Top Nav Breadcrumb

Answering big questions about the approaches to learning (ATL)

By James Smith and Adrian Gan

The approaches to learning (ATL) framework is a vital part of IB programmes — it gives them a common language to describe the core capabilities that students should develop, and challenges us to find coherent, rigorous ways to build students’ skills from Year 1 – 13. Yet it is also an aspect of the programmes for which there are few established ‘effective practices’ of implementation. At Discovery College, Hong Kong, we realized that we wanted to explore a number of key questions:

  • How should ATL be mapped and articulated vertically and horizontally throughout the curriculum?
  • What teaching and learning practices are the most effective in helping students to acquire ATL skills?
  • What should the relationship be between the ATL framework and different forms of assessment?
  • How can schools develop a continuum of ATL provision across K-12?
  • How can schools use the ATL framework to plan and implement their pastoral support programme?
  • How can ATL support student exploration of interdisciplinary inquiries?

and that we needed the power of our network to help us. It is against this backdrop that the idea of the Asia-Pacific ATL Symposium was created.

The Symposium was our way of drawing expertise into our school and using the practices of schools in the region to build collective understanding. Held on 15 September at Discovery College, the Symposium drew participation from 12 schools from Asia-Pacific and was generously supported by the English Schools Foundation, a group of 22 schools in Hong Kong. We were also very fortunate that Lance King (ATL expert, author) and Robert Harrison (Head of MYP Development) gave generously of their time as our keynote speakers.

The focus of the Symposium was on providing opportunities for schools to share practice. Through this, and through the contributions of the keynote speakers, we noticed an interesting shift of emphasis, from seeing the ATL as a framework to support the work of teachers, to placing greater on us on students themselves to use the framework for their own purposes:

The event as a whole has helped us develop our understanding of ATL and how they can be used to make learning better.

School networks are:

“…a vibrant, powerful force for the dissemination of innovative educational practices among principals and teachers in different schools. Networks help to overcome the isolation of schools and educators by providing opportunities for organised professional exchange, development and enrichment.” (Sliwka, 2003, p. 63)

One of the joys of being an IB Educator is to be part of a community of schools that has a voice in shaping the programmes we share. We hope that the Asia-Pacific ATL Symposium was a productive contribution to the collective understanding of our community, and that it sparks further conversations about the ATL and their role in the IB Programmes.

James Smith is Head of Secondary and Adrian Gan is Vice Principal and MYP Coordinator, both at Discovery College, Hong Kong.

The materials used by each speaker at the Symposium have been collated and are available on this webpage:


Sliwka, A., 2003. Networking for Educational Innovation: A Comparative Analysis. In: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Networks of Innovation: Towards New Models for Managing Schools and Systems. Paris: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 2003, pp. 49-63.