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Classroom takeover

IB teachers tell IB World magazine how they encourage students to lead their learning

Watch out teachers, your students are coming for your jobs. But many educators are encouraging this as a way to get students to lead their learning in fun and exciting ways.

Primary years programme (PYP) teachers are taking a step back from traditional teaching and instead learning from their students, giving them more voice and choice in what they learn and how, as they explain to IB World magazine…

“PYP students attend teacher training days and tell us what they want to inquire in to,” Tracey Hughes and Nicole Lewis, Auckland Normal Intermediate School (ANI), New Zealand

“We have six teaching teams at ANI. Each team gets two planning days a term to plan for the next unit of inquiry and students attend these sessions. They have full ownership over the direction of their learning.

“Students’ ideas for provocations and what they would like to inquire into can differ considerably to teachers. But this approach and collaboration, allows us to deliver engaging and motivating lessons that are relevant and meaningful.

Teachers can provoke and stimulate thought on local, national and global issues that are important to students’ lives. For example, students are currently working with a local homeless man to rebuild his relationship with his family for the ‘who we are’ unit; and building and creating outdoor furniture for students to work on after exploring properties of different materials for the ‘how the world works’ unit.

“Engagement has increased and students are proactive and excited to carry out the inquiry process. We have also noticed increased levels in curriculum level attainment. In many cases, students are working at and above the required curriculum level across all areas.

“With a large cohort of 360 students each year, we want to ensure that each student has a voice and teachers provoke an area of interest for everyone. Teachers are learners too, inquiring on a journey with students. In collaboration and partnerships, students and teachers inquire together to become knowledgeable and lifelong learners.”

“‘Open Inquiry’ removes the walls between classrooms and encourages student-initiated play and learning,” Amber Taylor, PYP teacher at AAS Moscow, Russia

“Last year we set a new goal – to find new systems that allowed for more student voice and choice.

“We changed our thinking about our three separate classroom spaces and started to develop and see it as one large classroom environment that all the children could flow through, allowing them to connect with all the educators and opportunities each space had to offer. It’s a workshop of creativity.

“Now we have an hour-and-a-half every day dedicated to ‘Open Inquiry’, which allows students to take the lead in their learning.

“Every day, before Open Inquiry, each classroom has a quick group discussion about what learning happened the day before. The different focused spaces are listed for the children to see and they are invited to visit them.

“They then spend over an hour moving through the spaces. Educators start to take on very fluid roles, according to the inquiries that the students are partaking in – perhaps helping a group focus on researching an interest, or sitting back and observing and documenting children’s thinking. The resources are combined and shared.

Once Open Inquiry time has come to an end, we drop what we are doing, don’t clean up, and head to the nearest carpet to join in on ‘reflection time’. Educators ask: ‘What did you think about today?’ After reflection and deciding on ideas for the following day’s play, we clean up. 

“Each week we visit the forest as a big group.  This last month of school, we divided the children into four groups according to their interests while in the forest; we had the builders (those who always make forts with sticks), the explorers (those who love to stretch the boundaries and wonder what is over the hill), the scientists (those who are always looking for worms and slugs), and the artists (those who love the aesthetics of the place and gravitate to the chalk pastels and paper). Each group spent a week’s worth of Open Inquiry in the woods, building together, exploring the far reaches of the park, setting bug traps and grinding natural materials to make paint.

“Since Open Inquiry began, other grade levels at AAS Moscow are starting to develop their own versions, finding ways to remove the walls of the classroom environments and offer more voice and choice to students.”

“On ‘Creative Thursdays’, students were given complete control of what and how they learn, which encourages a culture of initiative and action,” says Taryn Bond-Clegg, PYP teacher, previously at American International School of Kuwait, now at International School Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

My experience last year trying to support students’ agency was more of an individual risk-taking experience based on my own educational philosophy and understanding of the PYP.

“I experimented with many different approaches. For example, students would help set up the classroom at the beginning of the year and chose how to arrange the classroom in a way that would support their learning.

“Students reflected that being able to participate in decisions usually made by the teacher helped them feel like they had a voice. They specifically pointed out our classroom board where they could identify problems, ideas and questions. They explained how the routine we had each morning – going through the board and collectively solving problems, agreeing on ideas and answering questions – helped them experience more control over their lives.

“Students also planned their own days, based around units. However on ‘Creative Thursdays’, they had ultimate choice over when, how and where to learn, and also what to learn. On Thursdays, they were able to truly pursue passions, interests and let their curiosity run wild.

“As a teacher, I can honestly say it felt like a much more humane approach to education. I felt like I understood the children in my class not only as students, but also as people and for that reason I was able to build authentic and meaningful relationships with them and become a contributing part of their real lives, not just their school lives.

Students were able to be themselves and speak their mind. This allowed them to connect with each other and build friendships that I don’t think would have necessarily developed in other classroom environments.

“Instead of a culture of permission, there was a culture of initiative and action. When students felt curious, they took the necessary steps to learn. When students saw a problem, they took the necessary steps to solve it.

“I also noticed growth in my students’ social and emotional understanding of themselves and others. They grew in their ability to independently and productively solve conflict within themselves and with each other. So I guess when I step back and look at the year as a whole, I can honestly say that the biggest changes I noticed in students was their development of the attributes of the IB Learner Profile, the PYP attitudes and the Approaches to Teaching and Learning (ATL) skills.”

How do you encourage your students to lead their learning? Email [email protected]