective than yours. Imagine yourself teaching in a different way or delivering a different curriculum. Thinking out of the box and taking other suggestions can be a good starting point. Bring your students on board, acknowledging their ideas and appreciating their afford in actively contributing in the creation of authentic assessment tasks.

Be an Inquirer and become Knowledgeable – Seek out appropriate professional development

As educators, we want to model the PYP Learner Profile and Attitudes to be life-long learners. Professional development is not only able to equip us with theory that allows us to make connections with practices but also enables us to further challenge our way of thinking, practicing and seeking different ways to achieve better results. This might be in the form of a current book, video clip, conference speaker or school visit. Joining local PYP school networks, meeting teachers from other PYP schools, using local resources or interviewing experts from your school community could also provide opportunities of gaining different perspectives and accumulating subject knowledge. 

Be Reflective and Balanced – Critically review weekly and unit planning documentation.

Reflection informs further teaching and learning. Keep some key questions in mind: Does this task address all the essential elements? What specific skills and knowledge are being developed during this week or month? What aspects need to be enhanced? Are we still focused on our objectives while giving students freedom to inquire and be responsible learners? Have we catered to students’ interests and different learning styles? Students, especially upper primary, can actively participate in the reflection process. Work with your students and receive some constructive feedback.

Show Commitment – Make these skills clear and then continue to observe and monitor.

Share the objectives of transdisciplinary tasks with students and parents. Clearly explain the focus isn’t only on content knowledge but also skills and understanding. Assessment criteria need to be shared at the beginning; making an assessment rubric with your students is even better. This helps students understand what the expectations are and can stay on task. Bare in mind, understanding and skills cannot be developed overnight. Teachers should provide guidance and constructive feedback in a timely manner to improve students’ development. In the long run, time in planning and monitoring will pay off.

Be Confident – Be confident in your plans, focusing on the process not the product.
No one is perfect and teaching is a learning journey as well. Teachers and students need to understand that making mistakes and finding tasks challenging are important parts of learning. Skill development occurs when the focus switches from the product to the process, from memorizing to applying, from copying to creating, from following to evaluating. Be confident when there are doubts about these slightly time consuming and students directing tasks. Share your skills and knowledge confidently. Believe the way we support our students is the best practice to develop skillful global citizens.

For our students to survive in this highly competitive modern society they need to be equipped with a wide range of transdisciplinary skills. It is up to us to prepare our students to succeed in their future studies, careers and personal life. As educators, we need to shift the paradigm, striving to provide learning opportunities that don’t rely only on the acquisition of specific knowledge, but also strengthen their globally transferable skills. Educators, enjoy the journey of inquiring best practice. Choose, act and reflect. 

By Ding Ding Song, Mandarin Teacher, Chatsworth East International School 

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