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Language learning, CALP and making the move from disciplinary to transdisciplinary

Sabrina McCartney, Carrollwood Day School and Elizabeth  McIIroy, Prem Tinsulanonda International School

Sabrina McCartney, Carrollwood Day School, USA and Elizabeth McIIroy, Prem Tinsulanonda International School, Thailand

Join two PYP educators as they join a language and learning working group to create teacher support materials, and have their ‘aha’ moment…

As PYP educators, Elizabeth and Sabrina were invited to join a CALP Language and Learning Continuum working group,  developing teacher support materials, alongside MYP and DP colleagues. They were asked to look at the task at hand looking through the lenses of mathematics and social studies.

If you are not familiar with the terminology CALP, the cognitive academic learning proficiency (CALP)  framework is based on the work of Jim Cummins and is intended to scaffold the planning and teaching of academic language, ie language skills needed by students for language learning in the classroom .

The process includes developing literacy and communication skills (listening, speaking, reading and writing), collaboration and social skills (interacting) and thinking skills (evaluating evidence, critically reviewing evidence, and analyzing and interpreting data).

Rolling our sleeves up, we discovered that creating teacher support materials, which would demonstrate integration of language in other areas of the curriculum, is a four-step process:

1)    activating background knowledge

2)    scaffolding for new learning input

3)    acquisition of new learning through practice

4)    demonstrating proficiency.

We questioned whether two separate documents─one focusing on math and the other on social studies─would align with the PYP transdisciplinary pedagogy?


We began by identifying the academic language required to teach the social studies and mathematics content of a 2nd grade unit of inquiry focusing on the related concepts of location and orientation.

As we created our list of target vocabulary─and it got longer and longer─we realized that although there were transdisciplinary links, the two disciplines each have their own academic language and, as our starting point, we needed to address them separately.

Back to the drawing board.

We developed four learning engagements for social studies before moving on to develop the ones for mathematics.

As we started to write the third learning engagement for mathematics, we had our “aha!” moment.

Authentic links between the two disciplines became obvious and we could see clearly how our learning engagement for mathematics and social studies could indeed be the same for activities 3 and 4.

We had made the move from disciplinary to transdisciplinary.

Did we also make connections with the DP and MYP? Yes, but that is another blog story.

Sabrina is a PYP coordinator and a MYP/DP Individuals and Societies teacher, a workshop leader and  an online course facilitator.

Elizabeth currently teaches  elementary music and has worked across a number of curricula and student support roles in the UK, Japan and Thailand.


3 Responses to Language learning, CALP and making the move from disciplinary to transdisciplinary

  1. Emma 12 February 2014 at 12:46 am #

    This is a really exciting mission for us ELL teachers, who support language to access and work in the curriculum. I’m looking forward to following this blog!

  2. Eugenia Papadaki 24 March 2014 at 11:47 am #

    I am delighted to have just found out about this initiative! As the head and founder of a Bilingual IB world school which has been implementing the PYP for the past 6 years, my biggest challenge has been the lack of focus and thinking direction on behalf of the IB with regards to an effective implementation of such a complex program in contexts where the majority of learners are second language learners. We all know that this is a feature of most international schools and not only of bilingual schools.

    I am passionate about and very committed to Bilingual Education and IB programs, so finding a forum of like minded people where I can hopefully contribute and learn from a professional dialogue is a breath of fresh air for me! I will be happy to share experiences and expertise in the field of second language acquisition and learning and look forward to learning from other professionals who share similar interests.

  3. Fiorella Marquez 4 April 2014 at 8:41 pm #

    Congratulation for the great iniciative! I hope we can communicate also in Spanish!
    Keep in touch,
    Fiorella from Lima, Peru

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