“In my role as ‘Teaching and Learning’ advisor at the English Schools Foundation, I am privileged to work alongside many passionate teachers as they plan and implement their exhibition units. This time of the year is my favourite, as I see evidence of students exhibiting the attributes of the IB learner profile that have been developed throughout their engagement with the PYP. I also see the students, teachers, parents and other members of the school community united by a collaborative experience that incorporates the essential elements of the PYP.
One of the features of the PYP exhibition is for students to synthesize the aspects of all six transdisciplinary themes and the essential elements of the PYP. One way to think about this is to see the learning that takes place within every ‘Programme of Inquiry’ (POI) unit as the ongoing formative assessment. This assessment data informs the next steps of learning in regards to the relevant knowledge, skills, concepts, attitudes and action needed, and the PYP exhibition as the summative assessment for the entire PYP programme. The PYP exhibition unit reveals evidence to the school, as to whether or not the students are growing into internationally-minded learners who strive to display the IB learner profile attributes and practice and apply the 5 essential elements of the programme.
How can we make connections between previous learning from POI units and the exhibition unit?
One effective way to ‘tune’ students into different local and global issues is to get them to reflect on previous learning from the POI. Getting the students to work collaboratively to analyse the school’s POI by thinking about questions such as—why did the school select the unit as part of the PYP curriculum? What were the ‘big ideas’ in each unit? What action did they or could they have taken as a result of their learning in each unit? If a school has a robust Programme of Inquiry, this learning engagement will leave the students with an extensive list of possible PYP exhibition issues to further explore such as: well being, environmental issues, rights of a child, animal welfare, digital citizenship etc.
For me, the PYP exhibition is about students selecting their own issue, based on some prior learning that they would like to ‘take further’ because they are passionate about making a real difference. I have heard of teachers forcing students to inquire into topics that they think would be interesting for the audience or changing a student’s topic to even out the group numbers. It is extremely important that the PYP exhibition is a process where students are engaged in a collaborative and student-led, in-depth inquiry. Just like ‘Genious Hour’, the idea is very simple. If we allow students to work on something that interests them, productivity will go up. If students select issues they are passionate about, they are more likely to solve problems that are meaningful to them and make a real difference.
How can students take action as a result of their learning?
My other passionate area is that students get the opportunity to choose appropriate courses of action ‘based on need’ and have time to carry them out. For example, if the need in an orphanage were lack of nappies then I would recommend that groups find ways to purchase these and not collect something random like old toys. If a need for the Animal Welfare organization were walking dogs, I would recommend that the group does not have a bake sale. My final example: if the need in Elderly Nursing homes is quality time with the elderly, then visit them. The question is: is this still student- initiated action?
Taking action is part of what makes a PYP exhibition unit different to a research project on a selected topic. We need to free up the units so that we don’t spend the whole time researching and writing up our findings. Every child should have the opportunity to ‘take action’ that really makes a difference, and where possible, a sustainable difference!
Imagine if the unit was mainly focused on ‘taking action’ and the only requirement was that students captured the process using a reflective journal such as a blog. I can picture a group of students writing and implementing a series of lesson plans for Early Years JP students that need support with social issues during play times, another group running lunchtime or after school healthy cooking classes for students and/or their helpers and parents, one group of students running a series of workshops on being good ‘Digital Citizens’ or ‘Living an environmentally friendly lifestyle’ etc. We need to ensure that students have success with ‘taking action’ and that it is relevant to their lives and based on some sort of need.
Schools that see ‘action’ as an equal PYP essential element don’t need to spend hours explaining it in the final year because they already have a framework for different types of action and a whole-school approach or language around it. I see more and more schools using the ‘direct action, indirect action, advocacy or research for action’ framework and I think it works really well. Let’s make sure that our students do not always remain in the ‘research for action’ quadrant where they are only ‘finding out’ about issues and make sure that they get to take action that directly (person-to-person) or indirectly makes a real difference.
Keep it relevant, environmentally friendly and based on real needs!”
Bec spent 5 years working as Vice Principal and Primary Years Programme coordinator for Discovery College in Hong Kong and Immanuel Primary School in Adelaide, Australia. Bec supports the IB community through her role as IBAP Field Representative, Workshop Leader, Consultant, School Visitor and Curriculum Developer. She tweets @becclements.